Dystopia by the Bay

In San Francisco, the texture of inequality can be felt when you encounter its public transit system, which should be something other than a disgrace.

Comments: 161

  1. We need social planning. That means that all good citizens must accept the plan and try to make it work. Then their objection that they tried to make it work and failed would be credible, and we would have to try a different plan.

    This is basically the scientific method. We should be able to do this, but it seems we do not even try.

  2. This is where a national social safety net of significance would make a difference. Local incentive and determination to not hollow out their own community is key. It's really what has happened nationally. It is a national problem, not just San Francisco. The whole American economy is hollowed out. Kevin Phillips and others have written about it beautifully. It's been happening for decades. It is the control of things by mulitnationals through trade treaties that has brought the chickens home to roost in our present economic and social doldrums.

  3. Tim:
    Here in California more than 57% recent college graduates are unemployed and 28% of them are in part-time positions. The future is dark to say at the least.

  4. Yep. All true.

  5. Just to be clear: MUNI is the only transportation system that the City of San Francisco is responsible for. BART is its own special district. Caltrain is run by the state of California.

    That disjointedness is certainly a part of the problem, but it's not something that the City of San Francisco can fix on its own.

  6. Mr. Egan, the solution is not that hard to come by.

    When homes are priced out of the range of a middle class family in a state that is still, despite recent sane reverses, in the throes of Prop 13 madness, few remain in that seven by seven mile enclave of technical ambition wishing to fix much of anything.

    Behind the software, the ambition you refer to is the headlong pursuit of money. The entrepreneurs you refer to "work" increasingly in the financial sector with its underpinnings of tech startups. venture capitalists and lawyers. These are the people who not only don't work in the same physical world most of us inhabit, they barely live in it. If their world lacks perfection, they don't fix it, they pay someone else to, but only for themselves. Their sense of responsibility is narrow and self-centered, for such is the nature of capitalism and of those drawn to it. You don't need a train if you can afford a taxi or have a chauffeur.

    In your account of how things are changing in the City by the Bay, a microcosm of what is occurring nationwide, tho' perhaps not so startlingly everywhere, you--nice man that you are--assume that all the newly-minted millionaires see the same problem you do and want to fix it. But there's not much evidence the wealthy class wants to contribute to the public weal in proportion to the degree to which they have benefitted from it.

    The solution? Eliminate all tax loopholes and tax very progressively. Then we can fix the trains.

  7. It would be great to see Pope Francis make San Francisco his first stop on a trip to the United States. The City is the city of now and as such it would serve as a compelling geographical, political and social backdrop to a church that needs to join the 21st century.

  8. One solution is for San Francisco to build upwards, but San Francisco has the most restrictive zoning laws in the US after Washington, DC. San Francisco should be a city of high rises, but it prefers pre-WWII quaintness. The high rents are a direct result of a powerful anti-building animus.

    San Francisco technically has the country's second highest density, but its density is half of Brooklyn's. SF could accommodate hundreds of thousands of additional residents if it wanted. If it wanted to improve PT it could do as the Hong Kong metro does and profit off of real estate.

  9. This could have been written in the 1980's, when another bubble made me one of those young techies many loved to hate. Except that BART was in better shape then. Those newly minted millionaires will find their grace in the City should they choose to stay. The bodegas in the Mission will remain, as will the charming houses and street murals and the Latino voices.

    All in all, the City retains most of what it had 30 years ago when I moved here. Me? I still live modestly--always have--and I take public transportation along with my two kids. Wouldn't have it any other way.

  10. San Francisco, my town, is "suffering" from a surfeit of DINKS with an average household income in the $250k/year range (hardly the global 1% driving up prices in London and Manhattan), so no wonder rents here are up up and away. But please don't raise the grey specter of rent control; look, when there is a market failure (CO2 pollution, Wall Street) then government has a legitimate case to put a finger on the scales, but tens of thousands of individuals and couples competing on Craig's List for limited housing in a peninsula city where the largest landlord controls (I'm guessing) less than 2% of the market is in fact quite open and robust. Artists will innovate and/or move and invigorate their new chosen homes, which will then be "discovered" by tomorrow's hipsters, and the whole upward rent spiral will continue same as it ever was. Please, no more rent control.

    Muni is a disgrace, BART an embarrassment, their unions feather-nested, their management inept, and our local politicians craven, so no wonder Google et al resort to private bus lines to ferry their employees to&from their 'plexes in a semi-predictable manner. Consider the alternative: a cats-herd of iPhone-distracted Millennials lane-drifting all the way to San José? OMG!

    Maybe a murmuration of autonomous vehicles will one day rid us of these troubles, but till them we must endure.

  11. Why isn't Tim demanding that Google et al establish apprenticeships for all the young Hispanics surrounding Google and the techies. Show some imagination. Don't just give people a living wage; give them fulfilling jobs that pay a living wage. If the young Hispanic robotic team from Arizona's Hayden High School can beat MIT at its own game, they can probably show Google a thing or two if given a chance, and they can certainly fix the railroad.

  12. Well, I'm not sure where Mr. Egan got his data, but here's some data on the town I live in: Mean prices in 2011: All housing units: $1,337,400; Detached houses: $1,343,258 (Read more: http://www.city-data.com/city/Weston-Massachusetts.html#ixzz2mf7YP9B2). Not that these data are necessarily a matter of pride! Surely there are other towns and cities --- Washington, D.C. and vicinity suggests itself --- with similarly lofty numbers. My point is simply that it would be helpful if columnists as well as reporters had their assertions fact-checked.

  13. Should the industry of the "creative entrepreneurs" bubble and collapse, as some predict, the resulting economic carnage may be comparable to what has happened to Detroit with the sagging of its one major industry.
    Even with its great wealth, San Francisco is dirty and rundown, with no apparent resolve on the part of the "haves" to improve it for anyone but themselves.
    Give me New York any day.

  14. Reminds me of my old home, Santa Barbara, where the labor force, waiters, constructions workers, et al, are transported in from south of SB, Oxnard & Ventura where rents are more affordable. There are now shuttles running from the south to SB every half hour ferrying the work force back and forth as it's too expensive to live in the luxury of SB. The crowning moment of this inequity was when Oprah bought a home for 52 mllion dollars and is now worth 90 million. The average home price is well over $750,00 so try buying or renting working as a waiter or casual labor. Just saying....

  15. And at my BART station, Embarcadero, gateway to the Bay, the tourist mecca Ferry Building, the cable car turnaround and of course office buildings for commuters from the East Bay like me, the escalators are closed almost daily due to human feces, because San Francisco will not deal with homelessness, let alone the middle income. A more concrete metaphor you cannot find about the brokenness of our city. I'll keep trudging up the stairs with the other teachers, admins, artists and grandmas.

  16. Couldn't agree more. But it's still better than the public transit in many other cities in the US.

  17. This is so much a western attitude you flog. Imagine New Yorkers, Bill de Blasio in his Jos. Banks suits (half-price door-busters!) notwithstanding, taking nouveau-riche techie millennials seriously enough to actually be offended by their toys and entertaining certainty in material values and the permanence of their status as masters of the universe. Come the inevitable market-correction, all those new 12-year-old Facebook millionaires who can't divest because they're insiders will be looking for deals on Top Ramen.

    I think it has to do with buildings. You go to Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, even Chicago, and they have spectacular buildings that you can actually see and admire. In New York we have innumerably more, but they're so tightly packed that you can't SEE them as individuals. Similarly, our temporarily well-heeled and acned millennials, hilariously arguing over how well the bottle of Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port that they just purchased travelled from Portugal, seem invisible among all the Bill de Blasios wandering about in their Jos. Banks suits (except that he's 6'5", and rarely invisible).

    You need to adopt a more right-coast view of things. These SF richies aren't so much a collective carbuncle distorting life in the middle lane, but more a transitional stage of life, between diapers on one end and mere Social Security sufficiency on the other. Build more affordable housing in SF for the nurses and the writers, and learn to laugh a little.

  18. "Build more affordable housing in SF for the nurses and the writers, and learn to laugh a little."

    Except that the "market" doesn't want to build affordable housing here—only million-dollar high-rise condos, which get approved pretty frequently. (And rent control doesn't apply to new construction is SF, though many blame it for SF's housing woes.)

  19. And all those 1 precenters, bad transportation/union problems, high living costs, brought to you by the liberal/democratic bastion of SF and CA. So much for progressivism.

  20. There will be change. a charismatic leader will arise like FDR and change this country completely. It will happen when the people are so fed up with the rise in a "special" class beginning to change the promise of America. WE are on the threshold of that event. I used to believe it would be Hillary but I think she is too political now. Maybe Elizabeth Warren she is a radical a title we we badly need in a pol. Someone to fight for the common man. I know that is a corny phrase but my goodness that's what we need. The south has to forget their trust in big business and finally realize the federal government can be their best friend. The poorest region in the country has to put aside its deep seated racism

  21. I hope I live to see it.

  22. Compared to the public schools ,public transportation in San Francisco
    Is glorious. The 1% don't use them either.

