Beware of the ‘Woke’ Tech Oligarchs

Mark ZuckerbergOnce the rich protected themselves by aligning with Republicans who would protect their property from high taxes and their firms from regulation.

Some still do — notably the Koch brothers — but this breed of right-winger is gradually losing out to more progressive tilted plutocrats. In 2016, according to Open Secrets, three of the four largest billionaire political donors — hedge fund manager James Simon and his wife Marilyn, Michael Bloomberg, and currency speculator George Soros — titled progressive. This reflects a broader social trend.

Overall the GOP continues to slightly outpace Democrats among the ultra rich, but most of the big conservative donors such as Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Rupert Murdoch, and Irvine Chairman Don Bren are well into their seventies or in their eighties. The trend belongs, clearly, to the progressives. Between 1980 to 2016, support for Democrats from the 0.1 percent has tripled, and donors in the nation’s wealthiest ZIP codes overall now give more to Democrats than Republicans.

Take Michael Bloomberg, the former Republican of convenience who last week announced he would invest $80 million into Democratic campaigns this fall before teasing, yet again, a possible presidential run of his own. Bloomberg’s usual causes are not those of traditional social democracy — after all this is the guy who proclaimed what New York really needed was more billionaires, and who beta-tested in New York City the businessman-as-better-political-leader pitch he then watched with dismay Donald Trump take all the way to the White House — but issues less threatening to the plutocracy, such as climate change and gun control.

The buyout of mainstream progressivism has changed its nature. Big donor-driven candidates — who still dominate the party’s leadership ranks, even as small-donor powered insurgents like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez test that arrangement, at least in low-turnout elections — are less concerned with the fate of auto or communication workers than they are with issues of environmental regulation, identity, and culture.

Facebook President Sean Parker, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Salesforce.com Chairman Marc Benioff, Mark Zuckerberg, and the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, are all relatively young men devoted to the progressive cause — at least those parts of it that don’t threaten their bottom lines.

The Trump Effect

With his horrendous comments and awful actions, Trump has accelerated wokeism among the wealthy and their minions. This oligarchic drift has been building for years, as wealth has shifted from traditional resource and manufacturing industries to software, media, finance, and entertainment. In sharp contrast to energy firms, home-builders, and farmers, the regulatory state does not threaten the bottom lines of these industries, as long as it refrains from breaking up their virtual monopolies.

Indeed, as researcher Greg Ferenstein suggests, the new oligarchs favor an active state that will subsidize worker housing or even a guaranteed minimum income, and keep their businesses off the hook for providing decent benefits to their ever expanding cadre of gig-economy serfs. He points out that the former head of Uber, Travis Kalanick, was a strong supporter of Obamacare and that many top tech executives — including Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk — favor a government-provided guaranteed annual wage to help, in part, allay fears about what happens to most of the workforce as their industries and jobs are “disrupted.”

Geography plays a role here as well. With the biggest concentrations of wealth now in the most “progressive” regions — the Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Seattle — moguls must operate in an environment dominated by fervent anti-Trump social-justice and green advocacy. Many big tech employees — nearly 40 percent in the Bay Area, by some estimates — are noncitizens, with little reason to be concerned about how the wealth in these corners is, or is not, spread across the nation.

So it’s no surprise that woke employees at Microsoft, horrified by the brutalism of Trump’s immigration policies, have decided not to cooperate with ICE. Not to be outdone, Amazon workers compare their company’s cooperation with immigration authorities to IBM’s collaboration with Nazi Germany. Similarly Google workers are refusing to help with drones used to combat terrorists, while Apple is actively working to make it difficult for police to break into phones used in committing crimes, including in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist massacre.

So powerful, and self-referential, are these companies — and their highly compensated workers — that they are increasingly willing to deny even the idea of national interest when that does not suit their political notions. Unlike businesses that worry about competition or mass opinion, these oligarchic companies can demonize half of the country with impunity. At the end of the day, even Trumpians depend on these systems unless they want to look at Chinese alternatives.

The New Controllers

Since Trump’s election, many progressives have pushed the idea that we are on the cusp of a return to traditional authoritarianism, as portrayed in books like George Orwell’s 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet the real model for future tyranny may be more that of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which portrays a society run by a biologically conditioned scientific and technological elite.

In Brave New World, the masters are not hoary Stalinoids or angry right-wing fundamentalists, but gentle, reasoned executives. The Controllers preside over a society where social classes are well-defined, and only those at the top — the Alphas — live in comfort. Families have been abolished except on reservations for misfits, and people widely enjoy access to pleasurable pharmaceuticals and unconstrained, commitment-free sex in the city.

