There are now 1,700 technology companies based in San Francisco, a 30 percent jump from just two years ago. The tech boom has kept the unemployment rate well under the state average, and it’s brought a lot of tax revenue to the city. But has it come at a cost? Critics say the trend, and its accompanying high rents, is shutting out artists and the middle class and threatening the very soul of the city. San Francisco has long been embroiled in gentrification fights. How will it withstand this newest, biggest tech boom?

How Much Tech Can San Francisco Take? 25 September,2012forum

David Talbot, founder and CEO of, author of the article "How Much Tech Can One City Take?" in San Francisco Magazine and of the recent book, "Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love"
Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a regional business-sponsored public policy group
Debra Walker, artist, land use arts activist and building commissioner for the City of San Francisco

  • Lou Judson

    Excellent topic and questoin! In 1995 I was working as sound engineer for a poplular (now unkown) local band. They had rehearsal studio along with about 200 other bands and creative artists in a large warehouse on Third street. They ALL got thrown out when some dotcom startups took over the building! Now they no longer exist as a band, and we have no idea where the other 199 creatives ended up. AND the creeps who took it over with big bucks are gone too. I wonder what is in that five story block style building now?

    Have we learned a lesson? The creative and artist types cerrtainly have – go somwhere else than SF.

  • Lou Judson

    Pardon my typos…

  • Rhet

    Do San Franciscans realize there are soon going to be 288 cameras installed around SF that do facial recognition? These are made by BRS Labs and their product is called A.I. Sight. The company’s marketing materials suggest these will spot “terrorism” and “pre-crimes” through behavior identification, which is nonsense & snake oil marketing at its worst. But public officials are easily fooled by homeland-security mumbo jumbo.

    So why are they going to install 288 cameras in San Francisco? If the recently leaked information about the very similar (if not related) TrapWire surveillance system is any indication, this is being put in not for stopping criminals, but rather to identify political protestors, Critical Mass activists, Libertarians, Occupiers and other dissidents who threaten the 1%’s corporatist agenda.

  • David

    Displacing artists and long time residents and accompanying the accompanying high rents? Soul of the city? Sorry dude, I think this article might be a reprint from 1999.

  • Sarah

    There are many great things about this tech boom, but its impact to the housing market is not one of them. I have lived in San Francisco for many years now and love the city deeply. However, for the first time, I am seriously considering moving out because my partner and I can’t find affordable housing so we can move in together. Not only are the rents sky high, but in some cases we have actually observed bidding wars for rent on places that hardly seem worth the original listing. We both have solid incomes and stable jobs, but we simply can’t compete in this environment. Building a home together in San Francisco seems less feasible every day. The thought of leaving brings me to tears.

  • Guest

    What about the role of unions? I am sure they support the tech expansion to bring in more tax revenue. Tech expansion will also probably increase traffic congestion and pollution.

  • Aaron

    I appreciate all of these questions about giving to parks, museums and so forth. And the critical question of who can afford to live in San Francisco.

    I hope this conversation considers the culture of technology that San Franciscans so often embody. Personal consumer technology is enabling millions of kings and queens to rule our own little worlds inside our own little heads. I am concerned that technology enables and encourages tremendous narcissism and that San Francisco is at the forefront of this worldwide phenomenon.

    Though, of course, all the property taxes are great.

    • Kevin Krejci

      Google “collaborative consumption” and “p2p marketplaces”. I think there is hope. Technology is just a tool. It’s a double-edged sword. It is how we use it that matters.

      I live in SF, where our kids go to an elementary school that raised nearly a half million dollars in fundraisers last year, contributed mostly by parents working in our local tech industry. It would be nice if all the other schools had similar good fortune, and if our high property taxes could funnel more towards their education, so the teachers could live closer to their schools…

      • lalala

        Wealth disparity. Feel good fundraisers raising funds for an insular class. Your kids go to a public school where the parents can afford to contribute a half million dollars to the school. What about the kids at the schools in Hunters Point? There parents can’t raise those kinds of funds.

  • Sebastian

    I agree with your guest… he feels like we Latinos have been feeling for the last 15 years thanks to the tech industry, when was the last time that you walked in the mission

  • Monsieur Oblong

    I’m listening to the broadcast, and I don’t understand how David Talbot would save the city. He certainly isn’t quantifying the “lack of giving” by the stingy techies; I bet the current benefactors were, in their younger years, decried as well.

