I Left My I.P.O. in San Francisco

by Chief Executive Officer Luis Granados

A recent New York Times article told of the anticipated I.P.O.s of major tech companies equating to “hundreds of billions” of dollars potentially flooding into our densely populated city.

That’s over $2 billion for each of our 49 square miles.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that a rapid rise in affluence does not always amount to the boon for which cities hope. Our 45-year-old, community-based organization serving the Mission District works to build generational wealth for low-income communities of color while fostering neighborhood stability. Being located in an area of town most negatively affected by influxes of tech money, we dread to think what could happen when corporate citizenship, responsibility and equity are not considered by these ventures in going public, or by the newly minted millionaires they are expected to create.

We dread it because we’re already experiencing a lack of equity in the Mission District. Equity in the neighborhood should be the goal, which we define as systems and policies that afford our community the same level of economic opportunity afforded to tech. We can look out the windows of our nonprofit and see how this lack of equity wreaks havoc on the Mission: You get pupuserias being replaced by $10-a-pop green juice shops; and rent-controlled apartments being replaced by city blocks of luxury condos, fronted by tent cities.

While the Mission was long a welcoming hub for immigrants from Mexico, Central America and South America, displacement of families, blue-collar workers and small businesses are now rampant, as this has become the neighborhood of choice for high-earning tech workers. A one-bedroom flat now costs over $3,500 a month and speculation is abundant, with no-fault evictions all too common. In the last decade there have been 8,000 Latinos displaced from the Mission — over 25 percent of our community.

So before Uber, Lyft, Slack, Postmates, Pinterest, Airbnb and other tech giants execute their I.P.O.s later this year, it should be asked: How will this new wave of super wealth impact San Francisco? How could it make the City even more inequitable? And, for what should these tech companies be held accountable in mitigating the boon’s impact on those less fortunate?

The question of corporate citizenship, accountability and giving back is pertinent since the tech sector has long been a major beneficiary of corporate welfare. Back in 2011, San Francisco created a payroll-tax exemption for tech businesses operating in the Central Market Street/Tenderloin Area (i.e., the Twitter Tax Break). The exclusion included stock-based compensation, which can be significant for a young tech company approaching initial public offering. Fast forward eight years, and with more I.P.O.s looming on the horizon, it’s time to ask for more of these earnings to come back to the community so that we can close the opportunity gap that has vastly widened since tech expanded up from the Peninsula in droves.

If we don’t ask these questions around equity at this critical moment, then tech could remain aloof and may continue to behave in a tone-deaf manner. Case in point: The New York Times article noted that budgets for I.P.O. parties “can easily go above $10 million.” Read differently, an I.P.O. party could fund the operation of one of  San Francisco’s homeless navigation centers for at least three years. Or consider that with an investment of $10 million, nonprofits such as ours could harness the power of the City’s Small Sites Program to buy four apartment buildings in the neighborhood, keeping our most-vulnerable families in secure affordable housing.

The ask has to be made not only of the companies and their executives, but of the tech employees who will soon possess vast amounts of wealth themselves. In most cases, this may be well deserved, but the question remains: Will you invest your wealth in the greater good, in ways that live up to the shared values of this great city, and help keep this city a place for all? Will these employees position themselves as good neighbors?

San Francisco has long been a place with common values held by the vast majority of its populace. From equity and diversity to freedom of creativity and compassion for our most vulnerable, this is the moment our city must once again reconfirm what matters to us most. These values are pejoratively referred to by some as “San Francisco values.” As community members, we hold these values near and dear. As community members, will tech do the same?

So to tech company management, soon-to-be-rich employees, City officials and community members: It is time to collectively decide what the future of San Francisco will look like.

Will we create equity and close the economic divide? Or will our unprecedented divide become all the wider?


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