Huxley’s future eerily resembles the one favored by the oligarchs, who are now paying women workers to freeze their eggs as they aim to create an elite Alpha class without children or property, to be serviced by the low-wage Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons of Huxley’s world — bused in from the suburban fringes.

The Controller’s power, first and foremost, depends on implanting information. In Brave New World contrary ideas are dismissed not as breaking the party line but as simply absurd or even pornographic. Today’s woke oligarchs do much the same by controlling both information and culture. Bloomberg is a prime example but he’s a pauper compared to Bezos, the world’s richest man owning one of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

Tech sofa change in recent years also helped Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate buy The New Republic, and run it into the ground before selling it. More recently Laurene Powell, the left-leaning widow of the late Steve Jobs (net worth $20 billion), scooped up The Atlantic for a nonprofit that will compete with more traditional competitors who still, sadly, have to make money.

Meanwhile, Google is promoting journalism by robots while also planning to invest $300 million in favored outlets. What could go wrong?

The Agenda

In the emerging regime, here’s what’s not important: personal autonomy and privacy. A controlled and woke society starts with access to people’s thoughts, something critical to the advertising-driven businesses of Google and Facebook and, increasingly, also to Apple and Microsoft. It’s important to remember what Google’s former Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt once told CNBC: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The digital revolution, which had so much promise for democratizing information, appears to be hyper-concentrating media both geographically, on the coasts, and through pipelines controlled overwhelmingly by firms like Facebook, so that a change in policy there can undermine even established media, and Google, which controls over a thirdof all on-line advertising and a remarkable 90 percent of global search. As The Guardian recently put it: “If ExxonMobil attempted to insert itself into every element of our lives like this, there might be a concerted grassroots movement to curb its influence.”

These patterns are reinforced by students shaped by our ideologically homogeneous education system. The censorious instinct now intrinsic to universities, particularly the elite ones, shapes the thoughts of the highly educated workers critical to these companies. Controllers like those at Facebook increasingly seek to “curate” views, largely conservative, they don’t like, according to former employees. Often this censorship is being carried out under guidance developed by largely progressive groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has too often labeled anyone outside its ideological “safe space” as racist bigots. Over 70 percent of Americans, notes a recent Pew study, believe social media platforms “censor political views.”

Ultimately the oligarchs, reacting to their woke workers and constituency, seek a control over basic behavior in ways even the snoop-crazy Chinese would admire. Facebook already admits to having patented technology that would allow them to snoop on their users, although they deny using it. Netflix, the oligarchical company that by some estimates is now worth more than any of the movie studios, recently imposed controls over what people do on sets of movies they finance. That includes rules that ban asking for phone numbers of co-workers or even looking at people for more than five seconds, an innovation even more intrusive than those of Huxley’s Controllers.

Hypocritical Oaths

Stanley Bing’s recently released Immortal Life gives a riveting version of a near-future society shaped by our tech oligarchs. In his not-so-distant future, government has largely been replaced by a cabal of superannuated tech moguls — effectively Global Controllers — who shape societal views, implant devices in human brains, and dominate every aspect of the economy. Democracy hasn’t just been constrained; it’s been excised.

Right now the rising power of the Controllers has been obscured by the Trumpian counterrevolution, a peasant rebellion supported by a less than charming alliance of old economy moguls, angry white males, and more than few xenophobic racists. But over the long term, history is bending toward the woke oligarchy—particularly as the old generation conveniently dies off.

If these well-heeled progressives have a vulnerability, it’s their extreme hypocrisy. In California, the epicenter of the resistance and elite wokefulness, Silicon Valley oligarchs and their shrieky Hollywood counterparts are fervent in their embrace of progressive values. But, as a new report from Chapman University shows, the prevailing oligarch-friendly California economic agenda — hostile to suburbs, fossil-fuel energy, and manufacturing — has proven unequal and particularly damaging to minorities.

Not without reason has the maverick environmentalist Mike Shellenberger called California “the most racist” state in the union. Far from Malibu and swanky haunts of the cultural elites, the bulk of Los Angeles suffers among the highest poverty rates of any metropolitan areas. Cost-adjusted wages for middle-class workers, Latinos, and African Americans in Silicon Valley have actually dropped during the recent economic boom there.

