A Gold Rush for the tech titans
An Irishwoman’s Diary: San Francisco lures the young and restless
Like the first one, this Gold Rush gilds our name as a godless party town and lures the young and restless. But this is the Facebook, Google, YouTube, Oracle, Yahoo, Twitter and Wikipedia Gold Rush, for tech titans and their imitators.’ Above, San Francisco Carnaval, earlier this year. Photograph. Suzanne Landucci
Boom-and-bust San Francisco is enjoying another Gold Rush these days. Call it the Revenge of the Nerds, Part 2.
Like the first one, this Gold Rush gilds our name as a godless party town and lures the young and restless.
But this is the Facebook, Google, YouTube, Oracle, Yahoo, Twitter and Wikipedia Gold Rush, for tech titans and their imitators.
I’ve been through several “booms” here since 1989’s earthquake, and this one is a techie stampede. A million youthful IT startup geeks – overwhelmingly white or Asian males – want to boldly follow where Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg went, initially to Silicon Valley.
Lemming-like, thousands more IT startups are also flooding San Francisco’s SoMa, the latest Silicon “hood” of bars and bistros, many employees on H1B (foreign professional) visas. Their bosses have been pitching for more of these visas in the immigration bill that just passed in Senate – but which now faces a rough ride in the House of Representatives. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s website for immigration reform, Fwd.US, has been lobbying hardest.
Zuckerberg lives an hour’s commute away south in Palo Alto, but his younger staff prefer San Francisco’s Mission district. To escape Route 101’s dire commute, they take the spooky black or white company buses, but at weekends they party hard.
Last Saturday night I descended to a Mission “fandango” at La Raza Latino centre on 24th Street. Since the 18th century, well before gold-seeking “49ers”, this has been a hispanic “rinconcito” (a little corner) for fiestas.
And once again, this is the coolest corner of town. Keep your SoHo, Tribeca, Vegas strip, Hollywood and Vine! I’ve lived here since the 1989 “Big One” made us shake, and it’s never felt dull. But it feels more expensive now.
And as we watched a “zapateado” of dancers stomping to guitars, I wondered how the Mission will absorb the new “Missionaries”, a thought that had struck me when Carnaval filled 24th Street with Brazilian and Bolivian feathers and sequins. The Immigration Reform Bill may soon pass more H1B visas, in the Senate, but how many will help our undocumented Latinos?
In the morning, Tartine Bakery’s Sunday brunch line outside offers hungover hipsters visions of $9.75 croque monsieurs with Niman Ranch ham. At Valencia and 18th, they await $75 razor shave and cuts and $25 hangover cures at super-cool FSC Barber. They can afford it on Google and Facebook wages, even if they don’t really shave yet.
New bistros with herb-infused margaritas have opened nearby, where low-paid Latino immigrants work counters and kitchens as usual. Restaurant entrées start at $25, apartments at $3,000 per month, and owner-evictions are rife.
Down-at-heel mid-Market nearby is rapidly remodeling itself as Twitter HQ. Thousands of new micro-units for IT workers are rising, thanks to Mayor Ed Lee’s controversial tax waivers.
But our bubbles always burst. In our laidback “refuge city,” not everyone’s tolerant, and J1 visas may perish in the immigration debate. The mayor’s policies have overheated tempers to boiling point.
As local writer Rebecca Solnit recently wrote, “There are advantages to being an edge, as California long was, but Silicon Valley has made us the centre . . . It means that San Francisco, capital of the west from the Gold Rush (to some 20th-century point), is now a bedroom community for the tech capital of the world at the other end of the peninsula.”
Excepting Miwoks or Ohlones , or those arriving in chains, the natives are all immigrants or descendants, and all friendly. But IT workers get the megabucks in the Golden State.
And below-minimum wage farm jobs such as grape-picking are for Latinos. Our Senator Dianne Feinstein is rooting for 200,000 migrant worker visas for our 800,000 pickers, 65 per cent of them undocumented. Already there are fewer Latinos in this one-third Asian city.
Living in the Mission, and teaching immigrants ESL at the Tenderloin and Chinatown community classes, I hear hair-raising tales of exploitation and abuse from my students.
Some 180,000 troops with border drones make it tougher for undocumented to cross, and in 205 border centres, detainees undergo interrogation or solitary confinement – as many as 300 daily, relates Prof Catherine Rentz of American University, who studies detainee conditions. Any Republican insistence on more border security is redundant.
“We were here before Americans,” said Gustavo, a Mexican-born delivery boy. Life is harder; they work longer for less. His company docked his wages, a common fraud. “I want America and Mexico to be one country. . .” Well, dream on. “I don’t wear my burka here, my husband says it’s dangerous,” sighs a Yemeni mom inside her hijab.
California’s native Miwoks were too danged friendly. In 1579 they threw Sir Francis Drake a barbecue and repaired his Golden Hind – no record they taught him to surf, but in return he planted a flag.