Don’t call it gentrification

“Dispatches Against Displacement” author James Tracy on fighting to keep cities from becoming rich-only playgrounds

Don’t call it gentrification
(Credit: AP/Michael Dwyer)

In the early 1990s, a punk rock kid named James Tracy moved from the gritty North Bay city of Vallejo to nearby San Francisco and got a job driving a delivery truck for a thrift store in the predominantly Latino, working-class Mission district. During his pickup runs, he noticed that many landlords were making generous donations — the left-behind belongings of former tenants. This was a few years before the rise of the first dot-com boom, but even then, Tracy said, “It was obvious to me that a storm was coming.”

The storm was more like a hurricane. In the late ’90s and early aughts, a torrent of venture capital poured into Silicon Valley and waves of would-be tech entrepreneurs flooded into San Francisco, displacing tens of thousands of poor folks, artists, musicians, activists and families who were evicted to make room for higher-paying tenants. In order to get around San Francisco’s rent-control laws, many buildings were demolished and sterile live-work lofts and generic-looking condos rose from their ashes.

Just as with a real hurricane, this storm also had a body count. In one notorious case, a landlord overcame housing activists’ attempts to block the eviction of an 82-year-old woman, who died shortly after being forced out of her longtime home. Many more San Francisco seniors have met similar fates since then.

Resistance to this onslaught of displacement was widespread, fraught with internal clashes, sometimes victorious, occasionally militant, and occasionally surreal. In one case, the San Francisco police seized Situationist and Marxist books from the library of an anti-displacement propagandist who had been wheat-pasting posters throughout the Mission encouraging people to burn yuppies’ cars and sabotage hip restaurants. Through it all, James Tracy was on the front lines — sometimes quite literally, as a member of groups that would protest on landlords’ doorsteps or during anti-eviction occupations at the homes of families facing displacement.

In his new book, “Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars,” Tracy not only looks back with a critical eye on the recent history of anti-displacement organizing but also offers solutions for how these struggles can be more successful moving forward. With rent prices for one-bedroom apartments often surpassing $3,000, the need for a book like this is painfully obvious.



You start the book with this quote from Herbert Marcuse: “The housing crisis doesn’t exist because the system isn’t working. It exists because that’s the way the system works.” How does this permanent state of crisis exemplify a system that’s operating as intended?

In the simplest sense, it works well for those who make exorbitant profits from a crisis. It’s working well for speculators and throwing not only tenants, but first-time homebuyers and even some small landlords under the bus. In a larger sense, the housing crisis achieves ideological goals. It tells a public story that it is natural that the rights of this small group of speculators should outweigh everyone else’s need for a safe and decent place to live. The evidence to the contrary is literally under every overpass in America, yet even those harmed by the crisis often defend it.

One of the most interesting things about the idea of a crisis is the issue of when the media decides to call it one. It wasn’t until after the cascading foreclosure crisis in 2008 that the term “housing crisis” was broadly used. This is because homeowners can still generate a great deal of more sympathy than renters. If you look at the history of housing policy, it is access to homeownership, not the construction of public housing, which was the centerpiece of the New Deal reforms. You can trace the narratives from there, homeownership is part of the American Dream, renting makes you part of a second class. Yet homeowners (and I am one) are subsidized as well through income tax breaks. Who is the system working for? The finance and real estate sectors are doing just fine by it. Everyone else is either on the chopping block or standing nearby it.

You cite an infamous quote by a San Francisco city supervisor saying “a little gentrification is a good thing” in explaining your decision to use the term “displacement” instead of “gentrification.” Do you think “gentrification” has too many positive connotations to be a useful word for people challenging displacement? Would you like to see people stop using the “g-word”?

I prefer to use the word “displacement” because it drives home the end result of gentrification: someone loses their home and their community. You can’t play fast and loose with the word! On one end of political thought, there is this underlying assumption that higher-income people improve a low-income community just by arriving there. It plays into this mythos deeply imbedded in our psyche that  rich people will somehow randomly meet their neighbors and help them up the economic ladder.

During the Great Depression there were thousands of cases of neighbors banding together to militantly protect each other from eviction. We saw scattered examples of this in the wake of the Occupy movement, but it didn’t become a widespread phenomenon in response to the still ongoing foreclosure crisis. Why do you think people are so much less likely to use militant or even confrontational tactics now?

You see echoes of this today, although not nearly at the same levels during the Great Depression. Eviction Free San Francisco has had a lot of success in pushing back evictions, most recently in the case of Benito Santiago using a direct action model. There is a lot of innovative housing organizing going on today. Just a few examples are Picture the Homeless; NYC’s anti-vacancy work; in Chicago, the anti-foreclosure and home occupation movement is cutting edge.