Perhaps there’s no better illustration of hypocrisy than the Disney company. The once conservative bastion-turned-promoter of woke values has been led by Robert Iger, a fantastically well-compensated self-defined “progressive,” who has made much of denouncing President Trump’s immigration policy as “cruel and misguided ” and taking standard progressive positions on guns and the Paris accords. Yet, as Bernie Sanders has pointed out recently, Disney workers are generally poorly paid, many on the verge of poverty. Even middle-class workers have been given the shiv: The company infamously replaced its IT workers with outside contractors shipped in from India.

Against the Oligarchs

This unprecedented agglomeration of wealth and power needs to be opposed both by conservatives and traditional progressives. It won’t be easy. In the presidential run, The Washington Post took hard aim at Bernie Sanders before turning, albeit less successfully, against Trump. More recently Amazon and its minions forced Seattle’s progressives to back down from a plan to make the company pay more taxes. Majority Leader Charles Schumer opposes higher capital-gains rates, warming the cockles of venture capitalists and the new economic royalists, some of whom are his contributors.

Even on green issues, the famously pious oligarchs demonstrate remarkable levels of hypocrisy. These firms have bought enough allowances and built solar or wind facilities to claim “carbon neutrality.” But such offsets, as the new Chapman report reveals, mostly shuffle greenhouse gases around and don’t actually reduce global emissions. Apple keeps its California carbon footprint down by making all its products abroad, mostly in China — which ends up spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than if they built them here.

Ultimately the only way to stop the new Controllers and challenge their hypocrisy will be to meet them head on. Companies like Google need to be broken up, as many on both right and left agree. This position has even been adopted by the generally liberal Boston Globe which warned that, “Never ever in the history of the world has a single company had so much control over what people know and think.”

But it’s not just Google — which spends more on lobbying than any other private company—or Amazon, which has quadrupled its government spending since 2014. This relatively new focus on inside Washington influence-peddling, combined with their oversized influence on critical technologies, our media, and overall economic system makes these firms a threat to the pluralism essential to democracy, unlike any we have seen in the last century. Their vision presages a society where few work and a handful control the nation’s riches. To avoid a rebellion, the “redundant” are supposed to be paid off with some sort of government allowance.

Americans need to oppose this evolution and fight for the flourishing of a grassroots and more dispersed economy now, before the oligarchs brave new world is fully and finally here.

ditor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

This piece originally appeared on The Daily Beast.

Cross-posted at New Geography.

Bay Area Has Become World’s 19th Largest Economy

sanfrancisco3The Economic Institute reported this month that the Bay Area would be the 19th-largest economy in the world, if it were a country, after growing at the fifth-fastest rate of any nation since 2014.

The Bay Area’s nine counties — including San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, San Mateo, Solano and Santa Clara — consistently grew faster than the U.S. over the last 20 years. With a GDP of $748 billion at the end of 2017, the Bay Area’s economy now exceeds that of Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

The Bay Area’s rate of growth, at 4.3 percent compounded from 2014 through 2017, was also about two and a half times faster than the 1.7 percent growth of the United States. Due to that persistent growth advantage, the Bay Area’s GDP per capita is almost $80,000, versus less than $55,000 in GDP per capita for the nation as a whole.

Bay Area employment grew slower than the U.S. economy from 2008 to 2011, but has recently ramped up. The fastest Bay Area job growth sectors in the Bay Area were healthcare. up 26 percent; professional and scientific professions, up 25 percent; accommodation and food industries, up 17 percent; and information technologies, up 14 percent.

Bay Area median wages in 2017 were the highest in the nation at $52,100, versus $50,300 for Boston and $39,800 for Los Angeles.

The Economic Institute credits the Bay Area’s highly educated population as a key competitive advantage. With a metropolitan area national high of 46 percent of resident adults over the age of 25 with a college bachelor’s degree, the Bay Area’s average educational achievement towers over the 31 percent average for the U.S.

Although the Bay Area is often referred to as Silicon Valley, the economy is broadly diversified, compared to New York, which is heavily concentrated in financial services and consumer goods. In addition to tech companies, the Bay Area is home to leading companies in financial services, consumer goods, and other sectors.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

$15 minimum wage goes into effect for all businesses in San Francisco

Minimum wage1San Francisco this week enacted its $15 minimum wage, making it the first major U.S. city to mandate a $15 wage floor for all businesses.

It’s the last phase of Proposition 14, which voters passed in 2014 and raised the wage in increments of $1.00 through 2018.

“Those who say we have to choose between economic growth and fair pay are wrong,” City Administrator Naomi Kelly said in a statement. “We in San Francisco have proven that these elements aren’t exclusive of each other and, in fact, they compliment each other.”

