EDITORIAL The footprint of Big Tech companies and their employees continues to spread through San Francisco, gobbling up the vast majority of commercial office space this year, driving up rents, and creating pressure to build ever more office towers. With Wall Street and Silicon Valley investors focusing so much wealth on this one economic sector, in this one once-dynamic city, this trend is threatening to squeeze out every other civic interest and sector in its path.
For example, city officials have long-struggled with how to preserve light industrial spaces in the city, known as Production Distribution and Repair (PDR) in the parlance of planners, who recognize the importance of such jobs and services to a city, even though they have a hard time competing with other economic sectors on rent. Indeed, despite efforts to protect it, San Francisco now has one of the lowest proportions of PDR uses of any big city in the US, a worrying sign for future economic prosperity.
Nonetheless, the new out-of-town investor-owners of the PDR-zoned San Francisco Design Center are trying to improperly use a loophole to evict most of its tenants to let Pinterest take over most of the building (which it bought at a bargain because of the zoning). Only the political will of politicians — who crave the campaign cash of capitalists — stands in the way of perversions like this. And without that will, which is severely lacking in the city right now, the economically strong will roll over everyone.
Let’s call it: Big Tech sprawl. Like urban sprawl — in which developers covered the cheapest land with housing and shopping malls, then let the public sector subsidize the roads and other infrastructure to serve it and passed the environmental costs on to future generations — the Big Tech firms favored by the Mayor’s Office will continue to expand ever outward if left unchecked.
Even conservative City Economist Ted Egan has warned against the city putting too many eggs in the basket of an industry known for its volatility and boom-bust cycles, repeatedly calling for the city to diversify its economy. As in nature, healthy ecosystems are marked by their diversity, while monocultures can be quickly destroyed by shocks to the system. Just like housing developers will build nothing but luxury condos if we let them — capital always seeks to maximize its returns, the most basic law of economics — Big Tech will continue to sprawl outward, greasing its path with political contributions, if San Franciscans don’t fight to maintain this great city’s diversity.