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Some in SF value people over profit

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The booming tech industry in San Francisco is helping shape The City’s future, and many have no longterm plans to stay here. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


On Monday, I was interviewed by someone from BBC Mundo, the Spanish-language arm of the BBC. The main question the reporter had was, “Do you think many people in San Francisco would rather have a less successful tech industry in exchange for having a more affordable city?”

The reporter neglected to lump the real estate speculation industry into the question, but my answer was still, “Yes, without a doubt, indubitably, 100 percent. Please, God, make it happen now.” Or something along those lines.

Of course, there are plenty of people who would disagree with me — those who think a booming economy can only bring good things. But those people are assholes.

Now, I’m not saying they can’t be nice people. But this is America, where it’s perfectly acceptable to screw someone over if it’s in the name of making money. Our unofficial national slogan is, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.” In fact, those words should replace “E Pluribus Unum” on the one-dollar bill.

A booming economy can be just as detrimental to a city as a faltering one, and those who say “change is inevitable” and laud the free market are the ones making the most money from it. They aren’t the ones getting evicted from their homes or losing the leases on their businesses. So if you’re one of the those who care more about the success of the tech and real estate industries than you do for the well-being of San Francisco and her people, you, my friend, are an asshole.

Please, don’t take that personally. It’s just business, and I’m in the business of calling bullshit.

The economy-by-any-means-necessary camp shouldn’t get a say in this at all, because they won’t even be here in a few years. They’ll be in Seattle or Austin or wherever the next Gold Rush town is. Or they’ll be living someplace else off the money they bring in from Airbnbing their condo.

A friend of mine who started a successful tech company here in San Francisco shared a story that illustrates this perfectly:

“I was hanging with some other startup founders when I told them I was sick of the tech scene and am selling my company. Their first question was, ‘Will you still live here then?’ I didn’t understand the question. Then I quickly realized that that’s pretty much all they knew about San Francisco and all of the value they saw in The City.”

The unfortunate truth is this: While these folks don’t plan on being in San Francisco for very long — and often don’t even vote here — they have a major say in San Francisco’s future. The titans of the tech and real estate industries funnel oodles of money into supporting candidates and legislation that only aims to make The City more hospitable for these industries, while making themselves richer. Why do you think San Francisco has such a hard time getting any regulations passed on things like Uber or AirBnb? Why do you think the companies on mid-Market got special tax breaks?

I told all this to the reporter from BBC Mundo. Hopefully, enough of it makes it into his article. It’s important the publication’s readers know that San Francisco still has plenty of folks who value people over profit. We just have a lot of assholes, too.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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  • IanFlowers

    Superb piece, Stuart! Thank you.

    In truth, San Francisco has become a greed head infested demonic nightmare.
    What was once an illuminated AFFORDABLE landmark, rich in soul, creativity, and self discovery, is now a temple of evil avarice, a robotocracy of ‘tech bros’ and filthy developers.

    I’ve lived here for decades, performed here, published here, danced here, helped others to heal here, and the only thing keeping me here is my still affordable rent and a fervent desire to not abandon those I love to the Financial Death Squad.

    Here’s good news: the biotech industry is losing money hand over greedy fist. They are crumbling, and the tech companies on the whole are not even turning a profit. There’s still hope!

  • Avery Hastings

    Locals are disturbed and have trouble putting a finger on why. This helps, thanks.

  • chris12bb

    Broke Ass? You have a regular job with Examiner, you are well educated and are pretty successful by most peoples standards. I call bullshit on Broke Ass, what do you really know about being hungry. You play at being hard up, get over yourself. Poor people want to be successful too, they just aren’t given the opportunities and I don’t see your whining about other peoples success helping.

  • mossy buddha

    all the more reason to build more housing…more vacancies when the douchies leave will help lower rents.

  • Froglivinglarge

    Fifteen years ago, we all learned that a stupid business plan with a web site attached to it is still stupid. Now we’re seeing that a stupid business plan with a mobile app attached to it is still stupid. The speculative money’s starting to dry up, and the collapse is on its way. Hopefully some of the bro’s will start to leave soon.

  • fizzle

    Nice ad hominem bro

  • Serpentino Oratorio

    chris12bb – Your small, petty, attack on Broke Ass is funny.

  • doc

    Testify brother!

  • P Segal

    You obviously have no idea how little writers are paid.

  • Auntie Techy

    I saw two chinese investors talking to a developer yesterday at a cafe they were discussing how to “clean out” a building infested with pesky long term tenants so they could build something ugly in it’s place and make millions. I had to stop myself from picking up a knife and going postal on them. Being in the same room with them made me ill.

  • MirrorTheObvious

    High rents push people into being more greedy or at least more money conscious, and cause greater feelings of financial insecurity.