And while “Fight for 15” advocates are cheering the move, the increase does little to address the cost of living concerns in the Bay Area, a region which continues to see a heavy exodus to neighboring states.

For example, a recent analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that someone would have to work around 160 hours per week at $15 per hour to be able to afford an average 2 bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

Furthermore, the income level for a family of four to qualify to low income assistance is now over $117,000 in the region, according to findings from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Across all of California, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,750 and a two-bedroom averages $2,110. Average home prices in the state have surpassed $500,000 – and in places like Santa Clara County it’s well over $1 million.

Additionally, experts are noting that the wage hike may actually hurt low-wage workers, arguing that such an increase comes with trade-offs for poor residents. While the hourly wage may increase, it’s also likely to force businesses to cut prices – and possibly the hours of their workers.

“San Francisco already has a major problem facing low wage workers,” George Mason economist Michael Farren explained on C-SPAN. “So the additional cost of $15 hour minimum wage and the effect it’s going to have on prices isn’t going to help low-wage workers very much.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Poll: 46 percent of Bay Area residents likely to leave the region

San Francisco, CA, USABetween 1850 and 1860, California’s population grew by 410 percent – a rapid expansion fueled by the Gold Rush.

The rush today, though, is more outbound than inbound.

From 2007 to 2016, 6 million people left the state while only 5 million moved in. One could argue that with a population of nearly 40 million, a deficit of 1 million over a decade isn’t terribly consequential. One could also argue that losing 1 million is just a start. A recent poll found that 46 percent of Bay Area residents said they are likely to leave the region within the next few years. Only 24 percent of those who want to leave wish to stay in California.

Clearly there is something rotten in San Francisco. Only 25 percent told EMC Research, which polled for the Bay Area Council, that the metro region was headed in the right direction. Fifty-five percent said it is on the “wrong track.”

As recently as 2015, the numbers were almost exactly the reverse: 55 percent said the Bay Area was headed in the right direction, and 28 percent said it was on the wrong track.

So, what has changed?

Several things, it seems. Today, 42 percent said “housing/housing costs/housing availability” is “the most important problem facing the Bay Area today.” In 2015, only 18 percent felt that way.

Other significant trouble spots according to the respondents include “traffic/congestion,” “poverty/homelessness,” and “cost of living.”

This impulse to escape California’s housing crisis is not unique to Bay Area residents. A University of California-Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll taken late last summer found that due to the rising costs of housing, 56 percent across the state have considered moving, “with one in four saying that if they did decide to move, they would most likely relocate out of state.”

In a more recent poll, 700 local business leaders told the Los Angeles County Business Federation the housing crisis and homelessness are “a growing concern” throughout Los Angeles County.

While taxes and fees are still at the top of the list of their biggest headaches, housing and the homeless problem have “moved from low-level concerns in 2017 to among highest priorities of the business community in this year’s poll.”

“The housing crisis affects all sectors and all people in Los Angeles County,” said Greg McWilliams, chief policy officer of FivePoint Communities, a member of the Los Angeles County Business Federation.

“What’s important to note is that taxes and fees halt development, resulting in less housing, business stagnation, higher rents, and higher rates of poverty.”

One wonders if those who cite housing and other cost-of-living hardships as reasons to flee are making the connection between those conditions and California’s one-party rule.

In the four decades Democrats have ruled Sacramento, we’ve seen the development of a housing crisis perpetuated by lousy public policy and a reluctance to enact helpful changes; a regulatory regime and tax structure that is venomous toward business; a political and cultural division that threatens to tear the state into multiple parts; and a widespread sense that the state is heading in the wrong direction.

How can this Blue State stranglehold be broken? It won’t be torn loose by a Republican wave. GOP candidate John Cox might make the governor’s race competitive this fall, but the party is either presumed “dead” or an “afterthought” in California.

California needs candidates who will run pro-growth, pro-freedom, solution-oriented campaigns, regardless of party. Registered voters who have no party preference are now the second-largest electorate group in the state, trailing only registered Democrats.  These voters will make a difference in November whether or not those who are focused on making changes in Sacramento – the new breed of office-seekers that we need to cultivate – are elected.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Families earning $117,000 now qualify as “low income” in California’s Bay Area

A report out this week from the Department of Housing and Urban Development finds the median price for a single-family home in the Bay Area is now $935,000. A family earning $117,000 now qualifies as “low income” in the region.