    Complaining about being outbid on housing? What alternative is there? Do we need a board of regulators to decide who is sufficiently bohemian to live in the city? And then what? Then the techies have to commute from the east bay, not even able to live in the same city where they work! The limited housing supply will *always* be a problem, no matter how you divide it.

    And then David complains about the shuttle busses bringing in commuters to work at these tech companies — he should be THANKING them for providing transportation to those who choose NOT to drive up housing costs in the city.

    • John

      the buses are taking workers OUT of the city, not in. of the big ones really only twitter is located in SF.

  • Daniel A.

    David Talbot’s plea for philanthropy is asking the city to work for tips. Instead, the city should be very stingy with tax breaks it gives these larger businesses. The “elite”, as hr calls them, can still donate and participate if they choose to.

  • K.C.

    Thanks so much for covering this important topic. The issue is, indeed, Bay Area wide. We live at Pete’s Harbor Marina in Redwood City, on a sailboat that we own and sailed down the coast from Seattle two years ago. The Marina’s tenants, over 100 people, are being threatened with eviction as condos and other expensive housing opportunities ($1500/studio apartment) will likely be built here in early 2013. It’s a shame that there can’t be a place for integrated development: one that includes the thoughts and hopes of current tenants and, ideally, a diversity of architectural spaces like community gardens, open public space, high-end dense housing AND affordable, simple, and eco-housing that boat living allows for. I wish that the silicon valley itself could also support tech dwellers and the rest of us equitably.

  • Ginny

    Pitkin County has a lot to offer to this dialogue. This county has been navigating the wealthy and the service industry in Aspen CO. They have implemented valuable municipal infrastructure to ensure the community members are not squeezed out. The median listing price for a house/condo in Aspen is 4.2M.

  • Michelle Moyer

    I lived in Portland for five years. Our brand new, 1500 sq. ft. 3 bdrm 2 bath rowhouse over looking the river cost $168K in 2003. It felt wonderfully egalitarian to live in a city where you know that the person ringing up your groceries can afford to buy a house too.

  • Joel Koerschen

    I would like to comment on air. What is the number to call. I live in the mission.

  • Morgan

    I experience a lot of the same problems discussed already on the program (my fiance and I can’t find a place in SF), but what I’ve seen from working in a handful of tech start-ups is that the highest compensated employees don’t live in San Francisco. Can you speak to that?

  • Joseph

    I’m conflicted in listening to this broadcast, because I fall squarely into the demonized demographic in question. I write code at a tech company and commute from San Francisco. My worry in hearing all of this is that the opinions expressed are pigeonholing my demographic. It’s interesting that there has not been an articulate voice on my side of the spectrum–partly because we are notorious for problems communicating. It is important to remember here that entire web of opinions being expressed are shaped by who wields the pen. When can I find time to express myself and the opinions of those like me when I am busy writing code all day in semi-English?

    • Joe Doakes

      Do we not have thoughts too? Don’t we have a voice? This is the problem constantly pointed out by historians, that those writing history aren’t the ones making it.

  • Donna Mary

    My daughter was recently evicted from the rent controlled home she occupied for the past 7 years as the owner of the property turns the property into a vacation rental – greed is driving the driving force.

    • Patrick C.

      Is it greed or just business? I mean, think about it, if you owned a property and had other ideas for it, why can’t you do what you wish?

    • Monsieur Oblong

      You are basically upset that rent control doesn’t work. It provides every kind of incentive to find a way to evict the existing tenants, rather than simply allowing the cost to be where it should be. I am a tech worker, but I neither work nor live in San Francisco — no desire to spend the absurd amounts of money people spend to compete to live in a city with bad weather. Those who want to, bid it up, and this includes both entrepreneurs and artists. They are the ones driving demand. People like me, saving their money living in the ‘burbs, are not driving up SF rents.

  • Larry

    The class system of the tech business includes headhunters, who do very little “real” work but wield a great deal of power. They behave unethically on a daily basis, like little princes who hold a hammer over the heads of tech workers.

    • Monsieur Oblong

      How do headhunters wield a great deal of power? I’ve never had a problem getting a tech job without one, and when I have a job, they can’t do anything to get rid of me.

