As Mayor Lee prepares his 2014-15 budget, nonprofit groups and city labor unions are pushing for their share of the city’s booming economy. But one is struck by the irony of an organization like SEIU Local 102, which actively protested the “Twitter” tax breaks, now seeking money that is only available because Twitter and its tech peers generated it.
For those seeking money in San Francisco, this is among the best of all possible years. The long list of budget requests includes the Police Department’s desire for a new academy building; contract demands from IFPTE Local 21, SEIU 1021 and other city unions; Public Defender Jeff Adachi and several homeless and tenant groups' request for $13 million in new funding for housing subsidies, eviction protection, and new housing for homeless persons. This is on top of the new money for eviction defense and stabilization added through last year’s add-back process, and it is on top of the mayor’s supplemental appropriation for Ellis eviction defense last fall, not to mention a host of other priority programs.
How did San Francisco slash its unemployment to historic lows and achieve such a booming economy? Why are we talking about raising salaries for city and nonprofit workers and expanding programs for the poor instead of cutting back on both as we did from 2007-2010?
The chief answer, quite obviously, is the tech boom, which was helped along by the Twitter payroll tax strategy enacted in spring 2011. It sparked renewed confidence in the city's economy, and brought an influx of tech companies and new investment to San Francisco. Tech's growth turned a stagnant economy upward, and was the driving force behind the city's economic revival.
Yet instead of praising tech for making more money available to its members and for human services, we see SEIU 1021 and some nonprofits claiming that the industry represents all that is wrong with San Francisco. Their protests over tech have not deterred critics from seeking to capitalize on the money now available from the tech-generated economic boom.
What are Anti-Tech Progressives For?
Nationally and in most cities, progressives promote economic development that brings broad benefits. San Francisco may be the only major city where the term “progressive” is more identified with opposing waterfront development or blocking Google buses than with job creation for the poor and working class.
Many San Francisco “progressives” do not even feel compelled to offer any viable alternative, proactive economic development and jobs-creation strategies. And it's hard to see how blocking development, blockading Google buses, and halting Mid-Market’s transformation into a tech hub produces working class jobs, or increases workers' wages, or boosts city funding for vital public services.
Its great to promote local-hire mandates or advocate for living wage jobs, but these provisions have little meaning without projects and businesses that actually employ people. And “Green Jobs” aren’t created if nothing gets built or businesses potentially offering such jobs are not opening.
My formative political years were spent working with people who used to always say that “just saying no” was not a strategy for boosting working-class jobs and incomes, or enhancing economic justice. But San Francisco’s progressive movement has always had a wing whose main agenda is saying no. This explains why some of the same progressives that addressed social justice and equity when pushing downtown developments to pay their fair share for city service, also opposed building small buildings and even home remodels in other parts of the city.
Now that we see some of these same people flocking to City Hall asking for funding, let’s see how many of them acknowledge that, absent tech, we wouldn’t be talking about such increases at all.
Randy Shaw is the editor-in-chief of Beyond Chron. Reprinted with permission.