Housing activism tends to do best against the backdrop of larger social and movements. In the 1930s, there were large mass-based movements that elevated the needs of working-class people. Movements influence each other both tactically and morally. The formation of the trade union movement, the campaign to free the Scottsboro Men, built a sense of boldness and political consciousness that could easily be translated into a neighborhood context. Also, today’s neighbors have far less connection with each other thanks to climates of fear and the impacts of the greatest work speedup in U.S. history. The fact that both lower-income and middle-income people are working 50, 60 and 70 hours a week damages our ability to organize on the level of the Unemployed Workers Movement.

As you say in the book, “The Clinton Administration decided that the way to deal with public housing’s problems was with a wrecking ball.” Clinton’s history of enacting steep welfare cuts is much more well-known than his equally destructive housing policies. Why do you think this aspect of his legacy doesn’t get as much attention?

Clinton’s housing policy was part and parcel of welfare reform. Certainly, both federal income assistance and public housing needed changes. But Clinton and Congress adopted a model based in punishment and austerity. He was literally worse than the Republicans at every turn. His version of HOPE VI, the program to demolish and rebuild public housing, removed the very reasonable guarantee of one-to-one replacement of demolished housing. I had the privilege of working alongside residents of public housing in San Francisco.

Most of the demands they made on the Housing Authority and Housing and Urban Development were very fundamental. They wanted the renovation process to result in living-wage jobs for their kids, they wanted to come back to their communities. Yet, this was met with scorn, disdain and, in some cases, criminalization. It was an example of what happens when liberals accept the same worn-out assumptions about poor people as conservatives.

Clinton was able to use progressive critiques of the worst aspects of federal housing such as the warehousing of the poor in substandard conditions to accomplish the conservative goal of privatizing formerly public housing. How are progressive arguments still being used in the service of displacement of urban poor?

The Clinton administration argued that public housing was a form of segregation and that the HOPE VI process was a form of integration, essentially fulfilling the promise of the civil rights movement. He was halfway right. Local governments did in fact use public housing programs to reinforce segregation. However, what we saw in the aftermath of HOPE VI was actually a form of resegregation as the displaced just resettled where they could afford to find homes. Simply a different kind of warehousing.

You see this today under the Obama administration as public housing authorities are attempting to implement drastic rent hikes as a perverse incentive toward self-sufficiency. You want people to move towards self-sufficiency? Create good-paying public works jobs and the social supports like childcare and education to make this happen. You can’t essentially apply a Wal-Mart mentality to public policy and expect to change lives with a cheap strategy like this. The people of North Beach Public Housing taught me that the solutions to poverty start with the input, insight and creativity of people facing poverty. The rest of us can and should lend our levels of expertise and skills when needed. But to think that government is going to design solutions without these voices symbolizes they very worst impulses of liberal and conservative frameworks.

We’re in the midst of a wave of “spatial deconstruction” — basically the opposite of white flight — where poor people are being pushed out of city centers into outlying suburbs. There have been various theories about how this is essentially the fulfillment of a decades-long response to the inner city uprisings and riots of the late 1960s with the ultimate goal being decentralization of potentially revolutionary populations. Regardless of the origins of this shift, we recently got a preview of what suburban uprisings look like in Ferguson — and how effectively militarized police are able to shut them down. As an organizer, how do you think this shift to the suburbs will affect the ability of local housing rights movements to grow, thrive and accomplish their goals?

I was born in Oakland but brought up mostly in Vallejo; I think that it is a mistake most of our organizations have made to not nurture progressive organizing in the blue-collar suburbs. It doesn’t mean that big-city organizers need to run and parachute in to Hayward, Vallejo and Fairfield and Concord. But we do need to create relationships with people already doing the work, mostly through church-based organizing.

The Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Council has been doing fantastic work in areas far outside of “hip” areas. Last year, I observed the Participatory Budgeting process in Vallejo and I was impressed by what I saw. By giving a portion of the city budget over to a popular decision-making process, a lot of dialogue between citizens was created over the future of their city. Youth and non-citizens were welcomed and encouraged to participate. It wasn’t uncommon to see a resident of a Section 8 housing development work alongside a middle-class homeowner in a spirit of mutual respect.

When schools, parks, streetlights and other aspects of local infrastructure are improved, it makes neighborhoods more desirable — which makes displacement more likely. How can neighborhoods improve themselves without falling prey to this vicious cycle?

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Because of this reality, many well-meaning people romanticize preserving dilapidated conditions as an anti-displacement strategy. This is simply wrong-headed. Disinvestment is simply the first phase of displacement, the time when speculators can scoop up property on the cheap and wait until the time is right to flip. One of the solutions is to engage in long-term community planning so that improvements such as these can be done in tandem with strategies to preserve affordability in a meaningful, not superficial way.

