Three Bird scooters upside down in a trash can in San Francisco.
(Kheven LaGrone)

In his essay titled, “San Francisco, You’ll Miss Your Tech Bros If They Flee,” Bloomberg Opinion columnist Noah Smith writes that the tech bubble is a victim of outsiders’ antipathy towards them. The essay suggests that it is more important that San Francisco retain its tech bubble than its longtime and native residents. 

Smith argues that San Francisco will miss the tech bros if they flee. But San Francisco is already missing its long time and native residents. Many native and long-time residents miss San Francisco as well. As Smith writes, there is “a desire to preserve the traditional culture of Northern California—easygoing, uncrowded and quiet, with neighborhoods filled with longtime residents.” 

The tech bubble has changed the character of the Bay Area—most visible are the homeless encampments that are present in all of its major cities.

Smith acknowledges that the tech industry has not been the ideal new neighbor. He writes that the influx of high-earning tech workers have moved in, “pushing rents up, displacing many long-time residents, and changing the feel of the city.” 

But he leaves out that many of those displaced residents are now living in the homeless encampments that we see everyday. In fact, over 70 percent of homeless people in San Francisco were once native residents with homes. Smith calls this “San Francisco’s ever-festering homelessness problem,” yet he does not point out the direct relationship between those encampments and the tech bubble. Thus, his essay entitles people within the bubble to complain about the homeless encampments without feeling any responsibility or guilt.

The hostility that these privileged new San Franciscans feel toward people who live on the street has been proven through certain very public actions. 

For example, in 2016, a techie sent an open letter to then-San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr, stating, “I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.” 

Though he had only been in San Francisco for about three years, the writer felt as though he was more important than the homeless people he described, many of whom were likely long-time residents. (Media across the country, including The New York Times, attacked his entitlement and self-centeredness.) 

For people who have been forced out of their homes, this attitude breeds antipathy toward the tech industry. Smith suggests that this antipathy, or backlash, has caused the city to enact bans—such as the plastic straw ban, or the electric scooter ban—which he writes are “aimed squarely” at the tech industry. 

He writes, “In another restrictive move, San Francisco temporarily prohibited electric scooters…now scooter operators must go through a laborious permitting process.” But he fails to mention that these restrictions followed many complaints from the public. This included scaring older pedestrians and blocking handicap access. 

Smith’s essay warns San Francisco and the rest of the bay area that regulations like these might create a “tipping point,” at which the industry is driven out en masse. But stable societies need rules and regulations so that people can live together peacefully. 

Since the tech bros don’t like rules, perhaps the tech bubble is essentially unstable—especially when they are surrounded by resentful neighbors. But ironically, the tech bros have driven up the rent so high, many of them are leaving anyway. Many are lured away from Silicon Valley and to other tech clusters like Seattle and Austin. Perhaps this will take us to a point where the tech bubble can live peacefully with the rest of San Francisco. Perhaps that would ease the Bay Area’s shelter crisis. Perhaps many ex-San Franciscans can return, or move from tent encampments back into permanent homes.

Kheven LaGrone is a writer and activist who lives in Oakland.