  23. Oakland, baby. It's like SF but without the nouveau rich techies, hipsters, fog and traffic.

  24. And with 10 times the crime rate

  25. The systematic drowning of government, infrastructure and the common good in the tax cut bathtub is the right wing's permanent gift to a rotting and decrepit America.

    After all, public transportation is socialism - a radical Marxist idea and far-left, highly suspicious European invention.

    The decay of America's public transport systems of trains, planes, buses, roads, bridges and tunnels has deteriorated in perfect correlation with the political rise of the tax-cutting, right-wing reverse Robin Hoods who despise the common good in deference to 'I got mine'.

    What kind of psychopathic and deranged nation abandons the broad-based funding of public transportation systems ?

    A nation gone bad, without a heart, soul or even a dime to spare to the least among us.

    Our descent continues, slowly, disgracefully and assuredly as economic apartheid replaces the quaint, archaic notion of the common good.

    The United States of Greed.

  26. Please reread the article. This is San Fransisco. The liberals have held the high ground for two generations. I know it is difficult for you, but you cannot blame this city's problems on the right, even though that would disturb your worldview.

  27. Bob,

    The liberal left of this country has been completely neutered by 33 years of right-wing 'market-freedom' and trickle-down bankruptcy of government, citizens and the common good.

    The concommitant decline in federal tax rates for both corporations and individuals has destroyed federal aid to states and federal subsidies to all sorts of state and local public transportation systems.

    There is a clear link between federal revenue suffocation and the decline of state and local finances available to maintain good schools, good roads and bridges, and a vibrant bus and train system - also known as the common good.

    San Francisco is not exempt from the the massive decline in federal revenues that used to rightfully help subsidize a healthy local transportation and education systems.

    The entire nation suffers from right-wing rejection of the common good in hundreds of different ways.

    Look at other nations like Japan, Germany and France, whose public transport systems make us look very third-world by comparison.

    3rd-world, backward America - where trains are considered socialism.


  28. Mr. Herbert: Property taxes fund most local government services in all of California, San Francisco included. They were cut drastically by Proposition 13, a statewide law, the first wave in the onslaught of right-wing tax cuts. The "liberals" in San Francisco didn't have much, if anything, to do with that. They have been unable to get it reversed, even for business properties—which would still allow the seniors, so often touted by the right wing, to remain in their homes.

    There are other problems the liberals have been unable to solve, but the lack of revenue from property taxes has had a huge, negative impact on their ability to do anything.

    You can't reflexively blame the liberals for everything that goes wrong here.

  29. "New York has its Park Slope?" That's where we moved in the '80s because we couldn't afford the Lower East Side. I would say the more apt comparison to SF is Manhattan. And the truth is no waiters live in Venice (Italy) or the single-digit arrondissements of Paris, or Central in Hong Kong, etc etc. Around the world, Bohemia is over; Hemingway and Kerouac are dead, and everyplace has been discovered and co-opted by the rentier class.

  30. I live in the area so none of this is news to me, or shocking.

    What is shocking is how many people companies like Twitter and Facebook employ. Twitter minted 1600 millionaires at its IPO? Doesn't it seem like it should be a 30-50 person company? Facebook - almost 10,000 employees. Shouldn't that be a 100-200 person company? Snapchat might be 10 people at the outside?

  31. Funny you should mention Vertigo. There is a 360 degree shot in that film of San Francisco. In a film class I taught in the 90's no one believed that it was the same city. High rise buildings, residences for the wealthy and corporate headquarters, as in NYC, Seattle and other cities, have ruined the shape of the city. For years cities have driven out their service workers , police, fire, teachers who cannot afford the buildings built for the rich. At first they fled the city(i.e.)Detroit) but now they are crowding out the working middle class and the poor by depriving them of affordable housing. These "gilded cities" are a reflection of our two tiered society based on inequality of income. Perhaps the new mayor in NYC can start a trend in the other direction and make allowance for decent affordable housing. Perhaps.

  32. And then there is Greater Seattle...they read this and ask, What's a subway?

  33. 4th Generation San Franciscan here. Spent a decade in New York unwittingly gentrifying Brooklyn and Queens.

    What goes around comes around: I'm being displaced by another San Francisco Ellis Act eviction - my second in two years. I'll be homeless again, even though I work two jobs, a total of 70 hours a week. Any discussion about affordable housing here is socially taboo - the rich actually far outnumber the poor here. Houses aren't homes, they're "investments" - a bulwark against the poverty enforced by high housing costs and godawful transit systems.

    New Yorkers have no idea how good they have it. This area lost its soul during the first dot.com bubble. They stuck a shiv right in the back of San Francisco's working class, and it ain't never coming back. We natives pray for an earthquake to wipe the smug right off "their" faces - not sure we care what said earthquake might do to us.

    Who'd have thought Springsteen was such a prophet? "It's just winners and losers, and don't get caught on the wrong side of that line."

  34. I'm over 50, lived here my whole life. I don't know of ANYONE who is praying for an earthquake!

  35. Just curious: which advanced nations have income inequality greater than what we have in the US?

  36. You can judge a country's development not by the number of poor people who drive cars, but by the number of rich people who take public transportation.

  37. Points all well taken.

    I offer the following mild suggestion
    ".....'Why is it a problem that underachievers are moving out?'

    Why? Let me count the ways. A city without its nurses, its teachers, its artists, its waiters, its bus drivers, its cops, its musicians and writers and grandmothers as residents is a monoculture -- as sterile as a forest of a single commercial tree species. "

    The second paragraph implicitly (or explicitly, depending upon how you treat the relationships between paragraphs) categorizes nurses, teachers, and so forth as underachievers. It may be that the commentator who wrote the quote questioning the problem intended people with these jobs to be lumped together as underachievers. Even if this is the case, there is no reason to accept this construction. Simply because people are not wealthy (which I assume is the standard used to define achievement) does not mean they are under achievers. It simply means that they make less money. No more than this, no less.

    It is this tendency to use money as a measure of all things that is an important part of what is driving the trend to dystopia. Like the Calvinists who adopted pre-destination to justify their social advantages, the affluent believe that their wealth is an indication of their intrinsic worth, including wisdom and holding the moral high ground. If only this were true, we could then eliminate elections and all other wasteful forms of evaluation and simply appoint leaders on the basis of net worth.

  38. In response to the question "why is it a problem that underachievers are moving out?". Not everyone can hold a tech/engineering position that pays top dollar. Even these companies need administrative staff and janitors and all manners of employees at different ability And skill levels to make their entities run. Where will those who do not earn the top salaries at the googles, face books and twitters live? Will they perform at a top level on the job when they face a two hour one way daily commute? What about the ability of these employees to raise their children? And what about those public transit operators? You have mothers and fathers spending twelve to thirteen hour days away from their children just to feed and house them. This contributes to the loss of social mobility in the lower economic ranks, when parents are simply too tired and overwrought from putting food on the table to help their children with homework and read to them. Everyone has something to contribute to society, but it is not always the skill that earns top dollar. Many tech employees would be nowhere without public education, local librarians, daycare workers, school bus drivers, housekeepers and the like. Will tech workers drive two hours to the grocery or a restaurant because these businesses moved to outlying areas to attract employees? The Bay Area has to make room for these people to continue to thrive. It can't ship them in from Stockton every day.

  39. Well said. I have spent a lot of time in the tech business, and it's easy for people in it to forget that there's a world outside this industry. But of course, in the long run, we are all dependent on a shared prosperity and opportunity. My parents, as a matter of fact, were in show business. Would I have had the opportunities I had if they'd ended up in 2013 San Francisco instead of 1980s New York City? I doubt it.

  40. I do agree with the spirit of the article. 100%.
    Yet, improving the Bay Area transit system would require massive new taxes. Refurbishing Prop 13, so that plutocrats' shopping centers pay taxes. That Prop dates from 1979.

    Another thing: San Francisco is just part of the Bay Area. The Bay is seventy miles by twenty, not seven by seven. Counties such as Santa Clara and Marin have refused to be part of BART. Long ago.

    So the sins of the San Francisco Bay Area originated decades before those particular, insufferable, brain empty techies were born. The rot is deep.

  41. The rich in New York seem to understand that they need the city around them to be at least minimally functional. The rich in San Francisco and other cities think they can buy their way out of the city's dysfunctionality.

