No More Deals: San Francisco Considers Raising Taxes on Tech

WIRED | 7/16/2019 | Gregory Barber
Click For Photo: https://media.wired.com/photos/5d279cf48fc17a0008deaf2f/191:100/pass/GettyImages-1130581736.jpg

At a recent postmortem for the so-called Twitter tax break, the divisive San Francisco policy that drew tech companies to a beleaguered stretch of downtown, the tone at City Hall was chilly. Tech offices—the likes of Twitter, Zendesk, and Uber—had indeed arrived as promised, but residents of the city’s Mid-Market neighborhood told officials that little uplift came with the logos. “I’ve seen the number of people who are sleeping on the street increase. We’ve seen a lot of displacement … affordable restaurants close,” said Sam Dennison, a local resident who served on a citizen advisory board for the tax break. “We felt like we were going to be annihilated, and in a lot of ways we weren’t wrong.”

In the exasperated sighs of local politicians, the message was clear: There’s no way we’re doing that again.

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Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.

Never say never. In 2011, when the Twitter tax break passed, San Francisco was in a post-recession push to increase tech’s footprint in the city. Mayor Ed Lee was defending tech workers as “not robots” in The New York Times, and enthusiasm for the industry’s restorative powers was high. In Mid-Market, economists predicted software companies would bring new life to an area known for intractable drug abuse and homelessness. If it had, there was scant data to prove it; the measure had been approved with few accountability measures in place. Today, the area’s changes are hard to untangle from the transformation of the city as a whole—a case of runaway inequality given a booster shot by city policies. “We're just a particularly good fishbowl to observe the problem,” Dennison tells me after the hearing.

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