CBS News went to see California’s red-hot housing market with realtor Larry Gallegos. He showed us a house you would think he couldn’t give away. But Gallegos says the home, complete with leaks in the roof, sold for $1.23 million. The buyer beat out six competing offers, all above the asking price.

“It’s a little mind blowing, but it is the norm around here,” Gallegos said.

That norm is fueled by thousands of well-paid tech workers who have driven up the median price of a San Francisco house to $1.6 million dollars, the highest in the country. While housing prices are rising faster than incomes nationwide, nowhere is it more evident than in the Bay Area, where home values have soared a staggering 64 percent over the last five years. …

Click here to read the full article from CBS News

Rent-Control Measure Could Soon Make California Even Less Affordable

HousingCalifornia is an expensive place to live. New residents of San Francisco face median monthly rents of around $4,000 per month, and median rents are cresting $1,900 even in Sacramento. Housing supply runs well short of demand, pushing up prices in more corners of the Golden State than ever before. Many residents are moving to cheaper locales like Idaho or Texas, while others are falling into California’s growing homeless population. Bad as things are, the state might yet make them worse if it goes ahead and declares war on the housing market—that would be the effect if voters approve an initiative on November’s ballot, supported by tenants-rights advocates, repealing a law limiting local rent control throughout California.

The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits rent control on single-family homes and apartments built after its 1995 enactment. Municipalities that already had local rent control laws have earlier cutoff dates; for Los Angeles, this means that rent control is limited to buildings completed before October 1978. San Francisco’s older housing stock means that its 1979 rent control ordinance still applies to three-quarters of the city’s rental units. When a rent-controlled unit is vacated, landlords are free to charge market value. At present, 15 California cities have rent-control ordinances on their books. Repealing Costa Hawkins will allow more localities to impose rent control, which, based on past experience, will deform the market and make it even harder for renters to find affordable housing.

Repeal advocates submitted some 588,000 signatures—200,000 more than needed—and a political fight is brewing that is expected to cost about $100 million in organizing and ad spending. “This ballot measure will pour gasoline on the fire of California’s affordable housing crisis,” said Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, in the Sacramento Bee. Landlord-affiliated lobbying groups are trying to stave off that conflagration by supporting efforts in the legislature to curb “price gouging” as a concession for taking the anti-Costa Hawkins initiative off the ballot.

Economists generally agree that rent control protects incumbent renters at the expense of newcomers, while leading to more gentrification and income inequality. A 2017 Stanford University study found that rent control in San Francisco effectively acted as a $3 billion wealth transfer to protected renters from 1995 to 2012. Over that same period, the city’s rental housing stock decreased by 15 percent, while rents rose by more than 5 percent. In short, a lucky few won the housing lottery at the expense of everyone else.

Scott Weiner, a California state senator who became known for his recent attempt to sweep away housing-density limits statewide, explained to the San Jose Mercury News how rent control could be part of a housing bargain: “We want to make sure that people have incentives to build new rental housing while also ensuring that we have a rent-stabilized housing stock. You can do that. You can find that balance.”

But the cost of using rent control to purchase political support for housing development is high, and its logic is faulty. California real estate investors are already selling off apartment properties or holding off on developing new housing. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Santa Monica, whose leaders have signaled an expansion of rent control if Costa Hawkins is repealed, is seeing the number of multifamily properties on the market jump by 80 percent, to the highest level in two decades. Who wants to own an asset when the government will soon be able to cap its price?

If housing demand is outpacing supply in California, the right answer is to build more housing. The lifting of caps statewide on accessory dwelling units in 2016—and the skyrocketing number of them now being approved in places like Los Angeles—suggests that there is a will and a way to add housing in California. Naturally affordable and invisibly dense development is a more efficient and equitable means of providing dwellings for Californians than locking up their housing stock and throwing away the key.

Scooter Companies Have Two Weeks to Get Off the Streets of San Francisco

The City of San Francisco has left scooter ridesharing companies no choice but to get off the streets and apply for a permit.

A joint ruling was issued today by the City Attorney of San Francisco, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and San Francisco Public Works (SFMTA), according to the San Francisco Examiner. It orders the startups—the most well-known being Bird, Spin, and Lime—to remove their scooters and cease operations by June 4. Bird alone has more than 1,600 scooters in San Francisco, according to recent estimates by the company.

Furthermore, the companies will need to apply for a permit to continue doing business in the city. The “Powered Scooter Share Permit Program” covers a 12-month pilot program, for which the companies can submit their applications no later than June 7.