On a bigger scale, look at projects like BART. Clearly the development of a mass transit system played a key role in mass displacement in San Francisco. But for reasons of environmental sustainability as well as convenience, I think it would be hard to argue that the city would be better off without a rail system. As more cities improve their transit systems, what can low-income communities do so that they’re able to enjoy the benefits of improved transit options without succumbing to displacement?

When Portland put in its rail system a few years ago, it funded a Community Land Trust to work on preserving the impacted communities. The funding was never enough to make the desired impact, but the model was a strong one.

One of the possible solutions you mention in the book involves passing laws to curb property speculation by taxing away the profits. None of the ballot initiatives coming up for a vote in San Francisco next month go quite that far, but several do aim to alleviate the city’s displacement crisis. Are you hopeful that any of these will achieve that goal? If so, what solutions embedded within these initiatives give you the most hope?

Yes. Proposition G on San Francisco’s ballot is critical. It curbs displacement by discouraging the practice of swift flipping of buildings for windfall profits. Even though it will help protect renters, first-time homebuyers who actually want to make San Francisco home will be big winners if this passes. In the absence of political will on the state level to address the Ellis Act, this is the only hope to save what’s left of the San Francisco we fell in love with.

Another option for creating “gentrification-proof bubbles” that you mention is the establishment of Community Land Trusts. The interesting thing about this ownership structure is that it does so much more than just prevent evictions — they actually require that neighbors know each other and learn how to work together. This model feels like the polar opposite of the sole homeownership model of the 20th century in America, which promoted individuality and independence at the cost of community-building. Can you really ever see the CLT model taking off in America?

I helped form the San Francisco Community Land Trust and I believe that this model can simultaneously preserve affordability and build community. It’s basically a rebooted version of the old cooperative housing model where affordability and tenure is protected, much in the same way that forests are protected through trusts. Without forms of community ownership, even the most impressive housing organizing victories are temporary. It’s important not to romanticize the cooperative and deal head-on with the problems it presents. For example, the SFCLT has been incorporated since 2004 and we have secured about six dozen homes. Not enough to intervene in the housing crisis yet. Land trusts are part of the solution, not the entire thing. And yes, one of the main obstacles is the accepted notions of what people expect from their housing. It is hard to move beyond the poles of renter vs. homeowner. The CLT model makes asks of both society and the individual. It asks society to move toward housing as a human right. It asks individuals to take personal responsibility as part of a community. It is a heavy lift given the times we live in.

Liam O’Donoghue is Salon’s communications director. He writes about what’s happening at Salon and manages Salon’s social media assets. You can follow him on Twitter @Liam_Odonoghue.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/02/don%E2%80%99t_call_it_gentrification/?source=newsletter

Face Time: Eternal Youth Has Become a Growth Industry in Silicon Valley

Tuesday, Aug 12 2014

The students of Timothy Draper’s University of Heroes shuffle into a conference room, khaki shorts swishing against their knees, flip-flops clacking against the carpeted floor. One by one they take their seats and crack open their laptops, training their eyes on Facebook home pages or psychedelic screen savers. An air conditioner whirs somewhere in the rafters. A man in chinos stands before them.

The man is Steve Westly, former state controller, prominent venture capitalist, 57-year-old baron of Silicon Valley. He smiles at the group with all the sheepishness of a student preparing for show-and-tell. He promises to be brief.

“People your age are changing the world,” Westly tells the students, providing his own list of great historical innovators: Napoleon, Jesus, Zuckerberg, Larry, Sergey. “It’s almost never people my age,” he adds.

Students at Draper University — a private, residential tech boot camp launched by venture capitalist Timothy Draper, in what was formerly San Mateo’s Benjamin Franklin Hotel — have already embraced Westly’s words as a credo. They inhabit a world where success and greatness seem to hover within arm’s reach. A small handful of those who complete the six-week, $9,500 residential program might get a chance to join Draper’s business incubator; an even smaller handful might eventually get desks at an accelerator run by Draper’s son, Adam. It’s a different kind of meritocracy than Westly braved, pursuing an MBA at Stanford in the early ’80s. At Draper University, heroism is merchandised, rather than earned. A 20-year-old with bright eyes and deep pockets (or a parent who can front the tuition) has no reason to think he won’t be the next big thing.

This is the dogma that glues Silicon Valley together. Young employees are plucked out of high school, college-aged interns trade their frat houses and dorm rooms for luxurious corporate housing. Twenty-seven-year-old CEOs inspire their workers with snappy jingles about moving fast and breaking things. Entrepreneurs pitch their business plans in slangy, tech-oriented patois.

