Pando

People like Ron Conway have always had the money and power. Now they have the votes too

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on October 13, 2016

From The From the Trenches Desk

Yesterday, the Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong reported on a SF ballot measure to allow the city to sweep homeless tent encampments from sidewalks.

According to public documents reviewed by the Guardian, the measure is being financially backed by leading tech moguls including Mike Moritz, Zachary Bogue and… of course… (Pando investor) Ron Conway.

As Wong explains…

Sequoia Capital chairman Michael Moritz, tech angel investor Ron Conway, and hedge-fund investor William Oberndorf have donated $49,999 apiece to a divisive ballot measure intended to clear San Francisco’s streets of homeless encampments, according to campaign filings.

Zachary Bogue, a tech investor best known as husband to the Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, also pitched in $2,500.

Those sums may be chump change to the likes of Moritz (net worth $3.1bn), but they account for the majority of the approximately $270,000 campaign chest…

The proposed law would amend the city’s police code to ban tent encampments on city sidewalks. The city would be required to offer residents of an encampment 24 hours’ notice and a shelter bed or a bus ticket out of town, before being authorized to confiscate their tents and other belongings. The city would be required to store those belongings for up to 90 days.

Now, I should make something clear before Ron’s army of portfolio founders fans start bleating. Yes, it’s very easy for those who don’t live in the city to criticize ballot measures that would reduce the number of people living on the streets when they’ve never had to walk through the mini favelas around Mission and Market, dodging syringes and bottles of urine.

But that isn’t me.

I live in a part of San Francisco with several homeless encampments and I can absolutely testify to how dangerous and -- yes -- gross it feels to walk down some streets in San Francisco. I, like most city dwellers, have been yelled at and threatened while dodging human shit smeared across the pavements. And, no, it isn’t fun.

But what I suspect is a lot less fun is actually having to actually live like that. It’s clearly not something people are choosing to do when then have a better choice. The city’s homeless shelters are full to bursting and there’s no money forthcoming to create more.

Horrifying is almost too mild a word for news that tech billionaires are backing a law that would treat homeless people literally like garbage. A law that as Wong points out, promises to offer a shelter bed to replace every seized tent but would provide no extra funding to make good on that promise.

Sadly, it’s also not surprising to learn that folks like Ron Conway would be meddling in city politics, throwing their cash at ballot measures and candidates that benefit themselves and their portfolio companies and techie chums. I’ve written before about Conway in particular using his influence to try to pervert democracy in the city.

It’s also not news that tech people have money and power and are trying to use both to advance their political agenda. This isn’t the first time in history that arrogant techies have had that kind of power in the Bay Area. Arguably they were even wealthier and arrogant back in the boom of late 90s.

At yet, what’s definitely new is the very real possibility that these tech-wealth-driven ballot initiatives might pass, with almost no meaningful resistance. Ask any long-term San Francisco resident and they’ll tell you how much resistance there was to previous efforts to legislate against homelessness, through sit-lie laws, anti-panhandling legislation and more.

Now even progressives like David Campos have bowed to the inevitable and pledged to clean up the streets outside tech HQs. A walk through the Mission district shows no pro-homeless flyers, no marches, no protests… no meaningful or visible anger at all about any of these new laws or proposals.

Something has definitely changed in San Francisco.

Here’s what it is: The techies increasingly have the votes. The soaring house and rent prices in San Francisco, caused by a huge influx of tech workers, have been incredibly effective at driving out lower income, long-term San Francisco residents. Those same residents who traditionally voted for progressive causes and against measures like Proposition Q. Meanwhile, they’ve been replaced with high income techies who, even if they’re not directly influenced by Ron Conway, certainly share his mindset.

Those people talk a good game on homelessness - and likely following the Guardian’s reporting on Prop Q they’ll re-spin it as a positive for the homeless people themselves. But as I’ve written before, tech people are very good at fixing problems they actually care about fixing -- like how to find housing for San  Francisco’s vast homeless community. This ballot measure shows that all tech moguls really care about is making the streets feel more pleasant for people like them.

And thanks to shifting demographics and the effects of years of rising income inequality, they might just get their wish.