Dear Evan Williams:
You, to my surprise, responded to my piece on The Bold Italic. I want to sincerely thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to even consider reading my piece. And you were correct to a degree about the Nimbyism that has run rampant throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. That being said, I find placing the majority of the blame squarely on the shoulders of upper middle class homeowners to be a bit naive.
When Mayor Lee and his team of legislators offer tax subsidies to companies like the one you founded: Twitter and others, to place their headquarters in or adjacent to the Tenderloin what do you think he is trying to achieve? Do you think Mayor Lee loves to get his tweet on? Or do you think he may have an ulterior agenda?
When a guy like Mark Zuckerberg, who can literally afford to live anywhere on the planet purchases a home in the predominantly hispanic, working class Mission District, what do you think his presence, or even his investment will do to the generations of families (who primarily rent) that have called The Mission District home?
I know these are difficult questions, and I don’t expect you, nor anyone else to have all the answers for them, but to say the tech explosion hasn’t greatly exacerbated the issues faced by working families, the creative class and the poor in general is, in my opinion, completely absurd.
There has always been an upper class in San Francisco, just like any other city. The Mission District was allowed to be a working class neighborhood while the ultra wealthy enjoyed their caviar and sweeping views of San Francisco in Nob Hill. The Tenderloin was a place for the horribly poor precisely at the same time as The Marina District was a place for the fabulously wealthy. Pacific Heights and Bayview/Hunter’s Point coexisted in the city simultaneously. Most of the affluent residents didn’t care to spend time in the so called “low class” neighborhoods; allowing the working class a place in the city. That changed when the techies arrived.
And this process isn’t limited to just San Francisco. Most media outlets focus on San Francisco because of its status as a world class city, but this is happening to the entire Bay Area.
Just look at the current state of Oakland. The working class are being displaced there at roughly the same rate as San Francisco. Historically working class, African American communities like West Oakland have been completely changed in recent years.
This may surprise you, but I don’t live in San Francisco, and I haven’t lived in Oakland since I was 12. I reside just 28 miles east of San Francisco in a city you may vaguely recognize because its name is printed on the BART map called Concord.
In and around this primarily suburban, middle to working class city of roughly 130,000 residents, I have had to move 3 times in the last 4 years in addition to getting roommates because of the increased cost of living. And we suspect when our lease is up our rent will increase like it has every other time and we will most likely move to Sacramento when that eventually occurs.
I’m not bitter about this, but I can see how people who have built their entire lives in The Bay Area, their careers in The Bay Area; who have made friends, met lovers, and have come to fearlessly express themselves here to be told to leave or endure a substantially reduced quality of life because a new industry has made our region their home base can be just a tad spiteful of the tech sector’s overabundant prosperity.
And it doesn’t help that some of those in the tech industry feel the need to write open letters like: this one.
I’ll admit that I may have been intentionally provocative while writing my article, but I only did so with the goal of creating a dialogue. I understand that the techies are not the only ones to blame in this mess. I understand that industry and technological innovation is important, but so are the people that were here before taking a selfie was a thing.
So, once again, thank you for taking the time to read my article and for responding to it.
— Abe Woodliff