  • Jim

    I think it’s interesting the Mr. Talbot is distressed that people aren’t giving to the city in the way that he wants them to give, to support the “progressive” city that he wants. As he wrote about himself, SF changed enormously from the late ’60’s to the early ’80’s into the place that he likes and wants. Successful cities are living, breathing entities. They change with people and priorities. Maybe the new “tech elite” have different priorities that Mr. Talbot. Maybe “libertarian stinginess” is actually a quantitative, intellectual, approach to building a city that can sustain itself over the long term, and they may not prioritize things in the same way as Mr. Talbot. Why demonize them?
    And to say that people who work here should have some right to live in the city is a straw man. SF is geographically as very small area within a relatively large and diverse greater urban district. It’s not particularly hard to commute here and every major city has commuters. If he’s particularly worried about housing, Mr. Talbot should be on Forum discussing the repeal of SF’s rent control laws. This sounds like a lot of carping from people who feel entitled to tell others how to live so that they can keep things the way that THEY want.
    That rant aside, I think that there is a real validity to concern about the city pursuing it’s own form of industrial policy by targeting tax breaks to certain industries. These policies often backfire by encouraging boom-bust economies through over concentration on certain industries.

  • Naina

    Well isn’t the same true about any big city? say NYC? But what can you do? Is the solution to go socialistic? As for the question posed by the teacher – Aren’t the techies going to need teachers for their kids? The answer is if there is shortage of teachers in SF, teachers’ salaries will go up. Good ol’ supply-demand logic you know.

    • sfhillrunner

      If there is a shortage of teachers, then the school district will hire fresh-faced Teach for America teachers who have zero experience, get paid at the bottom of the pay scale, and stay in their jobs as teachers for a few years to pad their resumes for a better paying job. Good for them, not so good for their students.

  • Mare Bear

    Mayor Ed Lee represents these values of building out San Francisco, selling to the highest bidder, maximizing income to the City — Elect Avalos for mayor next time around.

  • Jen

    Ware a family recruited here as well- the salary was great, if you live somewhere else. Our children had a terrible time in the public schools and now we homeschool since the private schools merely iffer what the public achools offered were we lived befire. We used to be upper middle class, we diwngraded moving to the Bay Area. We can’t take advantage of the Arts, too expensive. It seems to us its a modern day Mill Town Area. We can’t wait to figure out how to leave. Its just sad.

    • Monsieur Oblong

      Please don’t home-school.

  • sarah

    alot of artists are moving to oakland. where the rent is cheap(er). you can see signs of this by art murmur getting bigger and bigger and little art studios popping up here and there. you can’t afford to live in the city without 5 roommates if you don’t have a high bracket tech salary.

  • TimR

    Tech vs The Arts in SF, Autos vs Critical Mass – I hear parallels between the two conflicts but clearly they need to co-exist. Co-existence is at the heart of the movements in San Francisco.

    • Kevin Krejci

      I think that is a key point about SF culture. Its the convergence of our creative arts culture with the tech entrepreneurs that is bringing a lot of innovative solutions to the world.

      Companies like Twitter are giving voices to more people. Collaborative consumption startups like Airbnb, Getaround, and Taskrabbit are helping people to share resources more efficiently. P2P lending and crowdfunding companies like Kiva are enabling others around the world to get loans for the first time. Social entrepreneurs are thriving in SF, and doing us all good by delivering services more efficiently.

      And if you can’t afford an office in SF, rent a desk in a shared workspace like NextSpace or start a company at an accelerator like Founders Den or Hatchery. I hope the artists can stay in SF and join the tech companies to help them keep thinking out of the box. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Let’s share the roads together…

  • Tony Rocco

    I moved to SF in 1979 and I recall people then complaining about the rising cost of rents. Old hippies reminisced about renting cheap apartments in North Beach back in the 60’s. Various economic forces, including the burgeoning high tech industry, have been driving up property values for decades and likely will continue to do so. The SF Bay Area is one of the most prosperous and desirable places in the world and that is why it costs a lot to live there. That seems to make sense to me and I don’t see the problem.

  • Sal

    Wait, when did liberals start believing in “trickle down”?

  • John K

    I’d suggest that the high cost of housing is as much a result of mortgage banks and borrowers propping up prices from a speculative real estate market to avoid equity losses, as it is a result of high-paid techies bidding for housing.

  • re

    What is wrong with change and the
    natural development of the city. If you want to preserve SF as you
    think it once was, use limited funds to buy up all land and return it
    to less profitable manufacturing. Purchase, or in SF, just rezone
    Pier 39 and Giardelli to allow only manufacturing, food processing
    and shipping. I don’t want to live with a bunch of rich people in
    sterile environments, but I can move to an environment I desire.
    Artists and restaurants can relocate to Oakland and people will
    follow and those areas will change while the current residents of
    Oakland complain about the new people. You refer to Manhatanization
    as if moving to Brooklyn is a sentence to the Gulag. Many people were
    born and raised in Brooklyn and they like it. They do not want to
    live in a high rise in Manhattan.

  • kg

    Why are you entitled to live somewhere just because you make art? That’s ridiculous. We all want to enjoy nice things, and currency exists so that we can decide for ourselves who has earned privilege. Tech doesn’t decide what it’s worth, you do. You buy the gadgets and use the services. I love art and I buy art. But, most art is awful. You can’t demand nice things and provide bad service.

    • aem

      most art in san francisco and the bay is NOT horrible. There is an incredible wealth of intelligent and amazing artists in this area. There is not, however, a market for them. I’m not sure why and have been trying to figure this out ever since I moved here, but it is in part due to the large “counter-culture” and “fringe” aesthetic that Burning Man and the Tech world is part of. I personally wish there was a way to distribute the money more effectively so we can all learn from each other in this scenario. I am a curator and would be more than happy to meet with collectors to introduce them to work that is work being collected. Not all techies are attracted to bad art but a lot of them sure are.

    • Kevin Krejci

      Good points. I think artists need to think more like tech entrepreneurs and tech entrepreneurs need to think more like artists. Its a great opportunity for artists to sell their wares to the tech companies and the wealthy people they employ. They can leverage the P2P marketplaces that their tech neighbors created to connect with potential buyers. Then they can afford to live here.

    • craigs

      It’s worth considering that selling art is not always the impetus for creating art. Artists are trying to communicate, often about society and culture. Many people think this creates a valuable dialog, albeit not monetarily valuable. I would argue that a city thrives when it is able to accommodate many different types of people. But when it’s essentially required that you make a $100k salary just to pay the bills, we’re definitely going to be driving out a lot of wonderful people with brilliant ideas. And FWIW, I’m a software engineer making $100k.

  • mulza

    san francisco has become a nightmare! a smelly rich, well-dressed, snobby, fast-paced nightmare! i prefer the stinky, drugged, artsy & interesting nightmare. …oh well…. i quit.

  • That Girl

    I am a 5th generation Californian. I have been in the Bay Area my whole life save college. What eternally bugs me about San Francisco is that people are always decrying it’s glorious past and announcing it’s mean streets. San Francisco is still very much a progressive city. I am happy that new business is coming to town. The business of the City was Insurance, Finance and Real Estate for the last 30 years. I don’t really see those three making it cheaper to live in SF or promoting the arts and parks all the time. As these companies are now leaving for cheaper locations, we need new business to take their place or there won’t be much job growth. While we don’t have to cave into business at any cost, the old, tired idea of making business the enemy will not work either. The city can be very vibrant and has more possibility with more working tax payers. Rents have gone up through out the Bay Area more do to foreclosure and lack of inventory. If we could encourage these young companies and staff to give back to their communities at an early stage you could have a longer lifetime of giving. No one wants to collaborate with someone calling you names. Perhaps by reaching out in a positive manner, the tone could change and the reason why the techies are living in SF would flourish rather than diminish. San Francisco cannot afford to be progressive without a tax base to pay for this services.

  • Ellen Schatz

    We at edMatch have a perfect way for tech companies to get involved right NOW and benefit public schools exactly in the way David Talbot discusses! edMatch, a non-profit formed by parents to bring needed funding to all of San Francisco’s public schools, is throwing a city-wide Tech Savvy Scavenger Hunt on September 29th at 12:30 starting at the Civic Center Plaza in SF – register here: or go to for more information.

  • uniformity

    A rich self-involved snobby elite is displacing a rich self-involved snobby elite and the rich self-involved snobby elite aren’t going to take it anymore, goddamn it.
    That has to be the whitest conversation I have ever heard. I think everyone on the radio program needs to step out of their bubble, not just the techs. I say this as a ‘liberal’. When I hear people from SF talk about themselves I can’t help but think that they are not ‘progressive’ at all. It’s a very arrogant term to attribute to yourself. Hence how smug they sound. SF sounds to me like it is stuck in its glorious past. Many parts of the US have caught up to where they were in terms of attitude and community and SF just isn’t as important as it once was. People who tie-up their whole identity on things like how cool their cafes and farmer’s markets are probably might want to explore some new ways of thinking about themselves. I know I’m sounding like an a-hole but conforming to ‘progressive’ thoughts and dreams just doesn’t seem very radical these days. Those guys down the road destroying your way of life have probably made an app to help you with that. So is the joke on you? It’s a big wide world out there. You can managed to find diversity in the most unexpected places. First, you might need to rethink what diversity actually is. Should I put a smilie face here? I’m not trying to be combative or trolling. Just as I dislike things like religion guiding culture, I also dislike this delusional self-importance guiding it.

    • lalala

      I agree with you about the whole fake “progressive” thing, but I think the problems related to displacement go beyond that. My husband was born in SF and lived there through high school. He’s a blue collar guy. His perspective, and that of many of my neighbors who are displaced blue collars, is that the city has become a place that sneers at the middle class. I don’t feel sorry for one elite being displaced by another, but it does make me sad when a city becomes inhospitable and uninhabitable by regular people. SF is the new Manhattan, except Manhattan has a lot going for it that SF lacks.

    • utera

      “A rich self-involved snobby elite is displacing a rich self-involved snobby elite and the rich self-involved snobby elite aren’t going to take it anymore, goddamn it.”

      well said lol

  • MikeO16

    I’m kind of on both sides of the spectrum. I work in Tech, but I didn’t move here specifically for that purpose. My wife and I moved here because we vacationed here a few years ago and fell in love with the place. Heck, we loved SF so much we got married at City Hall before we moved here. I work for a large tech company that has offices pretty much anywhere in the world, so it was a matter of a position being available in the SF office and transferring. Moving here exposed me to the crazy rental market. After going to countless open houses and never being the one to get the place, I literally had to fill out my application after a 10 second look at our duplex and had to run to the rental broker to turn in my application (with a check for $1K) before the couple running up the stairs could turn theirs in. The prices here are extraordinary, as anyone knows. I make a good salary, as does my wife. We would love to buy a house here, but with the rent we currently pay, it is going to take us quite a few years to save up a 20% down payment on a house that will likely be $600K (given the prices in our current neighborhood in Outer Richmond, which is where we’d like to stay). We’ve actually contemplated moving up to Seattle for a few years buying a cheaper place just to allow us to build equity and save at a much higher rate so we can move back to SF five or six years from now with the cash in hand to buy a place. While it likely makes the most financial sense, it would be a shame to have to do this because we love it here so much. It’s the first place I’ve moved to where I just felt at home and every day I venture around the city I have a smile on my face that I get to experience such a beautiful city on a daily basis.

    All that being said, while the cost of living here is frustrating (even for those of us in tech) it doesn’t mean the grass is always greener. I grew up and spent a great deal of my life in the Detroit area.
    Most of my family still lives there. Detroit was already in decline when I was born in 1981, and has been on a never ending spiral since then. Coming from that area, the thought of people complaining about ‘too many good paying jobs’ seems like such a first world problem. Would you rather live in a city where there are none? Where there is simply little to no opportunity? If that’s what you really want, Detroit would be right up your alley 🙂 (or you could just visit there and see first-hand what a city with no opportunity turns into over the years).

    Personally I think that eventually this tech bubble will burst, which may (or may not) bring things back to SF’s version of housing
    reality (ie, still expensive, but not insane). I’m in a sector of tech that is fairly insulated as we make hardware and software, but I fear that some of these companies that have made billionaires out of 20 somethings and have had IPO’s that are completely overvalued will fade out when the next big thing comes along (MySpace?). But that’s a topic for another day….

  • erictremont

    Not only is S.F. running out of elbow room due to the tech boom, I’ve never seen BART trains more crowded during rush hour. Almost makes me nostalgic for the crash of 2008/09.

  • Hooter

    I take umbrage with how David has painted the tech ‘elite.’

    My wife and I are part of this group, we are in our early 30s, childless and both earn in the low six-figures. We also have worked our tails off to get to were we are in our respective careers. According to Dave we are living some kind of rarefied, Scrooge McDuck life filled with gourmet dinners and balcony views whilst the non-tech denizens of SF proper live hand to mouth. Despite our two great jobs we are saddled with outrageously high rent, two cars which we need for commuting to the valley and east bay, and a two-car parking bill on top of that (public transit would take me 90min each direction).

    We dream of owning a home either in the city or the valley someday, but with the market being what it is, it will be years before we can realistically become homeowners – and even so, probably in the avenues or down the pinnesula. Your garden-variety midlevel tech employee isn’t living the easy life Dave portrays — rather, they’re earning enough to pay the bills, save a downpayment and blow some money on the odd discrecionary purchase.

    Compared to other metros, like LA or Chicago, SF is a geographically dense, concentrated place – we have great public transportation and a myriad of options for those who can’t afford to live downtown. Were it not for SF’s historically hostile stance towards business, we’d have far more employment choices in the city rather than the valley – causing thousands of people to commute 100+ miles a day down the 101.

    If businesses are expected to shape SF based on some kind of imagined historical standard out of deference to its longtime citizens we’re sure to kill the goose along with its eggs. /rant

  • DB

    As a San Francisco homeowner, I see that one of the biggest problems is that housing unit values have actually declined dramatically since 2007. It is crazy that so many people do not realize this. Regarding techies, in general we are very focused on supporting charity and liberal values and are not conservative or anti-community.

  • techGuy

    I echoed the same sentiments mentioned in your broadcast in response to a blog on the same subject a couple days ago in SFGate (see comments by “techGuy”).

    What is a practical solution to the problem? I would suggest that we give big tax breaks to Jewish owned tech companies and have them move here.

    That will insure boatloads of money flowing into philanthropy for now and generations to come.

    I am a Chinese-American tech worker. In both Chinese and tech culture, it’s eat or be eaten. It leans towards a closed society. If you can’t make it, it’s your fault. The mentality is, “either you are in, or you are out”.

    I can tell you for a fact that Chinese people (even though we make up 30% of the population of SF) and tech workers (who make up a lot of the new wealth in SF) are going to donate a pittance compared to what Jewish families contribute to arts, culture and social causes.

    Almost all of the major donors in SF history are Jewish. The only “new wealth” major tech donor in SF that I can think of is Marc Benioff – who is Jewish. The bulk of community giving in SF (and in the US) has historically come from the Jewish community.

    Jewish culture has a history and value system that materially promotes an open and healthy society and they make regular major financial contributions that support art, humanities and the human condition.

    Jews get turned on building strong inclusive communities.

    Let’s stop tip toeing around the issue and being excessively politically correct.

    To expect non-Jewish wealth made in the current tech bubble to trickle down in a major philanthropic way is unrealistic.

    Sure, there will be exceptions, but history and statistics don’t lie. The facts are pretty clear.

  • creedwait

    I listened with complete astonishment to this program about San Francisco on XM radio. “Artists can’t afford art studios here!” “Artists can’t afford the rent!” “Somebody bought the house I rented, fixed it up and sold it at a profit!” “The government should ensure that I get to live here my whole life since I was raised here!” Oh, and still more of the, “Artists can’t afford to live here!” Good grief. I was born and raised in California and I lived in San Francisco for one year. I would love to still be there. But when it became too expensive I did not start crying crocodile tears about how the government should solve all my problems for me. I moved on. I live where I can afford to live and I vacation where I cannot afford to live, places like San Francisco, Hawaii and Alaska. Would I like to live like a Google millionaire? Of course I would. Would I like to live in Donald Trump’s Manhattan penthouse? Sounds great. But the reality is that I am not a Google millionaire and I am not the Donald. So I have to live within my means, solve my own problems and live where I can afford the rent and the parking. The attitude of entitlement and the sense that government should solve all of our problems IS the problem.

    • John

      tell us all about how much snow you trudged through uphill both ways to school!

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