Gone are the days of the “company man” who spends 30 years ascending the ranks in a single corporation. Having an Ivy League pedigree and a Brooks Brothers suit is no longer as important.

“Let’s face it: The days of the ‘gold watch’ are over,” 25-year-old writer David Burstein says. “The average millennial is expected to have several jobs by the time he turns 38.”

Yet if constant change is the new normal, then older workers have a much harder time keeping up. The Steve Westlys of the world are fading into management positions. Older engineers are staying on the back-end, working on system administration or architecture, rather than serving as the driving force of a company.

“If you lost your job, it might be hard to find something similar,” a former Google contractor says, noting that an older engineer might have to settle for something with a lower salary, or even switch fields. The contractor says he knows a man who graduated from Western New England University in the 1970s with a degree in the somewhat archaic field of time-motion engineering. That engineer wound up working at Walmart.

Those who do worm their way into the Valley workforce often have a rough adjustment. The former contractor, who is in his 40s, says he was often the oldest person commuting from San Francisco to Mountain View on a Google bus. And he adhered to a different schedule: Wake up at 4:50 a.m., get out the door by 6:20, catch the first coach home at 4:30 p.m. to be home for a family supper. He was one of the few people who didn’t take advantage of the free campus gyms or gourmet cafeteria dinners or on-site showers. He couldn’t hew to a live-at-work lifestyle.

And compared to other middle-aged workers, he had it easy.

In a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court in July, former Twitter employee Peter H. Taylor claims he was canned because of his age, despite performing his duties in “an exemplary manner.” Taylor, who was 57 at the time of his termination in September of last year, says his supervisor made at least one derogatory remark about his age, and that the company refused to accommodate his disabilities following a bout with kidney stones. He says he was ultimately replaced by several employees in their 20s and 30s. A Twitter spokesman says the lawsuit is without merit and that the company will “vigorously” defend itself.

The case is not without precedent. Computer scientist Brian Reid lobbed a similar complaint against Google in 2004, claiming co-workers called him an “old man” and an “old fuddy-duddy,” and routinely told him he was not a “cultural fit” for the company. Reid was 54 at the time he filed the complaint; he settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

What is surprising, perhaps, is that a 57-year-old man was employed at Twitter at all. “Look, Twitter has no 50-year-old employees,” the former Google contractor says, smirking. “By the time these [Silicon Valley] engineers are in their 40s, they’re old — they have houses, boats, stock options, mistresses. They drive to work in Chevy Volts.”

There’s definitely a swath of Valley nouveau riche who reap millions in their 20s and 30s, and who are able to cash out and retire by age 40. But that’s a minority of the population. The reality, for most people, is that most startups fail, most corporations downsize, and most workforces churn. Switching jobs every two or three years might be the norm, but it’s a lot easier to do when you’re 25 than when you’re 39. At that point, you’re essentially a senior citizen, San Francisco botox surgeon Seth Matarasso says.

“I have a friend who lived in Chicago and came back to Silicon Valley at age 38,” Matarasso recalls. “And he said, ‘I feel like a grandfather — in Chicago I just feel my age.”

Retirement isn’t an option for the average middle-aged worker, and even the elites — people like Westly, who were once themselves wunderkinds — find themselves in an awkward position when they hit their 50s, pandering to audiences that may have no sense of what came before. The diehards still work well past their Valley expiration date, but then survival becomes a job unto itself. Sometimes it means taking lower-pay contract work, or answering to a much younger supervisor, or seeking workplace protection in court.

CONTINUED: http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/silicon-valley-bottom-age-discrimination/Content?oid=3079530

Tech Industry Believes it Invented San Francisco, Burning Man, and Sex

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 7:30 AM

Inspired by Bay Area tech industry - FLICKR/CROWCOMBE AL

According to reports, the Silicon Valley-based tech industry has convinced itself that it invented everything it enjoys, including Democracy, rule of law, San Francisco, Burning Man, and sex.

“Techies are really innovative, so it’s only natural that they would hack human sexuality by coming up with a pleasurable use for what was previously just a reproductive process,” Google employee Miles Davidson said. “You’re welcome.”

Brent Sternberg, a Facebook engineer who started attending Mission Control sex parties a year ago, said that blow jobs simply wouldn’t have been possible without social media. “How could you have ever told someone that you like it?” he asked. “It would never work.”

Futurist Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, said he believes that the tech giant is on track to invent S&M by 2025. “It will be incredibly pleasurable,” he said, “unless it hurts too much. Until we develop it, there’s just no way to know.”