“The SFMTA will review the applications and expects to determine which, if any, companies qualify for a permit by the end of June,” wrote the agency today, according to the San Francisco Examiner. …

Click here to read the full article from Vice.com

Tech backlash roils San Francisco politics

San Francisco, CA, USAThe Seattle City Council’s interest in imposing an unusual “head tax” on large employers based on their number of employees won international headlines this month after giant online retailer Amazon protested by freezing a plan to add 1 million square feet in office space in the city. After proponents associated with Seattle unions and progressive groups agreed to cut the levy from $500 per employee to $275, the measure won unanimous council approval, and Amazon – which has about 45,000 employees in the Seattle area – resumed planning for its expansion. But business groups remain upset about the levy, which may be the target of a signature-gathering campaign for a ballot measure rolling back the fee.

While it hasn’t got nearly the attention, the same tensions between wealthy tech employers and local interest groups – which see the employers as hurting quality of life by increasing congestion and by making housing costlier – are playing out in the June 5 San Francisco mayor’s race. It’s being held to fill the vacancy created by Mayor Ed Lee’s death from a heart attack on Dec. 12. Lee’s death was lamented by tech executives who called him a key to San Francisco’s emergence as a world tech capital.

That sentiment is far from universal. A May 15 Business Insider analysis by Melia Robinson that was featured on the San Francisco Chronicle website was headlined “San Francisco is fed up with Big Tech, and residents are begging the next mayor to do something about it.”

Leading mayoral candidates critical of tech’s effects

It’s difficult to be confident who’s leading the mayor’s race since San Francisco is one of a handful of cities to use a top-three ranked voting system in which a candidate who doesn’t get a majority in the initial tally can still win based on her or his second- and third-place votes. But the consensus top three are all liberal to very liberal Democrats by national, if not San Francisco, standards. They are Board of Supervisors Chairwoman London Breed, who would be the city’s first African-American woman mayor and has the support of former Mayor Willie Brown’s business-friendly coalition; Supervisor Jane Kim, who would be the city’s first Korean-American mayor and is a mostly beloved figure among local progressives; and former state Sen. Mark Leno, who would be the city’s first openly gay mayor and who also runs well to Breed’s left.

Breed, who was deposed as acting mayor by progressive supervisors earlier this year, seems to want the most limited policy changes aimed at tech workers. She has backed limits on short-term rentals by companies like Airbnb and wants to cap the number of ride-hailing vehicles at any given time, and perhaps put restrictions on food deliveries as well.

Kim wants tech companies to improve pay and benefits for lower-rung workers so they can live in the city. She says companies subcontract services for janitorial and cafeteria work so they can avoid responsibility for the poor quality of life for those hired. She has expressed interest in requiring Uber and Lyft to pay a per-rider fee.

Leno wants to impose hiring rules on city tech companies to force them to hire city residents. He says this hiring shouldn’t just be for blue-collar positions but for administrative and sales jobs. He has also called for tech firms and their employers to “invest” in the city by committing to improving its lifestyle for those beyond the wealthy.

Some warn tech firms shouldn’t be taken for granted

The only Republican in the race – business consultant Richie Greenberg – and business groups say that mayoral candidates shouldn’t take tech companies for granted. They note that the city’s tech boom may have peaked in 2016, with exploding housing costs hurting San Francisco more than the broader Bay Area-Silicon Valley tech region in general.

But this point of view is a tough sell going into June 5’s voting. Perhaps the best example of this is a deal orchestrated in 2011 by then-Mayor Lee with the support of Supervisor Kim to revitalize the rough Tenderloin and Mid-Market districts west of downtown by giving a six-year break on city payroll taxes to companies located there. This was meant to keep Twitter’s headquarters from moving out of the city and to attract new tech firms to the area.

The proposal was widely seen as a smart way to maintain San Francisco’s tech momentum in 2011. In 2014, business groups hailed the agreement for keeping Twitter and for creating 13,000 jobs and generating much more revenue for the city than the sums lost because of the tax break.

But that same year, a San Francisco Chronicle analysis noted that the deal was seen by many residents as a sign of the city caving to business pressure – and it has emerged as a reason for progressives to question Kim’s bona fides.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Giving Common Sense a Chance in California

San Francisco, CA, USAIn California, where Governor Jerry Brown celebrates “the coercive power of the state” and advocates “brainwashing” for the unanointed, victories against Leviathan are rare. Yet last week brought just such a triumph, as a legislative committee rejected an attempt by San Francisco state senator Scott Wiener to take zoning power away from localities in areas within a half-mile of a bus or train stop. Wiener had sold his measure as a solution to California’s housing crisis and a means of bringing about the dense, green, transit-oriented development that the governor and his supporters prefer. Yet it failed, in large part because few cities wish to give up their zoning power and because even affordable-housing advocates don’t believe that handing blank checks to developers will do much to lower rents or housing prices.

