Is San Francisco headed the way of Detroit? Will it become a hollowed former boomtown? In the Financial Times, George Hammond and Tabby Kinder analyze the current state of the city, writing:
At rush hour on a recent morning in downtown San Francisco, passengers exiting the Civic Centre station had to step over a discarded hypodermic needle, an all too common sight in a city where open air drug use has become unremarkable.
Around the station, usage of which has plunged two-thirds since 2019, the most obvious presence was not commuters heading into work but rather groups of homeless people and workers from a social enterprise trying to help them.
Homelessness and addiction are nothing new in San Francisco, which has fought a long campaign to house the vulnerable, but a surge of office vacancies following the pandemic has left the city feeling increasingly hollowed out.
Meanwhile, fears over crime hit fever pitch earlier this month following the fatal stabbing of Bob Lee, the 43-year old founder of mobile payments service Cash App. His death was seized on by Elon Musk and others as evidence that a liberal approach to law and order had allowed crime to go unchecked, until it later emerged Lee was in fact known to his suspected assailant.
Still, the hasty conclusion that Lee was a victim of pervasive lawlessness only served to underline fears that empty offices and crime will combine to unseat San Francisco as the premier hub for global tech.
Salesforce last week put the remaining six floors of a San Francisco tower that bears its name on the market, as it became the latest tech group to slash its footprint in the aftermath of job cuts and a work-from-home culture that has taken root to a much greater degree than in other cities.
A few days later, high-end supermarket chain Whole Foods closed its flagship downtown store, citing elevated levels of theft and fears for its workers’ safety.
Some prominent members of the city’s venture capital community have left, while others warn of the opportunity cost of losing future start-ups to other cities.
“Things had become so fundamentally dysfunctional and were going so badly in the wrong direction that I was not bullish on San Francisco as a place to raise my family,” said Joe Lonsdale, head of $2.7bn venture capital firm 8VC, who relocated from San Francisco to Austin, Texas, in 2020.
Jason Calacanis, a tech entrepreneur and investor, said some entrepreneurs were considering other US cities to launch or grow their businesses. “Founders . . . who used to see San Francisco as the ultimate destination for their start-ups are now choosing to go to Austin, Miami, or the wider Bay Area and avoiding San Francisco,” he said. “The number one reason they tell me is safety issues.”
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