  42. Mr Egan lives in Seattle which has all the same issues as San Francisco. I don't understand how he came to write what he did in this article. San Jose is 70 miles from San Francisco and $9 for a CalTrain ticket does not seem excessive. I spend that to get from JFK to Manhatten via AirTrans and the LIRR. 10 miles?

    Public transit in the Bay area is heavily promoted and subsidized. Nobody takes it because work is far away from where people live. Commuting by public transit can take 2+ hours each way. Commuting from Seattle to Redmond is a Steven King horror story for techies so Mr. Egan should "stay local" on his reportage.

    It's not the fault of Muni or CalTrain. To get a job here you need to meet 499 out of 500 qualifications for that job. This is where dystopia starts. You don't make decisions about where you live because of your job, because your job exists day to day. Welcome to high tech paradise.

    Twitter didn't "spit out" 1,600 millionaires. That's insulting and ultimately not true. Startup engineers work for below market wages for years so some of this wealth is "catch up". The wealth they have is on paper. It's in the form of options which may not be fully vested, and for 6 months they are in "lock up". They can't sell shares. For most startups the stock price at 6 months is far lower than on the day of the IPO.

  43. I lived in San Francisco from the spring of 1995 and left in the winter of 2000. But even back then the City ( it was considered de rigueur to capital the word "city" in print in all articles about S.F. in The San Francisco Chronicle) was quite expensive. This was just before the tech com bubble burst. Even then yuppies were buying up apartments, condos and houses in the Mission District. Their calling card, giant SUVS, were parked up and down the streets and avenues. And the local residents were quite angry. I remember reading a handbill stapled to a utility pole as I passed it walking down the street to a used book store. It stated: "Kill All Yuppie Scum." So apparently that lyric from a popular rock song from my youth that told you to "be sure to wear a flower in your hair" when you visited S.F.was just so much flower power nostalgia left over from the Sixties when I lived in Southern California. And I'm not surprised in the least that the City has morphed into Dystopia by the Bay. But despite how hard it was to make a decent living, I'll never regret my time in The Republic of Northern California. Unfortunately, I left my wallet rather than my heart there when I moved back to the Midwest.

  44. At least a lot of them vote Democratic, so they're not the ones who are hell-bent on destroying America as we knew it.

    Increasing the minimum wage to $15, raising taxes on capital gains, and improving access to the polls in other parts of the country so that the national government is able to spend money upgrading public transport in metropolitan areas instead of expanding military bases in sparsely populated states with two Senators would fix many of the problems.

    Perhaps it's part of the point you are making, but while being an instant millionaire is better than working in fast food, it doesn't buy you luxury in the Bay Area -- in SF or Silicon Valley, a million bucks buys a smallish 2-3BR house.

  45. “Why is it a problem that underachievers are moving out?” is one of the most obnoxious things I've read lately. Who would want to live in a city with people who think like that? I hope San Francisco is a magnet for such people. At least the rest of us know where not to go if we want to avoid contact.

  46. Actually, we don't want those types here, either.

  47. This is a big debate in Silicon Valley, where I live -how do we afford to live here? It's not just the poor and middle class who are squeezed, it's also the techies. We came here because of jobs, not because we wanted to live in this area, and it's becoming harder and harder to stay. The big problem, as you allude to, is not so much salaries as IPOs and the millionaires they create over night. The boom in housing values this creates feeds on itself because it brings in investors from around the world who see this housing market as a way of making a huge amount of money quickly. Even though myself and my partner make over $300K a year combined we are not in a position to think about buying a house, we'd need over $100k in savings to even begin. On the other hand, the area is fantastically prosperous and the town I live in (Mountain View) feels like a place from the future with no crime and food from around the world. I rather this than Detroit!

  48. What a life techies have in Silicon Valley. Pittance pay for a twelve hour a day job on the hope of striking gold in an IPO. A ratrace to beat all other ratraces.

  49. I'm in complete agreement. Where I live (two miles from Google HQ), it's easy for most people to barely notice when cut-backs to public transportation are proposed. I'm always aware that those most affected are the young and the disadvantages, those least likely to have influence with decision makers.

    Also, thank you for the reminder--so obviously, but overlooked--that a community needs the range of skills and occupations. Before California I lived in Evanston, Illinois, where the wealthy historically lived in mansions near Lake Michigan, but benefited from much more affordable, smaller homes and apartments to the west, where their household employees as well as many local workers could find housing within a mile or two of them.

  50. Good Evening: Did someone actually write "Why is it a problem that underachievers are moving out?!" Wow. How ignorant of the real world and insensitive toward others can one person get? How can anyone call blue collar workers underachievers? How can anyone call the middle class underachievers? For many of these folks, it took a ton of *achievement* to rise to a better job and a better way of life, with a better home in a better neighborhood. Now they aren't good enough to keep living in San Francisco?!


  51. Not to mention that a lot of those 'underachievers' achieve in ways not based on stock grants and such. Artists, musicians, people working in medical research, writers and yeah, dreamers don't pull down 6 or 7 figure salaries and stock grants, they don't make a lot of money, but they entertain others and help make a city a fun place to go. NYC in many ways is just as bad, but because it is a big place, it isn't quite as limited as SF, but you see the ills of the city becoming a city of the rich and poor. To be blunt, the upper 1% don't add much excitement to the city, they seem to be , if young, the ones getting drunk every night and throwing up in the streets , the meatpacking district these days instead of the smell of the wholesale meat providers and the sound of hooker's heels, now has the smell of vomit and the inane conversations of the young, drunken but well off morons (at least one thing has stayed the same, the young gals seem to wear heels the hookers would blush at back in the day). Centering a city around the uber well off turns it into a wasteland of the very rich or the very poor, and it eventually chokes it. I loved SF the times I have visited it, and I am sorry to hear that the spirit and the nature of the city is so rapidly changing.

  52. Thank you for elucidating the myopic approach to urban development in the Bay area. I am appalled at how little investment has been made in public transit and housing development in an area so purportedly "environmentally conscious." I narrowly avoid being side-swiped by a swarm of Prius's each day but when it comes to developing the infrastructure of a burgeoning metropolis "the money is just not there." I hope that some of these so called environmentalists realize that a real care for the environment would entail parking that Prius in the driveway, taking a bike or train to work, and advocating sensible and fair housing and commercial development plans. It's one thing to drive an SUV and deny climate change, but it's sheer hypocrisy to decry the state of our environment while believing that buying some groceries at Whole Foods and driving a Tesla is significantly altering our imprint on this area. If you want to hear of a community actually living close to the earth, research the community at the Albany landfill. There are people in the Bay doing good work to make real and sensible changes to the infrastructure, there just need to be more people on board and fewer people deluding themselves with the "grandeur" of "changing the world" through social media, etc. If people in the Bay don't take notice, the natural beauty will eventually erode amidst strip malls, parking lots, and "free"ways.

  53. The Bay Area is also one where many middle class jobs pay less than they do in the rest of the country. As an associate professor at Berkeley I made less than the area's median income in part because the university paid less than pretty much any of its public or private competitors around the country, although to be fair the pensions were lavish. Most of my younger colleagues made more in the early 2000's made more on the appreciation of their usually tiny houses than from their salary, which provided a powerful incentive to pull up stakes. And this was one of the most privileged slices of society! How much worse it was for everyone else down to the almost universally illegal immigrants who did the grunt work at the restaurants that are one of the region's most celebrated amenities.

  54. I suggest that Mr. Egan look at the relative cost of transit in the New York City region compared to that in the Bay Area to understand what a costly trip is. Interurban transportation in the Bay Area is much cheaper per mile, and often much more frequent. That $9 trip from Silicon Valley is the equivalent in distance and frequency to the trains my father took from New Jersey to New York City, which now costs $15.

  55. You have hit the nail on the head. Better public transportation is essential. If BART and Muni have limited reach, and run only until midnight, of course people are willing to pay a premium to live in the hubs of the city and where transportation is available. This also makes it difficult for new business centers to open elsewhere.

    Imagine if Muni/BART were fast, reliable, open 24/7, and available all over the Bay Area, such that you could just as easily live in Half Moon Bay, Fairfield or Tiburon and work downtown. Imagine that any start-up could open anywhere in the Bay, and know that talent would flock to it unencumbered by limitations in transportation for its employees.

    Without opening up transportation options, San Francisco is doomed to become a center for the rich and the techies (and I'm one such techie). I won't miss the hipsters in the Mission, but everyone else being driven out will be a great loss.

  56. Be serious--thank god techies took the Mission District, because it was a dangerous swamp before that. Take a wrong turn and get mugged or step on a strung out junkie.

  57. I lived in the Mission from 1991 until 2004, and have visited frequently since. There have been more shootings (all drug related) since I left than in the entire 13 years I lived there.