Apple vice president of design Louis Harris is especially proud of the tech industry for inventing Burning Man, a 27-year-old annual arts event, in 2008.

“Prior to the tech industry, no one had really considered creating experimental communities, or going camping,” Harris said. “But then thousands of tech workers disrupted the desert and invented DJs.”

Not everything has gone well since then, Harris admitted. “The problem with Burning Man is that since the tech industry invented it, it’s gotten so popular that all these artists are showing up, and they don’t know anything about the culture.”

That’s also a problem with what many see as the tech industry’s crowning achievement: the city of San Francisco.

“We really knocked that one out of the park,” said Twitter Vice President Larry Johnson. “When we got here there wasn’t a single unaffordable building, there were musicians in lofts, and the place was just filled with women. But we’ve really turned that around.”

LinkedIn Senior Data Analyst Rod Suchet agreed. “San Francisco is famous the whole world over as a city of art, and art was originally an App for the iStore. It’s famous for its restaurants, and restaurants were originally developed so that Google’s cafeteria could telecommute. Honestly, was there even a music scene in San Francisco before Pandora digitized it? Did this town even have an economy before we started to displace it?”

As of press time, Suchet had meant to Google the answer but had been distracted by a cat video. Cats, for those not in the know, were invented by YouTube in 2006.

Benjamin Wachs is a literary chameleon. 

http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2014/08/12/tech-industry-believes-it-invented-san-francisco-burning-man-and-sex

Thinking of Trying to Make Money Off Airbnb or Uber? Read This First


The so-called ‘sharing economy’ is becoming a booming industry for middlemen, but for you, it’s complicated.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Joining the sharing economy as a provider of services – accommodation, transportation or whatever else the market calls for – gives you a chance to make money while being part of a “movement”. It sounds tremendously appealing, doesn’t it?

The companies being built around this new zeitgeist have different enough business models for it to be worth discussing them as if they do, indeed, fall into a different category from more traditional bastions of capitalism. To some, the appeal is the ability to feel like part of a community by pooling their resources: helping a neighbor or network member to cut the cost of everything from a pricey textbook to a baby stroller, or a ride from San Francisco to LA and an overnight stay in someone’s spare room. It’s a far cry from shopping on Amazon, and checking for plane fares on JetBlue and shopping around for hotel bargains on Priceline – somehow morepersonal.

But make no mistake: it’s a business. And you forget that at your peril, regardless of how you’re participating in the sharing economy.

Here’s the bottom line: none of the businesses that have sprung up to serve the sharing economy are 501c3 non-profit entities. Rather, they are corporations whose goal is to make a profit out of a much less formal sharing economy that already existed. Long before Airbnb was launched in 2008, a friend of mind traveled across Europe using a couch-surfing style network called Servus. I’ve formed some lasting friendships with people with a free Airbnb-style network, Hospitality Club, that offers hosts and guests the chance to review each other, Airbnb style. Airbnb has just formalized those arrangements, while ride-sharing companies like BlaBla Car have done the same with those old-fashioned ride share boards on walls or online – and build in a profit for the middleman.

But you don’t get to become one of the most valuable venture capital-based businesses in the world, as Airbnb has done, and to be worth an estimated $10bn (more than some hotel chains) if all you are is part of a “movement”. Nope, you have to have found a way to make being the middleman pay off very handsomely indeed – and that’s capitalism 101, not a movement.

All of which means that if you’re doing business with Airbnb – or Uber, or Parking Panda, or Liquid, or any of the other sharing economy enterprises springing up – you need to think of it in those terms, too.

First of all, while you may think of this as just generating a bit of extra income on the side – a way to pay off your student loans, to make your summer vacation pay for itself, to fund your weekends out with friends or to help save up to pay for a wedding or a downpayment for your house or car – the IRS won’t see it that way.

And if you think the IRS won’t ever know, well, let me disabuse you of that right now. You’ll fill out tax forms – and come January, you’ll get a 1099 form. Depending on the figure on it, you may end up kissing your expected refund goodbye, or facing an unexpected tax liability. If that 1099 form doesn’t show up? Don’t heave a sigh of relief and fail to report that income. If you think an unexpected tax liability is bad, getting on the wrong side of the IRS is exponentially worse.

The best idea of all is to talk to your accountant and ask for their input. At what point does sharing economy income change your tax picture by putting you in a higher tax bracket? Are there any additional writeoffs you should be aware of? Sure, this might cost you an hour of her time – but it could save you a lot of money down the road. And remember, you’re thinking of this as a business – just like the Airbnbs, Ubers and others who are quite happy to scoop up a percentage of what you collect.

