SAN FRANCISCO — Tech entrepreneurs who came to San Francisco two decades ago, bringing jobs and wealth along with rising house prices and gentrification, are becoming a growing political force in a city they see as completely out of place.
They are building advocacy organizations including TogetherSF Action, Abundant SF and Grow SF to pressure officials to address rising housing costs, community drug trafficking and other issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the organizations differ in their priorities, they all say that a small group of powerful individuals, many of whom are progressive, are holding the city back from addressing some of its most pressing problems. The groups highlight divisions among Democrats in this liberal bastion that is struggling to recover from the pandemic.
“There are a lot of political ideologies in San Francisco that prevent people from working together on things they actually agree on,” said Kanishk Cheng, who founded the company in 2020 with billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, a former journalist. He also launched the San Francisco Standard News website and was an early investor in Google.
This year's TogetherSF action is raising awareness of the city's drug problem and pushing for a stronger police presence to hold drug dealers accountable and provide treatment options to keep drug addicts off the streets. Like many other cities, San Francisco is experiencing a fentanyl crisis and is reporting almost two overdose deaths a day.
Another tech entrepreneur looking to influence change is Jack Rosen, co-founder and CEO of internet platform Pantheon, who helped launch YIMBY California, a development advocacy group fighting for statewide zoning reform.
Rosen said he was motivated by his and his wife's desire to start their family in San Francisco. He is frustrated by the lack of affordable housing as the workers at the bike shop he owns are leaving their jobs, and he wants to get rid of the red tape and red tape that hinders new construction.
Now Rosen, his wife and other tech couples are the driving force behind Abundant SF, which plans to spend millions on ballots and candidates that will create safe, affordable public spaces and increase housing stock for all income levels.
“There are a lot of complaints and little action,” Rosen said. "We want to be part of the solution."
Technology has had a strong presence in San Francisco since the early 2000s, when major companies including Google, Twitter, and Uber began renting office space as Silicon Valley expanded northward.
But lately, industry leaders have been openly trying to influence politics and elections. Some of them grew bolder last year when their moderate campaign led to the defeat of several progressive candidates in the elections: the school principal, three members of the school board and district attorney Chesa Budin.
They range from seasoned activists influencing city and state politics to high-profile figures like Elon Musk who use social media to criticize officials.
Earlier this month, Musk joined the protest on Twitter, which he bought last year for $44 billion, pointing to the murder of cash app founder Bob Lee, who was repeatedly stabbed on the road, as an example of the emerging situation. check. The decline of San Francisco.
In fact, according to the FBI, San Francisco has the lowest violent crime rate of the 23 largest cities in the country. And the acquaintance was eventually arrested after Li's death, and authorities say the attack was not random street violence, but the result of an altercation between the men.
However, many residents feel unsafe due to an increase in property crime, including theft of catalytic converters from shops and grocery stores, and home burglaries. Many people are put off by the sight of drug dealers peddling in public places and suffering mental anguish or littering downtown sidewalks.
In an April city poll, only a third of San Francisco residents said they felt safe going out at night, up from 53 percent in 2019 when officials last polled. When asked to rate the government and the police department, residents gave them a C and a C, respectively.
With these issues in mind, GrowSF, an advocacy group founded in 2020 by two software engineers who quit their jobs in tech to start one, focuses on public safety and helps elected officials tackle issues like property crime and the market. drugs.
“People have been frustrated with this for years,” said co-founder Sachin Agarwal, who worked at Twitter and later at Lyft.
With over 15,000 Twitter followers, GrowSF also publishes voter guides in support of smart candidates and supports efforts to defeat progressive incumbent Dean Preston, who is running for re-election next year. It is also fueling opposition to plans to turn the iconic 100-year-old Castro Theatre, located in the heart of the historically gay Castro neighborhood, into an event venue.
“There is a very small minority of people who do not like change and want the city to remain stagnant and leave it in the past,” Agarwal said. "But the vast majority of people here want to see growth and progress."
Preston, who won her seat in 2019 after running as a Democratic Socialist, dismissed such talk, saying she wants progress too, but needs to include the working class and the poor.
The executive said he has been targeted by many groups created by tech entrepreneurs because of his support for things like tenant rights, affordable housing for low-income residents, anti-displacement initiatives and taxes on the rich. In 2020, she supported a voter-approved $10 million measure in real estate sales tax.
Preston looks vaguely at the new political engines in the tech world, saying he doesn't see them as true advocates for ordinary San Francisco residents.
“I don't think they are interested in solving the problem together. "They're more likely to fight in public and try to use these wedge issues to win the election."
Emily Lee, co-director of the nonprofit San Francisco Rising, is also skeptical of technology advocacy groups, saying they don't work with the people most affected by homelessness and addiction to understand their root causes. He said the city's inability to make any real progress was due to the inconsistency of elected officials.
“There is a chronic inability for mayors and leaders to work together,” Li said. “We need all these politicians to stop being condescending and arguing with each other, and really do something to solve the problems of society.”