    I was never mugged, despite living for a while on Capp Street near 16th, where prostitution was once once rampant (think pre-Prada meat packing district), before the high end eyeglass stores and fancy crepe places moved in on Valencia Street.

    I definitely dealt with homeless addicts but honestly they are about as obnoxious as the drunk techies that now fill 24th Street in the evenings. The homeless addicts are still there, they just went back to the Tenderloin and Civic Center.

  58. You're just wrong. As in any city, you need to watch where you're going.

  59. I'm struggling to see how sharing a commute makes even the smallest dent in income inequality in New York City, or anywhere else.

  60. How nice to see my city get a write up in the Times! While not exactly the most glowing of endorsements; still, it is true that things are changing very quickly with the influx of new money and major new construction, primarily high end residential units.

    Some things however do not change so easily: the MUNI system is pathetic. I've lived here for all my 38 years and MUNI has ALWAYS been fairly dysfunctional...Just recently the City declared a need for 10 Billion dollars over the next 15 years to 'fix' MUNI.

    They anticipate 3.8 Billion in revenue with a 6.3 Billion shortfall. So local taxpayers open your wallets! The voters will have to approve a increase in vehicle licence fees, two $500 million bonds and an increase in the sales tax from 8.75 to 9.25%.

    By a 66.7% majority. Lord knows the system needs help...but I wonder if The People can be convinced. Those in power have a tendency to occasionally misuse funds: our new Transbay Transit Center is being built for High Speed Rail that may never come to fruition. A 1.3 mile tunnel for diesel Calrains railcars that are prohibited from traveling underground. And a brand new 1.7 mile Central Subway from Chinatown to the ballpark: which will be admittedly useful come baseball season...but will it be worth the two billion dollars to build it?

  61. This topic has been getting a lot of play lately in the media. Mr. Egan's piece acknowledges that the economic growth has some positive consequences, alongside the obvious negative ones. SF was rated the happiest city in America.

    Though there are certainly start-ups, there are also artists, nurses, baristas, graphic designers, contractors, and yoga teachers (boy, are there a lot of yoga teachers!) living in SF. It is absurd to extrapolate that every one of the 800,000 city residents works in tech. This is also the headquarters of several large, iconic non-tech corporations: The Gap, Williams-Sonoma, Wells-Fargo, Lucas Film. There are several hospitals including UCSF which has a large research facility in Mission Bay.

    When I arrived in 1991, San Francisco was already expensive relative to the rest of the country. Even before the first tech bubble, apartments were considered pricey. I live in a sweet neighborhood, Cole Valley, but I work in the Mission, where there are plenty of un-gentrified areas. You can go high or low: a $5 éclair from a fancy pastry shop, or a $2 tamale from a lady selling them in a doorway. Both are delicious.

    My teenaged sons were born and raised in San Francisco. I'm glad that they have this place as their barometer, and prism for seeing the world. No other American city is as open-minded, progressive, and free-spirited. San Franciscans know how to work hard, but they also know how to play. Arguably, many of us feel the cost of living is worth it!

  62. There is a lot to be discussed about getting people of different social classes together someplace. Too many wealthy people underestimate how truly privileged they are, too many in the middle class fail to realize now small their part of the pie has become, and too many working poor don't understand how much they are being exploited. But then we all live in separate worlds, some riding the bus, others riding their cars, and others flying their private jets. No wonder we don't see the full extent of social disparities.

    How about we mix everyone for a change, build upscale mansions close next to housing projects, or have everyone ride the same transportation system? Isn't that the true meaning of democracy?

  63. As good as New York City? No. A disgrace? That's a bit of a stretch. Muni and BART generally have trains and buses every 10 minutes during daytime, and I've never felt like I've lost time waiting for a bus that wouldn't have been just as lost looking for a stupid parking spot. CalTrain during non-commuter hours does suck though, and public transit in Silicon Valley proper is pretty dire: it takes a bit over 2 hours to cover a 20 minute car ride by VTA light rail.

  64. Your column is the first thing I read on Friday morning and this one about The realities in San Francisco are most literally news to me. It is getting really hard to be hopeful about our future.

  65. This is a really important article, as a bay area cook I understand how woefully inadequate the bart system is. To meet my rent needs I live in richmond, but because of that I am prohibited from working in San Francisco because of the time I finish work and the fact that bart doesn't run after midnight.

  66. Out of sight out of mind summarizes our national blindness. If we don't have to see it, it must not exist so there must not be a problem. Thank you, Mr. Egan, for again capturing our despair.

  67. Here in New York, as in San Francisco, the city depends on the daily inflow of workers from the other boroughs (into Manhattan) to make it work. So, public transportation is essential; in strict justice to all the brave commuters, it should offer efficiency, comfort and affordability. As it goes, it is crowded and slow, no doubt due to an old and difficult infrastructure to maintain. Could a task force with the know-how propose solutions (short and long range) to this predicament? Aside from housing and other inequalities to mend, Bill de Blasio has his hands full, some of us with high hopes he'll deliver. As they say, hope springs eternal.

  68. I guess you don't know many engineers or engineering students. Give a young, newly-minted engineer a big salary and they buy a fast car. Public transportation?

    I lived in the valley before the gold rush in the 1980s and found it a rather nice place to live although the rush hour traffic on 101 was already zany. Fresh out of school, I could rent a rather decent apartment in Mountain View.

    Now, the apartment is a grossly over-priced "condo" and the valley is greed central. Many of my friends and professional acquaintances have moved from the Bay area because they didn't want to raise kids in the midst of unbridled materialism.

    We all need a transformation of the soul...

  69. There is no solution to economic dystopia, which has claimed the city of San Francisco as one of its first American victims. There is no heart in San Francisco for Tony Bennett to miss today. New York City, a high-rise snake pit, is on its way to second place behind San Francisco. Overbuilt, beyond affordable except by the ultra-rich of our dysfunctional society, these cities will sink like the wonders of the ancient world, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, like the Pharoanic empires of Egypt, like the Empire of Japan fell from hubris 70 years ago, as China is now falling slowly due to the weight and poverty of its population. Like Syria has sunk from the despotism of its genocidal leader. The only solution to dystopia is revolutionary change, such as that wrought by the underclasses of France against their Bourbon rulers in 1789. Fixing public transit in San Francisco is useless, Tim Egan, useless as fingers in a dike against a tsunami.

  70. I was prompted to Google "corporate tax avoidance," which turned out to be ironic. First, the "race to the bottom" was exemplified this year by Rick Perry and his attempts to attract businesses from other states to his responsibility-free Utopia.

    J. Paul Getty once said, "If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem." In a similar way, municipalities and states have learned to tiptoe around major "job creators," allowing them wide latitude in what taxes they decide to pay.

    Last year, Google reportedly moved upwards of $10 billion to tax haven Bermuda, allowing the company to avoid $2 billion in federal taxes. I imagine that the company was able to avoid state and other taxes as well, funds that could have gone a long way to upgrade San Francisco's public transportation infrastructure.

    The advanced nations of the world upgrade infrastructure without debate. In the U.S., the one big project I remember from the last ten years, the tunnel under the Hudson, was scuttled by a governor who said his state just couldn't afford it.

    Oh, why was the Google search ironic? Google has begun funding right-wing influence groups like ALEC, which aims to lower the taxes on the rich at the expense of infrastructure and the economic safety net.

    As the media takes a pass on noting the actual agenda of trendy companies like Google, we continue to witness the crumbling of the great infrastructure achievements of the 20th Century.

  71. Google is a corporation. Nothing Google does is in the best interests of We The People.

  72. This is vastly overblown. The city is super-expensive because the Democratic olitical leaders (no Republicans in SF) do many things that hurt the residents economically: 1) no national chanins or bix boxes, too "evil", so no real competition except in the suburbs for overpriced local stores (the consumers' interest mean less than the interests of the entrenched merchants); 2) ridiculous barriers to new construction or even to renovation, so no new supply of housing except for expensive high-rises; 3) fees for everything, taxes on everything; 4) a declared war on cars, taking parking and streets and forcing more overcrowded curbs aor spending 100s a month for a garage; and etc. Young folks making a good living read about city plans to allow for new apartments smaller than NY hotel rooms, a real aspirational goal (and what about the lament re.more dogs than kids in SF). A resident could go on and on, but to pin this on those who have new, good jobs is sad and reflective of the corrosive leftie populism abetted by wrong-headed lazy and entrenched government. Meanwhile, Pelosi, Feinstein and assorted Demo billionaires look down from Pacific heights and tell you to pay more teaxes for their pet projects while they shelter their wealth and income in ways prohibited to you.

  73. "1) no national chanins or bix boxes, too 'evil', so no real competition except in the suburbs for overpriced local stores (the consumers' interest mean less than the interests of the entrenched merchants)"

    Have you ever even BEEN to SF? Where are you going to build these stores you describe?