    The get-rich-quick meme in San Francisco and the Bay Area is the problem. This attracts the worst types who flood into the area and who speculate much but create little of value. Ie: the ones that create these real estate bubbles.

    Because “get-rich-quick” is often self fulfilling in its ability to bring in more speculative money, a lot of people have gotten rich quick through house flipping, real estate, and many others through tech stock options. This creates financial bubbles that hurts the long term stayers who weren’t playing the greedy game in the first place.

  • HowdyNSA

    I cannot believe I just looked at an article in a major well known media property with the word “Motherfucking” printed in big bold type by the writers name.

    Anyone else remember when the world at least pretended to be civilized?

    Anyone else wonder how many more years it will be before modern mainstream society has gone full on animalistic jungle savage?

  • HappyHighwayman

    ….and? This article has nothing constructive to share, it’s just a complaint against people who think differently.

  • Customer Support

    Unfortunately the folks who value people over profit are almost always not the ones in a position to make difference about the situation. We elect politicians both locally (Breed, Lee) and at state, federal levels thinking that they’re going to have the best interest of their constituencies in mind, only to find out that they’re corrupted by money too.
    The tech and housing bubble have already popped and you’ll see the results soon. Those luxury condo’s are already sitting mostly empty. Take a walk on mid-market, hayes valley, western addition areas at night around 9-10pm, see how many lights are on… Not many I can tell you that for a fact. The ground floor retail space in those buildings? Empty. The old Go-Getters pizza shop on gough at market has been empty for over 3 years. You’d be a fool to invest in this housing market.

  • Nancy Snyder

    wrong – Broke Ass Stuart stated very well the hazards of valuing profit over people: which is the new San Francisco

  • HappyHighwayman

    And how does he suggest the average person help resolve the situation?

  • Customer Support

    Take a stroll down van ness between jackson and geary between the hours of 7-9 and count the tech buses, watch the long lines of tech bro’s with their nimble fingers working their phones. These area’s have been nearly completely gentrified at this point. Most of the long time residents have been already forced out. It’s not too hard to figure out what’s going on.

  • Charlie Canfield

    “kill the messenger”…

  • Andrew

    “They are crumbling, and the tech companies on the whole are not even turning a profit.”

    That’s just wishful thinking. Apple alone generates more profit every quarter than all the VC investment in the Bay Area.

  • chris12bb

    What race was the developer as it seems important to let us know the race of the investors?

  • lunartree

    Housing scarcity has people fighting over the scraps to such a degree people are speaking like racists again… It’s so sad to see among “liberals”…

  • lunartree

    When you don’t build enough housing you put land values and profits over people. Period. There are many Bay Area cities saying they don’t want growth. We live in a democracy, and that’s fine if they really want to fight for that. However, growth starts with jobs. If you don’t want the city to grow then you have to be up front about not wanting JOB growth. You also have to be aware that without job growth many millennials will have to leave to find work. The millennial generation is much larger than Gen X.

    Allowing job growth without allowing housing growth takes wages from workers and redistributes them to land owners, and that’s exactly what has happened in the Bay Area. We have more jobs than housing for all the people that fill those jobs, and that means more of those workers’ wages are going to the rich through rent rather than into their own savings. If we can’t come to a solution on figuring out where all of us regular people are going to live everything else is just rhetoric to hide cognitive dissonance.

    You want this to be a welcoming city for the huddled masses yet the current culture shouts “go home” to millennials fresh out of college trying to find a place in this world. When your worldview depends on reducing the population so that your can live cheaply, you are valuing profit over people.

  • sfister

    You’re an idiot, Stuart. The technology industry isn’t some shiny new thing. It’s been in the Bay Area since the 1930s. There have been waves of success here and there but, for the most part, Silicon Valley has been the epicenter of technology and innovation for a long, long time. It’s not changing anytime soon, despite your wishes. Will some lame companies die? Of course. But your dream of this city becoming a hollowed-out playground for “artists” is just that: a dream.

  • Cynthia

    Notice how “limit the amount by which property owners are allowed to profit from the housing crisis” is not listed as an option.

  • Avery Hastings

    Yes, this article helped me get a better sense of why it’s so wrong.

  • lunartree

    I’m not opposed to that. What are you proposing? I just want to see the problem solved. We certainly could limit how much homeowners profit, but how do we make that solve the housing scarcity problem?

  • badpenny

    “Chinese” is a nationality, not a race.

  • Chad Burns

    It is easy to point a finger and complain. It is much harder to collaborate on practical solutions to the problems we’re facing. In order to make San Francisco a place where we all can live, we have to do more than point and complain.

  • BFlatlander

    What I’m reading here sounds like someone who had a sweet deal with a rent controlled apartment, and then did absolutely nothing to save up for a down payment to buy a place. I bet chubby cheeked Stuart eats out every night.

    I didn’t.

    I put aside every cent I could because I know that renting is not the way you get to stay in a beloved city. And that is is the difference between reality and whining about bad decision making.

