In recent years, San Francisco has seemed to be begging for companies to leave. In addition to familiar failures of governance – widespread homelessness, inadequate transit, soaring property crime – it has also imposed more idiosyncratic hindrances. Far from welcoming experimentation, it has sought to undermine or stamp out home-rental services, food-delivery apps, ride-hailing firms, electric-scooter companies, facial recognition technology, delivery robots and more, even as the pioneers in each of those fields attempted to set up shop in the city. It tried to ban corporate cafeterias – a major tech-industry perk – on the not-so-sound theory that this would protect local restaurants. It created an “Office of Emerging Technology” that will only grant permission to test new products if they’re deemed, in a city bureaucrat’s view, to provide a “net common good.” Whatever the merits of such meddling, it’s hardly a formula for unbounded inventiveness.
These two traits – poor governance and animosity toward business – have collided calamitously with respect to the city’s housing market. Even as officials offered tax breaks for tech companies to headquarter themselves downtown, they mostly refused to lift residential height limits, modify zoning rules or allow significant new construction to accommodate the influx of new workers. They then expressed shock that rents and home prices were soaring – and blamed the tech companies.