    "2) ridiculous barriers to new construction or even to renovation, so no new supply of housing except for expensive high-rises"

    It's called preservationism. Perhaps you live in a place like I do, where any building over 20 years old is considered an expendable eyesore, but SF keeps one eye on its history, which to me is admirable.

    "3) fees for everything, taxes on everything"

    Wow ... sounds like Chicago ... or New Orleans ... or Miami ... or NYC ... or Las Vegas ... or on and on, ad nauseum.

    "4) a declared war on cars, taking parking and streets and forcing more overcrowded curbs aor spending 100s a month for a garage; and etc."

    I lived in North Beach a quarter century ago, and I can tell you that in this regard NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

    And you blame all of this on Democrats? As I can easily assume that you are a Republican, heed my words: YOU shall reap what you sow, and it's going to be a bumper crop of economic inequality. Have a nice future.

  74. Glad to see there's at least one guy from WAY out in right field who reads the Times and doesn't just listen to Faux News. It's actually encouraging.

    Rage on, fella!

  75. Mr. Egan, I enjoy your columns very much.
    You are right about the effect of the disconnect between rich and poor. And finally, people are being listened to who have all along been saying that they do not begrudge the success of fellow citizens but by separating ourselves so much, we can np longer relate to others.
    Revamping the transportation system would be a great way to create jobs (as Obama has stated a million times) and get more money generated into the economy. Also, it wouldn't hurt the 1% at all and would most likely be contracted to them to write programs.
    we need these techies to be at the top of their game and they should be paid well for it. I run almost my entire business through computers. But let us not for get that the bus driver's, nurses', teacher's funds and pension accounts are what Wall Street is investing in their tech IPOs so we all have a huge stake in this.

  76. Living in a city is a release - but only if it is the right kind of city. In the right city you can make up your life to suit yourself: decide you love opera (what home town has opera?), try another life style by, say hanging out with people who are creators, not consumers. Just have the time and space to imagine something you hadn't ever dreamed of before.
    SF was this kind of place par excellence, and to read of the invasion of the techies is to feel like I am watching the coming attractions of the latest zombie flick. I NEVER go to zombie flicks. And I can imagine a time when I won't go to SF either. Sad.

  77. It called gouging. It is like the bag of ice that sell for $8 after a hurricane. Isn't capitalism great ? San Francisco is becoming too expensive to even visit, never mind live there.

  78. "This issue is at the heart of preserving our nation’s egalitarian sense of self." I think the issue here is one of recapturing, not preserving, what has long since been gleefully and callously discarded in America.

  79. Whats the point of subsidized rent if you are going to be charged $8.00 for "a piece of warmed bread". the basic cost of living is rising all over -- not just San Francisco!

  80. As for Egan’s pieces in general, thanks and appreciation. As for this particular example, “If you go to San Francisco - be sure to wear some dollars in your hair..."

  81. No surprise here. The tech class is just one of the layers of wealth at the top of the American pyramid. Many of them are the one per centers themselves, though not as predatory or controlling as some of their brethren. The rest fall into the ultra-affluent service class for the super wealthy.

    It is only natural that they will select certain areas for themselves - San Francisco is a beautiful city. They do not have to put up physical barriers; as soon as they reach a critical mass, the cost of living will keep the hoi polloi out. The rest of us will have to content ourselves with the hinterlands, the fly-over areas and what is left of small-town America.

    The tech rich are no different from the traditional rich in that they will opt for the private sector over the public in areas such as transportation.

    And the rest of us? Well, we know about that.

  82. Don't lose sleep over your status.... when it all comes down -- as it always does -- you'll be grateful for living in the flyover areas.

  83. Do you actually believe that the 1%, not to mention the 5 or 10%, in NY takes the subway?

  84. This 5%er takes the subway almost every day. It's the best way to navigate in Manhattan. Otherwise I walk.
    Of course the 0.01%, with their chauffeured limousines, might disagree with me. :)

  85. The 10% is at or near 100K for an individual. They'd take the subway.

  86. Absolutely. Try taking the 1 or the 6 downtown towards Wallstreet any day of the week. There is no better way to get around.

  87. It looks like the American experiment I over and the land of equality is disappearing. Human nature, mankind's basest, primitive instincts, greed and selfishness, are lowly killing the gift our Founding Fathers gave us.

    Money and power may be the great corrupter, their weight may ultimately sink us.

  88. Stock market killings are the only way these all hot air enterprises like Facebook and Twitter ever pay out.

  89. I live in South Florida where most everyone travels in cars. There are those who travel by bus or on the Tr-Rail, but they are a small minority and the far more fortunate barely glance at them from the air conditioned comfort of their Mazaratis, Bentleys and BMWs.

    I absolutely agree with you Mr. Egan, the rich and the poor do need to rub elbows but from my vantage point, America needs a lot more than a few rubbed elbows. All around me, I see the Two Americas a politician once spoke of. I drive a few blocks, from mansions by the ocean to the Dixie Highway where I roll right into the other America in my dented Hyundai. I suppose there are a few people who live in their wealthy enclaves, hiding in their bubble, but it's a very hard thing to do here in the Sunshine State. The two Americas live side by side, a few blocks separate the haves from the have nots. Walk out the door of your gated community and the stories are there, if only you take the time to listen.

    But that's what's it all about, isn't it? Listening to the stories, having compassion, caring about the less fortunate. St Francis celebrated the poor, he and his followers took a vow of poverty. In America today, we seem to have forgotten the war on poverty and are now waging a war on the poor as we continue to struggle on our climb out of a deep recession that did not hurt everyone equally.

    What this really is about is the heart and soul of America. "For it is in giving that we receive." ~St. Frances of Assisi

  90. The polar inequalities that are developing in America are the front end of a recurring historical theme. The eventual resolution of these inequalities is also a recurring historical theme... an extremely ugly one in all of its possible manifestations. If you're living inside the affluence cocoon, you would do well to consider the implications of these facts on your future.

  91. That's a good point about New York. I've found that middle-class and even upper-income New Yorkers have a "street tough" aura, an attitude, that people (especially guys) in other cities try to emulate but they can't.


    Because they're too insulated. They go down to their building's garage to drive to their company's parking lot. At night, there's parking — self or valet — for everything. The only interaction they have with regular folks is as service workers. In other words, none at all.

    New Yorkers, by contrast, are walkers. They use public transportation. Every day brings them into contact — and possible confrontation — with people from all walks of life.

  92. And just about everyone uses the subway. Once upon a time, as a college student commuting with an armload of books, I got pretty adept at sizing up the sitters. Find a guy on the #6 in a 3-piece-suit and reading the WSJ and stand in front of him - because he's getting off around 59th or 77th, 86th at most. And the kid from The Bronx got a much-needed a seat all the way to Pelham Bay Park. And got a lot of studying done, too.

  93. The East Coast by and large, specifically the area from Baltimore to New York including Philly, has a certain amount of grit and aggression that just comes from living on the east coast.

  94. Hmmmm. Coming frequently to San Francisco from Los Angeles, I always admire the Bay Area public transportation system.

  95. "...all thick with people who work at jobs that don’t pollute..."

    If the suggestion here is that techies' jobs don't generate GHG emissions because most are cloud- or software application-based, it should be noted that many of the data centers that underpin much of the tech industry are still grossly inefficient and/or run predominantly on fossil fuel-based electricity. It's misleading to imply that all of these startups are "green" by virtue of generating fewer emissions than, say, a coal company (from whose product they may be drawing power), particularly if they are not actively trying to improve their own carbon footprints. Not every 'techie' works for a company like Google who operates highly efficient data centers based on strategic siting, renewable power generation, and other impact-mitigating tactics - and for all its efforts, even Google still pollutes.

    The Times has covered this issue before, even if imperfectly (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/technology/data-centers-waste-vast-amo....

  96. Good luck with improving public transportation in California. Public transportation tends to be supported with local funds, and since Prop 13 passed in 1978 the ability of municipalities to raise funds through real estate taxes has severely diminished. Taxes (and "fees") at the state level in California are painfully high, but the money just doesn't trickle down to fix the buses and the trains. It's a dystopia in California that predates this tech boom, and shows no signs of going away soon. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/proposition-13-at-age-35/

  97. The ultimate solution when too many people want to live on the same peninsula is to make more places for them to live -- and then, of course, to use tools like inclusionary zoning to ensure that enough of those new places are affordable to the middle- and working-class citizens who are the city's lifeblood. It is unfortunate that one of the nation's most progressive cities has taken such a conservative, anti-growth approach to urban development: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2013/10/san-francisco-exodus/7205/

  98. Dear Tim, I visit San Francisco quite often and know it better than most, having grown up there and having offspring there. As you say, many cities would like to have the problems which come with strong growth, and one of the assets San Francisco has it good public transportation - much better than any city in the US of comparable size apart perhaps from Boston. The private commuter buses are a laudable solution to a lack of capacity in the suburban system for contraflow traffic. San Francisco has no say in the latter. Their use must be better than having everyone in their cars! All magnet cities wrestle with how to accommodate newcomers and preserve their community (which after all is what attracts new arrivals), and no doubt San Francisco will find good answers to many of the problems and not such good answers for the others. It is still the city that knows how - which is why so many want to be there.