  • BFlatlander

    Every single unit has been sold. That is a FACT. The international investors elect to keep the lights off when they are not at home.

  • Not A Native

    The traditional pattern of industry was to create housing for the employees who were needed for the enterprise. “Factory towns” were the norm and cities began as factory towns. That’s how China has recently created a manufacturing economy. Perhaps we need to resurrect that model. Developer impact fees are along the lines of that but imperfectly match housing to employment.

  • Lisa Prisco Taner


  • lunartree

    You seem to think about how culture evolves so consider this. Culture changes and so do the specific words that are considered vulgar. Look up a newspaper from 50 years ago and I’m sure you will see plenty of offensive things said in “clean” language. The word “vulgar” simply means common, and years ago society decided “proper” people restrain their speech so as not to speak like commoners. Today our culture is shifting to value honesty and directness over traditional politeness. We don’t say “watch your language there are women present” anymore. We don’t need euphemisms for feces or sex anymore because people are learning to tune into the things that matter rather than get caught up on nonsense.

  • Customer Support

    Interesting. I’m going to look into this info, thank you very much.

  • dioretix

    A: limiting how much homeowners profit would solve the problem immediately, because we do NOT have a housing shortage in SF, we have an AFFORDABLE housing shortage. There is actually a great deal of available housing in SF, but much of it is brand new, luxury apartments, or newly available flats owned by stubborn landlords asking more than their properties are worth, leaving many homes vacant while property owners hold out for top dollar.

    B: To say “we have more jobs than housing”, even if that were true, is an oversimplification. SF is hemorrhaging working class jobs because the people who once did those jobs can’t afford to live here anymore. It’s not just “jobs” that matter, it’s the type of jobs, and creating more tech jobs isn’t helping the working class. Recently, Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, which had been in SF for nearly 100 years, had to close, because they couldn’t find people to do the type of work that is needed to keep a moderately priced restaurant in business.

    C: “I was here first” might seem petty and selfish to you, but how would you feel if you were here first? How would you feel if you lived in a city for years, and had to watch all the relationships you cultivated over the course of those years die as your friends and family were forced out for younger, richer people just because they are younger and more rich? How would you like to see the cultural institutions and local business you relied on for those years get shut down so a bunch of out-of-state billionaires could profit off the city’s new younger, richer denizens? Being first counts for something, and it always has.

    D: Your defense of the influx of millennials into SF, to people like me, sounds like this: “we want to live in SF, so the city and its current residents should suck it up, and either change the whole dynamic of the city to accommodate us, or shut the hell up. Sure, we can have a home anywhere, but we want to live HERE, and we get what we want. We don’t care how it effects you; we need more condos so we’re gonna raze your place of employment/community garden/historic site/favorite restaurant/bar/venue to put in more housing for us. You’re old and we’re new, so get out of our way. And if you complain, we’ll just call you a NIMBY. You can be the most active progressive with a history of fighting for social justice; we’ll still make you out to be an intolerant, orthodox luddite who’s standing in the way of progress.”

  • dioretix

    I suppose every article you read is supposed to have specific strategies about how “the average person can help the situation.” Do you complain about this in articles you agree with? This is an op-ed, not a how-to. The “op” stands for opinion. If you don’t like op-eds, don’t read them. Otherwise, I suppose you can write to every columnist in every paper in the world and complain that their opinion columns are just opinions.

  • HappyHighwayman

    Way to deflect from my points. I didn’t make a comment about other articles, other opt-eds etc, just this one. If Stuart is so smart, perhaps he can stop berating people in an idiotic column and tell us what the average person is supposed to do about it. Otherwise it’s just a rant.

  • lunartree

    A: “we do NOT have a housing shortage in SF” – Objectively false statement. We have enough high end housing to slow price increases in the high end market, but it’s not a big enough surplus to satisfy demand for the mid and lower cost ranges. If we did you would see a lot of the middle class homes that now sell for millions return back to those prices.

    B: “Our middle class wages are too high now” – How progressive of you. You’re complaining that more people are making a REAL middle class wage while ignoring the fact that SF has historically had a financial industry which still to this day pays higher salaries. Our goal should be to get as many people as we can into the $80-120k salary range because thats what real middle class wages are in the 21st century. The only reason they’re less is because the ultra rich are profiting off of all of us.

    C: Yes, displacement is awful, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

    D: Have you looked at this country lately? Every city where a college student can find a job is expensive and has limited housing, and anywhere where there isn’t a housing shortage doesn’t have jobs. I’m sorry for existing?

  • Mike Green

    the liberals caused this mess by their credo of: there is no such thing as overpopulation:

    well, you are living in a world of overpopulation, which means 4k for rent

    how do you like living in the world you helped create?

    how much will rent be in 50 years? how many billions will be in california?