But it would be a mistake to see Wiener’s defeat as a triumph of conservative principles of limited government and local control. In fact, two of the senators who voted for the bill in committee were Republicans, both from suburban districts whose constituents would not have been much affected by the bill’s passage. Meantime, some libertarian conservatives, champions of “small government,” supported Wiener’s efforts to expand state power because the proposal would remove regulatory restraints—albeit only in dense cities, not on the periphery.

Some principled moderates and conservatives—like Beverly Hills vice mayor John Mirisch and Anaheim’s Tom Tait—were vocal opponents, as were Republicans from places like Yorba Linda. But to a large extent, Wiener was derailed by his own party: much of the opposition came from solidly Democratic cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even Berkeley, which might have seemed like natural supporters of his planning notions. But as legislators examined the probable impact of the legislation, it became clear that many neighborhoods—particularly in urban areas like San Francisco—would be stripped of any leverage against developers.

Environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, feared that the bill would allow developers to skirt the state’s often-onerous green legislation. Former LA Weekly editor Jill Stewart, a leader of the anti-Wiener drive, suggests that Wiener took the state’s decades’-long densification drive “off the deep end.” Wiener’s initiative managed to provoke opposition from 37 local progressive groups, and all 13 city council members in Los Angeles wound up opposing it. The killing shot came from the old Left, many of whom live in neighborhoods where the legislation might have had a dramatic effect. Leaders of San Francisco community organizations from the Mission, Chinatown, Cow Hollow, and Excelsior, along with tenants’ rights groups and the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, announced their opposition as well. Residents of Los Angeles’s predominately African-American Crenshaw district saw Wiener’s bill as a “declaration of war on south L.A.” Many feared that the legislation would accelerate gentrification by replacing older, affordable structures with new, more expensive ones. Seventy percent of poor Californians already pay the majority of their paychecks for rent costs, which continue to escalate. These forces formed an unlikely alliance with anti-density middle-class residents often denounced as NIMBYs (“not in my backyard”). Many lived in deep-blue but largely suburban areas—some reliably indigo-blue, like Marin—and cities on the San Francisco Peninsula, or less reliably liberal, affluent parts of Southern California, like Newport Beach, Manhattan Beach, and La Canada.

Progressive backers of Wiener’s top-down legislation bemoaned its defeat and are determined to bring it back. The state’s tech oligarchs and “real estate Democrats,” as progressive author Zelda Bronstein calls them, are too powerful to be easily dissuaded. CEOs of Lyft, Salesforce.com, Square, Twitter, and Yelp, as well as senior executives at Google, were among the first to rally behind the bill, and they will likely back similar legislation again. They want dense, expensive housing for their primarily young, childless employees; some would live, as some already do in San Francisco, in glorified boarding houses. To push this agenda, the new elite helped finance the so-called YIMBYs (“yes in my backyard”) as astro-turfed shock troops. In promoting the Wiener bill, the YIMBY contingent sometimes used left-wing rhetoric against rich cities and landlords, though they allied themselves with arguably the most voracious capitalists of all.

The oligarchs, notes author Greg Ferenstein, believe that “urbanization is a moral imperative,” as cities are supposedly “home to more innovation and income equality.” But the Brookings Institution recently ranked San Francisco, already dense, as the second-most unequal city in the nation, while Silicon Valley, like most high-tech areas, is fundamentally suburban. The oligarchs’ view of California’s future—a twenty-first-century version of a medieval gated city, where only a few residents, mostly older whites and  wealthy Asians, own property—has limited appeal. Few people in their thirties want to live in crowded housing or be renters for life.

Wiener and other forced densifiers cast his bill as a step to creating a “greener” California, in which expanded public transit would reduce carbon emissions. Yet, as Los Angeles has densified under its last two mayors, transit ridership continues to drop—in part, notes a recent UC Berkeley report, because incentives for real estate speculation have driven the area’s predominantly poor transit riders further from trains and buses, forcing many to purchase cars.