  99. How come you left such a wonderful city?

  100. Unless NYC subways, and rich people, have changed a lot since I lived there, nobody's rubbing elbows or making eye contact with fellow travelers from the other side of the economic chasm.

  101. Not true. Indeed, around the world, public transportation is one of very few places where we see each other, even if we try not to look. We self-segregate socially, in schools, our work places, our leisure outings... Don't even talk about residency, and its recent variant, the gated community!

    But in cities like NY and Paris, we move about together. The wealthy cannot deny the existence of the poor after a ride on the subway... and their time is too precious to sit in traffic. Contact does not always yield empathy, but lack of contact almost never does.

  102. I thought this comparison was unfair, too. BART, CalTrain and other public transit in the Bay Area is heavily used by middle class and even upper middle class people (to avoid driving in the traffic). And while I know some affluent people in NYC use the subways at least at times, they also use a lot of taxis and private cars and limos. It felt like Mr. Egan was engaging in that tired old "NYC is the best place in the world" myopia.

    Tech workers are really still a small percentage of Bay Area life. Their growing numbers in SF are having an impact, as this and other articles have noted, but life here is far more complex than the recent spate of articles focusing on hordes of techies have portrayed.

  103. But at least it's all one fare - on BART your round trip can be up to $16 and lowest around $4.40, making travel at least "fair" for all rubbing elbows. I'm guessing at the round trip costs here since I'm retired and my wife thankfully can walk to work.

  104. Sorry, but I have to ask, rhetorically, what exactly of value it is that these network "techies" create? I just read an article in The New Yorker about John Rogers, a scientist at the University of Illinois (ever heard of him? neither had I) working on technologies incorporating circuits into silicon for surgical implantation that are already leading to profound medical breakthroughs. Per the article, he lives in a modest home and leads a low profile, simple lifestyle even after having sold a company for "eight figures" and investing the proceeds in several other start-ups doing similar research. So, while the Twitters and Googles and all the others rake in billions, and their owners lead lavish, often garish, lifestyles, there are some real heroes who choose to work in obscurity and who are actually making valuable, tangibly life changing contributions. Without all the hoopla, and still connected to the real world.

  105. Now in my 50's, I arrived in the valley in '79. I worked designing aerospace, biotech, semiconductors and medical equipment.

    I get uncomfortable when people call software 'technology'. And I guess Pintrest is something someone is proud of, but I tend to think the work I did enabling the Human Genome project had more value. I see those busses on 280 and 101 every day, they make me uncomfortable, they are the gated communities of transport. That rubs many of us long time liberal residents of the Bay Area the wrong way.

    If this is Americas's future when the gold rush is over it's going to be ugly. And history teaches those who pay attention that big is bad, bigger worse and anything the size of Google will become evil in short order.

  106. I know many people who work at Twitter and other technology companies, and I while I note there may be some selection bias in how I choose my friends, when it comes to these political solutions, it isn't the techies who are voting for the low taxes and lower services -- they want a higher minimum wage, better schools, better infrastructure, etc, and are willing to pay higher taxes, if they actually see these tangible changes.

    It is only when I talk with older Bay Area denizens, the ones who are complaining the loudest about "the Techies," that I also hear the complaints about "the high taxes," and the "evils of government."

  107. We always here that the one percent are really just a few? How many is a few and then how many are the next 10% and the next 10%. to gentrify neighborhoods and built these wealthy enclave there has to be many, many rich people that can afford them?

    So it isn't the 99% against the 1%. There are enough people making enough money to make all this gentrification happen?

    Corporate money is not being spent wisely, the greedy and powerful are spending their money on isolation. It use to be that corporations located in communities where there were good schools, good transportation hubs of rail, air, and highway systems and light rails. Now through their 30 years of manipulation the tax systems, regulations and buying the elected officials they can afford to build their own communities, transportation systems, and when they have privatized the water and air, watch out it will get worse.

    We've allowed this for way to long, robber barons on steroids, where is FDR? It is up to us to take back our world, our governments, our communities. They have such a huge ownership stake that they thru their purchasing power have driven up the basics of life and we cannot afford to live in their world. What will they do then? Oh robots!

  108. Apparently, the author considers "nurses, its teachers, its artists, its waiters, its bus drivers, its cops, its musicians and writers and grandmothers" as underachievers as he uses them as examples. How dare he ! His response is so very offensive. He has no idea what kind of education, passion and dedication it takes to be a good nurse or teacher. He has not idea how much practice it takes to make a living at being an artist or musician. He has no idea how stressful and back breaking it is to be a good waitress or bus driver. He has no idea the kinds of dangers cops have to expose themselves to keep people safe. He has no idea what can be learned from a grandmother - from cooking to old family recipies, to family stories and history. To choose to identify these types of people as underachievers is a travesty. That one line made me stop reading the rest of the article bcause I was so angry at the authot and I will remember his name and avoid reading anything else he writes.

  109. The author was not adroit in seeming to leap to identifying those regular folk as underachievers. My take was that he was pointing out not his own but the quoted person's broadbrush dismissal of everyone but well-employed techs (not all are) as underachievers, and just didn't do that clearly, hence the misunderstanding. And I abhor the delusionally elitist comment that was quoted, and its source. What absolute arrogance! Part of the new Gilded Age that must be taken down a peg or two, or it will take everything down. Life in the cloud is life in the clouds...

  110. San Francisco seems more like a Las Vegas version of itself than the city I knew in the 1950s and 60s. The streets are thronged with sloppy tourists and nearly as sloppy locals, and the light, the fantastic light, is blocked by ever more hideous high rises. The homeless population, many of them with war trauma and/or mental illness as well as drug addictions, fill up the Civic Center like an open-air campground every afternoon. Union Square, formerly a quiet and stately European-style courtyard in front of I. Magnin and the City of Paris department stores, is now overrun with beggars and gawkers in baggy shorts.

    SF in the late 50s was a town where you dressed up, where the sidewalks were filled with sailors in the old bell-bottom trousers and middie blouses, women wore hats and fur coats, and there was still a real fishing fleet at Fisherman's Wharf. No matter how much money the new techies have, they will never have my memories of a once fantastical city of blue-collar dock workers, Italian grocers, mysterious dark Chinatown alleys, and tawdry but comely ladies of the evening strolling down Market Street on a Saturday night.

  111. I'm especially struck by the mention of a readers comment - "Why is it a problem that underachievers are moving out?". The real problem is that cops, bus drivers, musicians, artists, nurses, etc. are viewed as dispensable underachievers in our brave new tech world/economy because they aspire to do a job that won't turn them into millionaires but may give them personal, professional and spiritual satisfaction instead, totally anolog aspirations. We are on the road to becoming automatons, extensions of and slaves to our digital devices, not their masters.

  112. I have lived in San Francisco for over 30 years and have raised 2 children here in an atmosphere of diversity and tolerance that is a hallmark of this city. Public transportation within the city is generally working well although an overhaul surely is needed. Transportation to and from the Peninsula, where the tech companies traditionally reside, is where the difficulty lies. This is not a new problem.

    Another point not mentioned in the article is the political power of renters in SF. Homeowners have generally seen their interests take a back seat in favor of renters. It will be interesting to see if this changes with the influx of new property owners.

  113. I live in Boston and years back in NY City. In both cities, the public transportation seems pretty good and I use it all the time. (I bought a 1988 Chevy new in 1987 and now have only 40,000 miles on it.) However, I eat out a lot and notice this income inequality problem with regards restaurants. They seem to be diverging into 2 types - very expensive, exotic ones for the rich where I can't afford to order an appetizer, and junk food addiction franchises for the poor. The rich are trim, slim and healthy and the poor are morbidly obese addicted to their fixes of fat & sugar.

  114. It's a bit unfair to criticize San Francisco like this. While an independent city, San Francisco is more akin to Midtown Manhattan or Westside Los Angeles. These are all a fairly small area comprising the most upscale and bustling parts of its respective giant metropolis. As long as the rest of the metropolitan area can reasonably commute in for work, the wealth created is distributed.

    But on commuting difficulty I do agree with Mr Egan. NYC's subways and trainsdo serve the tri-state area. LA's more limited public transit is compensated by a large freeway system that links the Southland and LA has relatively abundant parking. San Francisco, on the other hand, lack the extensive public transit, the freeway system, and parking, so that getting there from the rest of the Bay Area is surprisingly hard.

  115. Why oh why, in this technological age do we still find it necessary to transport so many bodies - often to just plant them in a maze of cubicles in which they communicate with others mostly via their computers? As an engineer who took the option of working from home, I found that without the incessant interruptions and chit-chat that prevail in the office work place,my production significantly increased.

  116. I left San Francisco in 1967, rents were cheap in the Haight/Ashbury, and filling up with penniless folk who would rather protest and smoke weed than work. For drunks, like me, there were plenty of S.R.O.s in North Beach and the Tenderloin—a day's work in the service industry could get you rent for a week; all gone, now. I left for New York and got a cubicle in the Greenwich Hotel on Bleecker Street for $16. a week, worked for Horn and Hardart and got most of my meals free. Fell on even harder times and ended up living free in flophouses on the Bowery and shipping out to the Catskills to room and board jobs at the Jewish Hotels—all of it gone now.

    Through all the bad times in the past, workers who were uneducated, underachievers, inept, drunk or druggies, could find jobs serving food, cleaning rooms, doing the heavy lifting and still live near the areas they worked. Soon they will need a passport to get to work, they live so far out.

  117. These instant siliconehead moneybags were busy killing the friendly, bohemian city of Jack Kerouac back in '92. The cafes and restaurants of North Beach were already filling up with self-regarding, condescending smarties who would no more get into a conversation with a stranger than get into Hannibal Lechter's van.

  118. Impose a city income tax, steeply graduated. That will make them think twice about moving up the coast and ruining San Francisco. Many still might, but if they do there will at least be money for subsidized housing and transit improvements.

    New York is in a better place because our transit is better so our spillover communities in the outer boroughs (not counting northern Brooklyn which isn't outer any more) can reliably take advantage of Manhattan's amenities. By contrast, getting to SF from the East Bay is only for the brave.

  119. The best way to bring the ultra rich and everyone else closer together is to trim down the inequality. Raise taxes on high income people so that they pay their share for what America stands for and live more like the rest of us.

  120. Excellent article written by a very insightful writer. Egan sheds light on a very real economic tsunami that could threaten the entire economy. For the record, I am a lowly government employee who wonders if I will have a job tomorrow … gone is the middle class to say nothing of the lower income folks struggling to survive..

  121. Know how you fix a problem like "transportation segregation… on the rise because you can’t rely on the public system"? Money to fix the system. Money is not going to come from people living subsistence lifestyle, or from marking off some of the most valuable real estate in the city and giving it to non-profit groups. People have to make enough to pay taxes in order for all the public benefits to work. Perhaps tattoo parlors, bars and botanicas are your vision of what makes a city great. Others would prefer the streets not to be filled with craters and the trains to run on time. People like Mr. Egan must stop dwelling in the fantasy world where money just appears in tax coffers without wealth being around to provide it. Simple fact...

  122. There would be a significant voting middle class in the SF area if there were an end to H1B visas. San Jose is an H1B ghetto with multiple workers without families occupying single apartments, obviously underpaid for the area cost of living and jobs they hold, and not voting citizens. If we stopped H1Bs, the tech industry would have to hire US citizens, paying competitive wages that support families in the urban region or few citizens would take the jobs. Or they would need to relocate their firms to less glamorous lower cost areas to match the lower pay rates (a "horror" for arrogant millionaires, but a plus for smaller cities or economically depressed areas). A greater number of citizens in middle level positions in SF might increase political will for issues that effect the middle class. Unfortunately, the stalled immigration bill significantly increases H1B visa quotas. H1Bs are not "genius" visas or entrepreneur investor visas - they are visas for cheap middle level workers that undercut US worker wages. End these visas, and the situation in SF will change profoundly.

  123. As someone who hires lots of techies, I can say that I simply don't see enough CVs from American workers. I pay everyone according to established norms for the job title, and almost always on the higher side of average, independent of their residency status. All of my colleagues who run companies do the same as far as I know. We don't hire H1B applicants because they are less expensive; we hire them because, without them, the labor pool is too small.

    Americans are not big on education in general. And anyone who likes math and science in most American high schools is usually pretty quiet about it. The rock stars of American high schools are the quarterbacks. The rock stars of Asian schools are the best students.

  124. The people who own NYC will never let the subway fail. The huge skyscrapers would be worth nothing if you could not easily get people in and out of them everyday. All over the country we see the weakening of the infrastructure when it doesn't serve the needs of the rich. For example; in places where the electric grid is no longer robust wealthy people are buying expensive backup generators in record numbers. If these backup generators were not available they would clamber for reliable electric grids. The public transportation system is not important to these new tech businesses.

  125. Perhaps Google and Twitter should open their buses to the public for a reasonable charge. That way the technocracy could be eye-to-eye with the hoi polloi, and the transportation crunch might be eased a bit.

  126. There's a lot of scapegoating going on lately. Most of the SF people who work at tech companies, including those who ride the fancy buses are worker bees, not millionaires. They just stick out because they're young. - remember that? - and most of them have jobs, unlike the many others who are still caught up in a recession.

    The new rich millionaires don't ride the private busses, but even they have to contend with the gridlocked freeways in their Porsches. We won't get the Bay Area fixed until they and their companies start making meaningful contributions to the public transportation system, not just building private ones.

  127. Actually the millionaires do ride these buses. The commute from SF to the Mountain View Google campus is a four hour round trip.

    That's 1/2 of a working day for most Americans. The engineers on the bus are working. The bus has WiFi.

    If you want to drive, you buy a zero emission vehicle so you have access to the HOV car pool lane. The Prius was the car of choice for newly minted zillionaires.

    We pay an extra sales tax here specifically to fund BART light rail construction. Have for decades. Money is not the problem. NIMBY-ism has blocked expansion of the system.

    It took 30 years to connect BART to the airport from SF. This project was stalled because the cab and jitney companies opposed it. The 7 miles of track cost a staggering amount of money. Federal matching funds were tied up over the participation rate of minority companies.

  128. They are driving Teslas!

  129. tax them more!!!
    sounds to me like they're not being taxed enough!
    if they're splashing money around, riding their own buses, it suggests that they haven't contributed fairly to the city, they haven't lifted their fair share of the burden.
    so, right now it's too good a deal for them.
    they should be taxed a lot more, and the proceeds invested into making the city liveable for everyone!!
    if they're not taxed enough, they will, or are they already, making the city unlivable for everyone else!
    they're eating the heart out of the very thing they seek in the place!!
    it will turn into the cesspool that's London, with all those bankers making the place too expensive for everyone else
    may be that's what some want!!
    a cesspool of money and greed, with no heart
    tax them more!!!!

  130. Tim, sorry you missed your train and got stranded with everyone else waiting. Public transportation is but one issue facing the 99%. You are from Seattle, I am sure you recall the mood and climate of the city prior to the big internet bust, a mirror image of what you describe in San Francisco. The internet bubble burst as you well know but left lasting scars like our poor public transportation system, under performing public schools, crumbling streets, high rents and over inflated home prices. It is reasonable to assume that among the Twitters and Facebooks there will be some massive failures and just as occurred here in Seattle many instant San Francisco millionaires will become instant paupers scrambling for work and many will leave San Francisco but they will leave behind the scars of their excess.

  131. Having lived in the Mission for 20 years I can tell you that I personally welcome the change happening here. In all of these articles one rarely, if ever, reads about how run down much of the Mission remains. Mission Street can be downright scary---especially around 16th Street. Finally developers are starting to convert some of the grand, old, empty theaters into usable space. Yes, it's cheaper to live in a slum of shuttered buildings, dollar stores and check cashing joints. But I'm thrilled that young, educated people are revitalizing this neighborhood. I'm thrilled to see people walking on the streets, which didn't happen 20 years ago. I'm thrilled about the creativity in retail and dining establishments that are replacing liquor stores and pawn shops. I'm thrilled to see denser housing filling in chain-linked parking lots and abandoned buildings.

    Additionally, I'm a progressive liberal, and I find the demonization of "techies" every bit as offensive as the demonization of gays, racial minorities or any other group.

  132. Agreed about the Mission; it's only gotten better over the years, while keeping its authentic feel.

    Regarding demonizing techies, I suppose if I were a journalist in this day and age I might be a little bitter as well.

  133. As a former San Franciscan, I'm deeply offended by the exceedingly broad brush that paints all technology workers as "soulless."

    I encourage the broad brushers to stop biting the hand that feeds The City's $7 billion annual budget.

  134. I left my wallet in San Francisco.

  135. I was struck by this phrase in the column: "...people who work at jobs that don’t pollute..."

    Writing software, and the related occupations that go along with that, may not pollute, but how about the manufacturing of all the electronics that are used to run that softwear? And all the mining of minerals that go into the manufacturing of that software?

    Just as riding in private buses can be described as riding in a 'bubble', so too working in a job that is enabled by processes that DO pollute, might also be described as working in a 'bubble'.

    Out of sight, out of mind seems to apply here. All that mining and manufacturing doesn't take place in the elites' backyard.

  136. The awfulness of BART, MUNI and Caltrans is not new and really has nothing to do with the current techie invasion. I lived in SF from 1991 through 2004, without a car. MUNI brings out my inner Republican.

    It has always been faster to walk than take MUNI. When I lived there union rules allows for up to 30 unexcused absences from work; no driver, no bus = delays. Stops are frequent, every block or so (the distance between Manhattan avenues could fit 3-4 SF blocks). Streets and sidewalks are narrow, exacerbating traffic. When I lived in the Mission I walked 1 mile to the BART to take the train downtown. BART stops running around 11 pm; the NY equivalent would be no night trips to/from Bklyn.

    I later took a job with UCSF (after the first tech bubble burst) in large part because they offered van service to and from work, cutting an hour long commute with 2 transfers down to a 20 min door to door ride.

    Then there's the terrible/nonexistent cab service. Forget about hailing a cab, completely unheard of (and possibly illegal). We used to call at least two companies b/c you were never sure if the one you called would show up. I once missed the last MUNI bus (around midnight) and was forced to call a cab. It took 45 mins to arrive.

  137. I'm always amazed by the egalitarian housing prices to be found on Manhattan.

  138. "Somewhere in these seven by seven miles of densely packed ambition is a solution. "

    Or not.

  139. It's hard to know how the other half lives when you're living in gated communities! Out of Sight Out of Mind! That makes it more palatable!

  140. Jerks do not exist only on the right. SF is loaded with semi-conscious neo liberals clueless to most of what is going on around them.

  141. Neoliberalism is trickle-down economics, a conservative philiosophy.Terminology matters, please don't change the meaning of words, newspeak is bad enough.

  142. I used to commute via AC Transit, BART and the Muni.

    I could never decide which was worse

    AC Transit who seemed to have a Union Rule that drivers be late and unhelpful

    and never left the station without five un-ruly teenagers blaring their music in the

    back of the bus, or the Muni drivers - especially on the electric buses who

    floored it as soon as the last passenger stepped on the bus

    or BART which had agents in glass boxes who knew nothing, understood no request

    and spend most of their time reading the sports pages and would, at most, point

    to remind you that the elevator and bathrooms were out of service.

    It was re-assuring to know that these workers all got paid more and had better

    pensions than your average nurse, teacher...

  143. Kudos. You paint a picture any transit rider here can relate to.

    Spending part of the last few years on crutches, I rode buses in NY but avoided them entirely in SF because it felt insane (and uncomfortable) having to explain upon boarding that you need the driver to wait till you're seated before they speed off.

    -Not sure why they speed anyway since they seem to start each route late at the outset, seemingly by choice.

  144. Ah, San Francisco. Run by and completely populated by Progressives.

    How dare you complain, Mr Egan

  145. Counter culture, indeed. Is that Italian or Brazilian granite you're leaning on while texting and waiting for your soy latte? Don't forget to force a smile at the homeless man sprawled across the sidewalk on your way out. A thin Democratic facade covers a gooey Republican center. Boy, times have changed.

  146. I wouldn't crow too loudly about the superiority of mass transit in NYC. Many of the middle class worker drones in NY must commute from Connecticut or New Jersey to be able to afford a place to live, and the commuter trains are as much of a mess as BART is. Check out your own front page for the fatal Metro-North crash on Thanksgiving weekend, the crash that injured dozens in Connecticut last spring, and the electrical outage that shut down the New Haven line for a week and a half.

    America's infrastructure is a mess, and as long as we remain fixated on cutting fiscal deficits and keeping taxes low for rich people who have private limos, buses and helicopters, that will not change.

  147. Having recently lived in NYC for a few years, I'll side with the author: SF's transit is on a different, far lower plane than NYC, even when one includes outlying communities.

    While SF is home, living in New York, I was almost continually struck by how NY seemed to be "run by adults", and SF, by children. If our leaders here were charged with running a place as complex as New York, I feel that city would devolve into some sort of third-world dynamic within a year or two.

  148. It's worse than you think. Bad as BART is, it gets the biggest share of funding from the Metropolitan Transit Commission, thus denying AC Transit, SamTrans and other regional transit systems needed support. And as bus lines erode, inner city denizens can't even get to BART for a crowded noisy SRO ride to serve the rich people in San Francisco that $4 toast.

  149. It appears that "segregation" be it based on money, class, job, gender, sexual orientation, housing ,or race, can't seem to help itself.

  150. "...all thick with people who work at jobs that don’t pollute..."

    just design products and systems that pollute other countries. The toxic garbage created by digital products is a global issue.

  151. Hey! We're in the NY Times! We've made it!

  152. Mr. Egan might have added, along with the need for improved public transit, the need for an improved public school system. (A Salesforce exec recently helped but one enlightened one-percenter is not enough.) There are "lower and middle class" Bay Area residents who would put up with the high costs and other strains of the City if they had confidence they could send their children to a public school without all the gaming required to get into the few good ones sprinkled throughout the City.

  153. Jobs that don't pollute? That's hardly the case with the tech sector. Those giant online servers are mega-polluters, as an alarming report in the NY Times attests ("Power, Pollution and the Internet", Sept. 22, 2012):

    "Data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.

    To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters."

    Likewise, the makers of electronics, designed to be obsolete in just a few years are creating 20-50 million tons of toxic electronic waste that is often exported to developing countries.

    Let's get real. The tech industry is not benign and it needs to start putting more of its outsized value into cleaner practices, and less into gentrification that displaces people and erodes the cultural fabric of cities.

  154. This is outrageous - Google workers are to blame for a failed train? Come on! As much hubris as there is in the current tech bubble, one shouldn't lose sight of the fact that San Francisco's utterly dysfunctional politics and unrealistic politicians have destroyed most of the public services. It's not that people aren't paying enough taxes - it is that there is incredible corruption in the way City workers are compensated and contracts are given. It's the OLD San Francisco that is to blame, and it's power players. If anything, the recent tax dollars and economic spending coming in from the tech sector has prevented the ultra-liberal utopian idiocy of the City's political class from relegating San Francisco to third tier status.

  155. I completely agree that the legions of technologists can help improve the public transportation system in the Bay Area. Already, their presence has already bolstered the finances of systems like BART, Caltrain, and MUNI by increasing ridership. But they can do more! We need entrepreneurs to build new tracks and invent robotic trains. These new systems will increase the penetration of public transit and will drive down prices by replacing expensive union labor with technology. As San Francisco attracts even more young techies, we have something to look forward to indeed.

  156. The irony is that people live in San Francisco and commute 40 miles south on Cal Train because they don't want to live in the mono culture of Silicon Valley.

  157. I appreciate reading coverage on the Bay area. I, myself, have never traveled or lived on the West coast. But, I have attempted to better understand the economic indicators (SFCED) provided by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

    According to research indicators investing further development in public transit would be a need too securing access for every person whose basic living standard is depended on hourly wages. (Source: http://sfced.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/SF-Sector-Wages-May-2012.pdf).

  158. I lived in the Bay area in the late 1980's. The public transportation system was a mess even back then with one of the biggest problems being a lack of coordination between the many different lines. To take a commuter train from Santa Clara to San Francisco required waiting a 'layover' of over an hour in order to switch from one system to the next. The system compared very poorly to Seattle, Boston or New York.

  159. The quote from the young techie that people (like nurses and cops and teachers) who can't afford San Francisco prices are "underachievers" ties directly into what Pope Francis was saying recently: when the only standard to judge who is an achiever and who is an underachiever is the size of their paycheck, we have allowed the worship of gold to trump all other religions. So long as people who invent a clever and entertaining litlle computer app are admired and rewarded to excess, while the people who care for us when we are ill, teach our children and protect us from predators are denigrated as losers, our society is seriously on the wrong track.

  160. Why is someone who is not a millonaire an underacheiver? It is that attitude that is making this country into the cruel, cold land that it is today.

  161. Maybe I'm "insulated" but I have to ask: What value AT ALL is "Twitter"? I've asked every one of my personal friends. NONE of them "tweet" and are as baffled as I am by what seems to be a colossal waste of time, energy, and money. If it went away tomorrow, what loss would there be?

    Yes, I realize the irony of saying this in the NY Times commentary section, which may not even be marginally more useful than "Twitter".