Ed Driscoll

Journalist, Heal Thy Self

At Tech Crunch, Sarah Lacy shoots herself in the foot, in the midst of an otherwise, sensible article titled, “Calm Down, Hippies: What San Francisco needs to Learn from the Valley:”

Go to any hipster, grungy bar in San Francisco. Ask the first five hoodie-wearing people you see what they do, and you can be sure at least two say they work for a startup. And if your next question was “How big are you guys?” no one would flinch… and each of them would try to pad the answer. Big is good in startup land. Getting big, fast is what separates startups from small businesses. Doing that over-and-over again, decade-after-decade is what separates the Valley from nearly anywhere else.

And yet, when it comes to the non-Web, brick-and-mortar retail business in San Francisco an ugly, self-righteous, vitriolic hate is emerging against anything successful enough to have more than one or two locations. Last week there was an ugly blow up around a local, high-brow coffee vendor, Blue Bottle Coffee, who wanted to open a coffee truck in Dolores Park– the center of San Francisco hipsterdom in the Mission district. It’s something many of our readers wouldn’t care about, but it strikes at the heart of what has made Silicon Valley great– despite being geographically in the heart of modern Silicon Valley. In short, locals were so incensed that they didn’t get adequate opportunity to approve or disapprove of this “chain” coffee store opening a non-permanent location in their neighborhood that an army of people threatened to boycott, protest, and — believe it or not– actually spit on employees as they went to work their first day.

A reaction against national chains or big box retailers that hurt local mom-and-pop businesses is one thing. But this is so sad and crazy that it makes tea partiers look rational. For obvious reasons, a local business that has been successful enough to open seven stores isn’t the same as a national chain.

What an epic fail during an otherwise sensible piece (hey, at least she didn’t call the small government-oriented Tea Partiers Nazis, or the homophobic anti-Tea Party slur so popular among the left and CNN anchormen (but I repeat myself).

For a more nuanced look at San Francisco’s myriad and largely self-created woes, check out Heather McDonald in City Journal on “The Sidewalks of San Francisco” (which are much safer to read about from distance than walk, trust me):

The homelessness industry’s second tactic was to demonize Civil Sidewalks supporters as motivated by hatred toward the poor. “This issue makes me sick to my stomach,” the head of the Coalition on Homelessness, Jennifer Friedenbach, told a supervisors’ meeting in May. “It makes me sick because we’re putting into place another law that promotes hatred and that will codify economic profiling. Giving tickets for being destitute is not what a civilized society engages in.” Mary Howe, executive director of the Homeless Youth Alliance, a needle-exchange program in the Haight, testified at the same hearing that it was “disgusting that there was not more compassion where there is not enough affordable housing.”

Needless to say, the sit-lie law says nothing about economic status; what it “profiles” is not wealth but behavior. The Haight Street vagrants colonize the sidewalk all day not because they are poor but because doing so is the essence of their “traveling” lifestyle. And a resident or store owner afflicted by punks threatening passersby in front of his home or business is indifferent to how much money is in their pockets; he’s even indifferent to the constant panhandling. He only wants a passageway open and welcoming to all. “I don’t care if they ask for change,” says Arthur Evans, a self-described former hippie from Greenwich Village who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. “It’s okay if they loiter and make a bit of noise. But I don’t feel safe walking down the Haight at night any more.”

The statement from the Homeless Youth Alliance’s director about “affordable housing” is the usual non sequitur: the gutter punks are not looking for housing, whether temporary or permanent. Every night, about 100 beds in the city’s shelter system remain vacant, though outreach workers are always trying to get people to use them. As for permanent housing, you’re not going to be able to afford rent at any level if you opt out of working or studying. And while some of the street colonists may come from truly impoverished backgrounds—though such a fact is irrelevant to the validity of the proposed law—others do not. Two blondes in “The Haight Street Interviews,” a YouTube video, explain that they “got to escape the whole private school mentality” by starting to follow punk bands in seventh grade.

Finally, the homelessness advocates pulled out their trump card: associating supporters of the Civil Sidewalks law with “business interests.” San Francisco “progressives” regard businessmen as aliens within the body politic whose main function is to provide an inexhaustible well of funds to transfer to the city’s social-services empire. If it weren’t for vigilant politicians, however, the interlopers would constantly seek to duck this ever-growing civic obligation. “If these corporations pay their fair share,” supervisor John Avalos explained in 2009 when introducing a new business tax, “we can generate millions that will go towards keeping health clinics, youth and senior services, and jobs safe for San Franciscans.” (The contradiction between raising business taxes and keeping jobs safe was lost on Avalos.)

But then, tying both the Tech Crunch article above, and the even more close-minded politicians of San Francisco is this rejoinder: “The recycling of ideas that have failed before, with no real explanation of why this time is different, describes much of the progressive project. And those who point this out are inevitably accused of bad faith, or worse.”

Related: “60 Minutes Admits Unemployment is Actually 17%, 22% in California.”

But it’s the Tea Partiers who are the crazy ones.