Except for San Francisco, most of California is not fertile ground for traditional transit. Ridership is declining in dispersed workplaces like Silicon Valley, despite the presence of light rail. Los Angeles has invested $15 billion in light rail—and has lost 16 percent of its riders since 2014. In Orange County, ridershiphas fallen 30 percent since 2008. The real path to a greener future lies in the innovation that once characterized California. Along with ridesharing, electric and autonomous vehicles could play a big role in reducing emissions, and the state is a leader in its percentage of residents working from home.

Claims that packing people together will do much to improve the environment lack evidence. Even the pro-density UC Berkeley Termer Center acknowledges that banning urban-fringe development will account for barely 1 percent of the proposed state greenhouse-gas (GHG) reduction by 2030—not much to show for polices that could drive house prices and rents even higher. Globally, this GHG reduction would represent a statistical rounding error, amounting to .003 percent of annual worldwide emissions.

A frequent rationale for densification assumes that building more units on transit-rich land will help solve California’s housing-affordability crisis. In reality, higher-density housing is costlier to build, running up to 7.5 times more per square foot the cost of building detached housing. Combined with the prohibitive cost of land zoned for these purposes, high-density development is an expensive proposition. Newly publicly subsidized “affordable” apartments in one dense Bay Area development could cost upward of $700,000 to build.

California could address its housing crisis without destroying existing neighborhoods, and in ways that both lower the cost of rental housing and expand the opportunities for homeownership. As many as 275 malls, according to Credit Suisse, will close in the next five years, roughly a quarter of the national total; America already has four to five times as much retail space per capita as the United Kingdom or Japan. A report from the real-estate services firm Cushman and Wakefield predicts that 15 percent of all mall space will need new uses over the next decade. Disused suburban shopping malls are already being redeveloped into housing across Southern California, an effort that could be greatly expanded across the state. Building in outdated retail, office, warehouse, and industrial spots has the virtue of not affecting flourishing neighborhoods and can take advantage of already-existing water, electrical, and road infrastructure.

Perhaps the biggest boost would come from nurturing, as opposed to demonizing, suburban development. Hostility toward the suburbs eliminates the free market for land, driving up prices, while ignoring the preferences and aspirations of Californians. The most recent census data show that, as in the rest of the country, people, notably millennials, are headed to the periphery. Population growth rates in denser places, like San Francisco and Los Angeles, are dropping precipitously, while regions like the San Bernardino-Riverside area are seeing growth.

Density proponents will wave the bloody shirt of sprawl to oppose this cultural shift, but California already has the highest urban-population densities of any state. Los Angeles’s suburban densities are four times those of metropolitan Boston or Atlanta and double those of New York. Further, population growthhas fallen to less than a quarter of the rate in the two decades following World War II. Any suburban housing boom would be, in historic terms, modest. And as MIT’s Alan Berger notes, modern suburban development can be as environmentally positive as big-city densification. Suburban performance can only improve with the shift to electric cars, the increase in telecommuting, and, eventually, autonomous vehicles.

In the long term, Jill Stewart suggests, the defeat of the Wiener bill shows that the public can indeed challenge California’s autocratic planning regime. The measure brought together opposition groups from the Bay Area, Southern California, and the interior. Beverly Hills’s John Mirisch is pushing for a state-wide initiative to ban co-optation of local control.

Unless this alliance formulates a long-term pro-housing agenda, though, the state political establishment will find ways to force the density issue. A new strategy, one that attracts jobs to the places where people are moving and recycles redundant retail and other urban space into new housing, would relieve the pressure of over-inflated urban markets. Such a commonsense approach, of course, would violate the city-planning dogma favored by most academics and the media. Yet, given the clear preferences of Californians, perhaps it’s time to give common sense a chance.

Bay Area home prices: Three counties set new records

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451Not one, but three Bay Area counties set new jaw-dropping records as home prices continued to climb to vertigo-inducing heights.

In February, median prices for resale, single-family homes in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties were the highest they’ve ever been — no small feat in a housing market where prices already are among the most expensive in the nation.

The records, unveiled Thursday in a report by housing data company CoreLogic, suggest no cooling in the red-hot market that’s padding sellers’ pockets while squeezing wannabe buyers and forcing many to leave in search of better deals.

Kevin Cole, president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, called February’s price increases “amazing.”

“It just reflects the ratcheting up of what buyers are able to afford,” he said, “with large down payments, with possibly all cash, with low interest rates.”

In Santa Clara County, the median price for a resale, single family home hit $1.29 million last month — up 34 percent from the same time last year, according to the CoreLogic report. In San Mateo County, the median price reached $1.45 million — up 24 percent, — and in San Francisco it was $1.5 million, up 30 percent. …

Click here to read the full article from The Mercury News