Before you delve into the sharing economy, consider the regulations governing the micro-business that you’re choosing to enter and how they might affect you. In New York, for instance, it’s illegal to rent out a room in your apartment unless you’re there during the guest’s stay; generally, apartment rentals of under 30 days are illegal. (Depending on who you ask, this is an attempt either to make sure housing stock remains available to people who want to live in it, or a result of fierce lobbying by the hotel industry.) That doesn’t stop people from publicly violating both the law and the terms of their own leases – but Airbnb has made it crystal clear that they are on their own when it comes to sorting out those problems. So if you’ve got a landlord – or neighbors – who you know are just itching to bid you farewell for whatever reason, handing them an ironclad reason to do so might be foolhardy.

(Meanwhile, Airbnb is confronting some of these issues itself: this past week Barcelona slapped a fine on the company for violating laws that require rooms rented to tourists be registered with government authorities.)

What does set this new breed of business apart from its peers and predecessors is the emphasis on collaboration: hence, the alternative moniker of “collaborative consumption”. That’s a reason to assume that it’s less businesslike in nature (just as the Internet startups of yore were no less focused on making millions just because their founders wore khakis instead of suits). What it means for those of us hoping to make a much smaller amount of money alongside the capitalist creators of these businesses is that marketing may matter much more than before. Expectations are pretty low for customer “service” from traditional businesses; they’re higher from your peers in the sharing economy community who will be rating things like the cleanliness of your home and the promptness with which you respond to queries.

The “sharing economy” isn’t going anywhere, and the temptation to become a micro-entrepreneur is only going to grow. But if you’re on the verge of succumbing to temptation, ask yourself whether you’re ready to view this as a business. If not, you’re probably not ready to deal with the risks you’ll be taking onboard along with the much more widely touted rewards.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/thinking-trying-make-money-airbnb-or-uber-read-first?akid=12016.265072.GVVEly&rd=1&src=newsletter1011288&t=13&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Wealthy venture capitalist Tom Perkins is nostalgic for the old Silicon Valley

 — whorehouses and all

The venture capitalist was made infamous for warning of a “progressive” Kristallnacht

Wealthy venture capitalist Tom Perkins is nostalgic for the old Silicon Valley -- whorehouses and all
Tom Perkins (Credit: Bloomberg TV)

Tensions between the wealthy tone-deaf tech world and folks being priced out of San Francisco have been mounting — protests, evictions, Google glass altercations — and they’re the subject of a feature in this week’s New Yorker.

In it writer Nathan Heller interviews a man who has spouted infamous and offensive opinions about these issues: venture capitalist Tom Perkins.

Perkins, as you may recall, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal, saying this:

“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

“From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?”

In the New Yorker piece, titled “California Screaming,” Perkins seems to have changed his tune a bit. He reminisced about the artists, the Beats, the jazz, the spirit, and yes, the whorehouses of the Silicon Valley he first knew. Here it is below via ValleyWag:



“Perkins considers Ron Conway a friend, and admires the pro-business policies that Conway and Sf.Citi have pushed through [in San Francisco]. He also admires the country of Australia, which he believes approaches the free-wheeling, entrepreneurial bliss of Northern California at the time he arrived, in 1957. ‘I was twenty-two, twenty-three,’ he explained. ‘I lived in Sausalito, which back then had a functioning whorehouse—one of the last ones in the Bay Area. It was a loose town where anything went, and I loved it. San Francisco was that way. It was artistic, outrageous. The gays had a lot to do with that.’ Perkins had brought his forehead to rest on his fingertips and closed his eyes, smiling. ‘I knew writers and artists. North Beach. The Beats. The jazz. It’s still a great city, but I think it was better then.’”

While it’s still not a full admission of understanding why people are so outraged by the rising inequality in the city, he does seem to miss some of the aspects that protesters are trying to keep from disappearing in a city known for its beautiful counterculture. ValleyWag points out that both Perkins and the protesters see the importance of “artistsmusicians, and, yes, sex workers” that the tech world is pricing out of the city.

Though he may long for days gone by, Perkins doesn’t think the culture can be saved. (Thus, revealing his bias: He may love the olden days, but still he makes his massive earnings from the tech world):

“I asked Perkins whether he saw a way to preserve communities of writers and artists in town. He sighed and thought for several long moments. ‘I don’t see how,’ he said at last.”

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/02/tom_perkins_is_nostalgic_for_the_old_silicon_valley_whorehouses_and_all/?source=newsletter

Queer Flight: Does the Success of Gay Rights Mean the End of Gay Culture?

Queer Flight: Does the Success of Gay Rights Mean the End of Gay Culture?

