S.F. Hits Highwater Mark

I have a favorite new game to play while riding on BART - I call it A, B, C, D. Here is how it works: Around Montgomery Station, choose a twentysomething, any twentysomething. Now ask yourself: Is that person ...

A Working for a startup?

B Getting his or her parents to pay the rent?

C Barely surviving on tips from his or her futureless service job?

D Unable to afford San Francisco?

As a definite D, I'm reminded of my experience at Game 1 of this past World Series. I went after a single scalped ticket as a 24-year-old lifelong Giants fan who wasn't expecting a bargain, but I was out of my league. Just as I finally had batted the price down to a reasonable amount, one of those just-moved-here, skinny-jeaned, tech-worker twentysomethings pulled out a stack of bills the size of an iPhone and bought the ticket directly in front of me for three times my price without blinking. So much for home-field advantage.

Hey, I'm no curmudgeon: As a non-techie San Francisco-employed twentysomething myself, I love to see these new young urban professionals - neo-yuppies, if you will - beat the economic odds and get great-paying jobs. But I'm not fooling myself into thinking that they'll make San Francisco a better city. A rising tide lifts all boats only when you're on board.

Sure, these young people with money to burn will need masseuses and baristas, UberCab drivers and part-time professional chore runners to fulfill their every wish. You could argue that the boom in tech creates more jobs around it, and on an Excel spreadsheet those service positions would translate into positive numbers. But I've worked at those ancillary jobs, and I know firsthand what they mean: a foot into a doorway to nowhere.

Most younger people who work those trades, myself included, end up treading water for a few months before moving on to a different job that saves little cash and counts negligibly toward a real career. These workers go through jobs like the tech folks download new apps - the "rising tide" ends up more as a tiny trickle-down.

The only millennials I know who can work, live and save money in San Francisco either are working at a startup or have their parents paying for their room and board.

Unless you're one of the lucky few who is subsidized, like some of my friends, or somehow has enough savings to take on an unpaid internship, you end up in economic purgatory, or, in startup-ese, the Valley of Death. You don't need a Ph.D. to see the problem: We're undermining our investment in San Francisco's future and stalling the cultural engine that makes us proud to live here by starving it of diversity.

The more San Francisco's economy bends to the gravity of a single industry, the more homogenized and less robust the social fabric, and thus the future, of San Francisco becomes. Our innovators in every other sector but tech - musicians, artists and community organizers, that is, the very people whose cultural contributions attracted those neo-yuppies here in the first place - get elbowed out by young tech guns for hire. If you aren't in the tech business or serving the tech business - because you are, say, working in a nonprofit focusing on immigrants' rights and you're renegotiating your lease - you're increasingly out of luck.

As any San Franciscan who recently has walked through the Mission or SoMa districts has seen, whole blocks are becoming hydromined in the rush for neo-yuppies' disposable income, while rising rents force out shops that have served these long-standing communities for years.

Seriously, how many raw-denim-jeans stores can one street support? How many $25 vegan, organic, gluten-free, free-range, fair-trade brunches can a reasonable person afford? How long do you think the person who served you that brunch is going to be working there? What happens to San Francisco when the majority of its residents can't afford to put down roots?

It's time we realized that San Francisco is buying overvalued stock at a cultural premium, and needs to reinvest in its future. Let's give greater incentives to companies offering more paid internships. We can bolster rent-protected housing while cracking down on fraud in the system or give greater allowances for co-ops of every flavor to be created and thrive. Let's elect younger public officials who understand the stakes.

The next time you're on BART, play A, B, C, D. Then ask yourself what we can do to make it so that a twentysomething stays here, raises a family here and continues to contribute here - 30 years from now.


Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle