What does it mean to be a San Franciscan? Is it just having an address here? Is it voting locally? Is there a certain amount of years you have to reside in The City before you can call it home?
I’ve been here for over 16 years and, as you probably know, am obnoxiously involved in things. Because of this I’m often asked, “How long do you have to live here to be considered a local?”
For me, it’s not really about how long you’ve lived in a place, but how engaged you are with it, so I often respond “Do you know who your district supervisor is?”
If you don’t know who represents you on a local level, how can you consider yourself a local? It’s a pretty low barrier to entry, but you’d be surprised how many people have no idea.
When I ran for mayor of San Francisco in 2015, I noticed how few people who moved to The City for tech jobs were registered to vote here. Many were registered back at their parents’ place and didn’t care about local issues because they didn’t plan on being here for very long. The thing I tried my damnedest to get across to folks who fell into this category was that, while they didn’t plan on being here for the long term, their presence was making an indelible impact and that they should care.
The example I used was: “If you’re invited to a party at someone’s house and you drop a bottle of wine, you don’t say ‘I’m only here for a couple hours, I’m not cleaning it up.’ You get down and help clean up the mess you made.” I urged the same for San Francisco; all of us have helped make this mess, so we should all be part of cleaning it up, even if you only plan on being here a few years.
But how do you feel like a San Franciscan if you’re never actually in it? How do you begin to care about a place that you only see from the windows of your office or the back of your Lyft?
There’s nothing wrong with moving to a wonderful city for a great job. The problem comes when the culture around the job keeps you from engaging with the city you live in. And tech culture can be so insular.
When you take an Uber to work, work a million hours, get your food at work, take an Uber home, and even wear the branded clothing your company gives you, you’re opting out of being a San Franciscan. Even if you didn’t mean to.
That’s what I find so interesting about the ban on new cafeterias that supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin are trying to make happen. If it passed, companies wouldn’t be able to build the subsidized corporate cafeterias that have been feeding tech workers for the past seven or eight years.
The impetus for the proposal is the terrible impact the cafeterias have had on local food businesses in the mid-Market area. Part of the reasoning behind the Twitter Tax Break was that it would bolster the local economy by providing an influx of consumers. But that was negated by the fact that workers weren’t given reason to go spend money; their needs were taken care of by their companies.
Which all goes back to my earlier points: You get to be a local by interacting with local people. Hell, the companies can still subsidize their workers’ food by giving them vouchers to use at local businesses, but the point is to get them out spending money in San Francisco and interacting with San Franciscans. If you only interact with people who are just like you, how will you be able to empathize with people whose struggles are nothing like yours?
I don’t know about you, but I’m interested to see where this thing goes.
Now go say a bunch of mean things in the comments!
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him atBrokeAssStuart.com and join his awesome mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.
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