When Lary Abramson moved to San Francisco from Detroit in July 1960, police raids on gay bars were commonplace. Nightlife existed at the decree of morals cops who could be bought off, and patrons of gay establishments who didn’t play along risked serious personal consequences. “The cops would usually come around midnight, so they’d turn on the lights and say, ‘No dancing!’” Abramson says.

One defiant bar was the Tay-Bush, so named because it stood at the corner of Taylor and Bush. “It was raided,” Abramson says, “and that was the raid where everybody’s name got published in the paper. People lost their jobs. That’s what led to the Tavern Guild,” an organization of gay bar owners that was instrumental in the political awakening of LGBT San Francisco.

Almost 50 years later, the idea of “No Dancing” has taken on another meaning. The Deco Lounge, Esta Noche, KOK Bar, Marlena’s, and others have closed their doors in the last few years. There’s even an annotated Lost Gay Bars of San Francisco Google map. But the disappearance of gay bars is a widespread phenomenon. New York has lost several established bars in the past year; at the opposite end of the spectrum, Amarillo has shed two of its three (Whiskers and Sassy’s). For every city in between, a cursory glance at Yelp reveals a similar pattern.

The venerable Eagle Tavern's two-year closure got national attention in the gay press. If San Francisco couldn't sustain an Eagle, what city could?

Dan Schreiber
The venerable Eagle Tavern’s two-year closure got national attention in the gay press. If San Francisco couldn’t sustain an Eagle, what city could?
Erin O'Neill has lived in the Mission Dolores area since 1982.

Courtesy of Erin
Erin O’Neill has lived in the Mission Dolores area since 1982.

The 2009 raid on the Dallas Eagle notwithstanding, these closures aren’t stemming from a renewed wave of vice squad crackdowns, but a fundamental shift in gay culture. Greater acceptance of same-sex love, positive representations of LGBT characters in the media, and the ever-increasing number of openly gay people leading an ordinary existence have meant that LGBT Americans now have less reliance on the bars, clubs, and other places that served as hubs for the counterculture. There’s no longer the same need for exclusively gay spaces in gay neighborhoods in gay-friendly cities.

What was once clandestine and illegal is now almost mainstream. Pushing this change is same-sex marriage, which came to California twice, but now benefits from majority support: The Public Religion Research Institute published a report in February noting that 59 percent of Californians support marriage equality. If a Prop. 8 redux were to come before the electorate, it likely wouldn’t pass.

Beyond California, in May alone, same-sex marriage — or at least court orders to recognize same-sex marriages even if a state isn’t yet obliged to perform them — has been visited upon purple states such as Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, and even infrared Utah. (The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to rule on that one, but the state must recognize marriages already performed.) There are of course many other thorny issues — employment and housing discrimination, violence, bullying, substance abuse, suicide — but the trends are clear. America is getting more inclusive. Consequently, there is less of an impetus than ever for LGBT people, particularly younger gay men, to flee their conservative hometowns in conservative states and, as Dan Savage once put it, skip toward Gomorrah.

So the gay experience in San Francisco is at a crossroads. Gay people are more “normal” here than arguably anywhere in else in America, but the institutions and spaces they’ve built in the last half-century or more are in a precarious position.

“It’s hard to quantify, but it’s there anecdotally,” says Supervisor David Campos. “There is something real to the anxiety.” The LGBT community faces threats of assimilation, displacement due to the explosive cost of living, and atomization in the face of handheld sex — all of them national trends, to be sure, but felt most acutely here. Gay rights and gay culture exist in tension, with the success of the former foreclosing in no small way upon the need for the latter. A culture premised on outsider status, on the lust for the forbidden, and rooted in peripheral neighborhoods, may not be able to survive fully intact when the forbidden becomes permissible and the periphery becomes the center. San Francisco is experiencing queer flight.

It feels condescending and fatalistic, if not simply rude, to say that Folsom Street is dead and that gay bars are dying. Sure, in absolute numbers, the number of gay bars citywide is a fraction of what it was at its peak. Since memories fade, raids and sudden closures were frequent, and the line between “gay bar” and “straight bar” has always been less than absolute, an accurate count is probably impossible, but 30 years ago, the number was in the dozens. And South of Market’s “decline” is relative, as the lack of elbow room at any Sunday afternoon beer bust will tell you. The drag scene at the Stud is bursting with queens, particularly at “Some Thing” on Fridays. Leather Pride flags still adorn Market Street for the entirety of September, and in the Castro, although LGBT bookstore A Different Light shuttered, Trigger became Beaux, and Lime became Hi-Tops. The Eagle’s abrupt 2011 closure came undone when it reopened last summer, and people still get as drunk there as ever. The owners didn’t even rip out the infamous trough urinal.

Restroom continuity or not, change is happening elsewhere. In 2013, a former old-school leather bar on Folsom called KOK — previously Chaps II, My Place, and Ramrod — became a cocktail bar called Driftwood. It’s a kitschily decorated venue whose owner Chris Milstead describes it, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as “straight-friendly.” Successful or not, an upscale spot with good lighting and $10 drinks that replaced a dank dungeon is going to ruffle feathers. Driftwood is, you might say, a “post-gay” bar, and it’s not the only one.

CONTINUED:   http://www.sfweekly.com/2014-06-04/news/lgbt-castro-gay-bars/

The Valley is a Trough

SiliconValley_m

Mike Judge, Clovis, and the coming wave of disillusionment

Three short years ago, a little movie called “The Social Network” won a pile of Oscars thanks in part to Sorkinistic mini-monologues like this one:

Mark Zuckerberg: “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try, but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention — you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

“Take that, Winklevi!” said everybody, simultaneously.

There’s nothing like the perfectly worded tell-off, is there? Especially one delivered on behalf of all the straight-A underdog nerds who were never invited to pledge Skull and Bones.

But that was then. Fast forward a few years and most audiences would gladly join the twins in tying Zuck’s hoodie strings to the nearest passing trolley car for giving such lip.

Of late, the public’s fawning praise for forward-thinking tech companies has turned to annoyed sneers and eye-rolls. Protestors are blocking Google transport buses. Tech luminaries—our Elon Musks and Marc Benioffs—have been outed as run of the mill Gordon Gekkos with Keen shoe-sandles (shandles?) and messiah complexes. Mike Judge has introduced the viewing public to Silicon Valley and, along with it, the special brand of disdain they should have for its deluded inhabitants (honorable mention goes to a recentVeep episode for accomplishing the same feat). It won’t be long before Grandma is using Andressen as a punchline.

In this author’s unqualified opinion, it all makes sense if you look at theHype Cycle, Gartner’s graphical tool. The IT research firm applies it to new technologies (smart glasses, facial recognition software), but I ran across it recently and think it applies to the Silicon Valley contingent pretty well, too.

We seem to have recently crested the hill of Stage 2: The Peak of Inflated Expectations. Scores of failures, few successes, and, obviously, inflated expectations. I don’t know what’s a better sign of that:Twitter’s wildly overvalued stockor companies offering billions to buy start-ups that have no actual way to make money (unless it’s all a tax shelter).

Knocking at our door is Stage 3: The Trough of Disillusionment. Experiments fail. Interest wanes. Producers shake out. Nobody wants to live in San Francisco anymore. Investors get pickier. Someone figures out that only robots and hired teams of Bangladeshis actually click on Facebook ads.

I feel the need to point all this out not because I’d like to watch overvalued tech burn, but because I’m a couple years out of school and am truly worried about my cohort. We’ve had a hard enough time as it is coming out of college jobless and debt-ridden. Now the whole world is telling the poor kids, lured by the sweet stench of VC money, to learn to code right as it’s all about to turn to shit?

It’s like some “Learn to Flip Houses!” huckster ad, except it’s a General Assembly guy in a North Face promising to tear your ticket to Silicon Valhalla for *just* twelve grand. Ping pong tables, yoga ball chairs, 60K starting salaries, kegs at the office—it can all be yours!

Except it won’t. Speculative bubbles aside, if everybody learns javascript, everybody will know javascript, including the experienced Odesk-ers from Lahore who will write it for US $9.73/hr. Companies will need one dev guy onshore for every five offshore, and that one guy is 10x more amazing at all things dev-y than you’ll ever be (sorry).

What you’ll be is a commodity—and you don’t want to be that. Just ask the journalists and lawyers furiously hunting for jobs at your nearest Starbucks. Same as the whole progressive techie company culture is looked upon less fondly by a society over-saturated with them, so too will certain easy(ish)-to-acquire skills be less valued by an over-saturated labor market.

So maybe it is high time for start-ups, and the kids of all ages who work around them, to mature along with the society and market they serve.

It’s scary, I know, but eventually you have to call yourself what you are: a small business. Eventually you have to shelve the ratty hoodie, move out of your Silicon Valley/Beach/Alley bubble, and make friends with people who’ve never taken Glass for a test run. It’s high time to say hello world.

Maybe then we can look ahead to the next phase of the Hype curve, the optimistically named Slope of Enlightenment. Here we find worthy newcomers charging out of the trough, greeted by cautious investors and a reasonable market. For those that have created a business for tried and true reasons—they’ve identified a market need and found a way to fulfill it profitably—this will be the time to shine.

https://medium.com/tech-talk/the-valley-is-a-trough-f66ca85d0e64?fb_action_ids=10152176535047029&fb_action_types=og.shares&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582