By Joel P. Engardio
Grandma’s old sayings were riddles I solved while trying to finish a double-scoop ice cream sundae (“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”) or discovering the taxes in my first paycheck as a steakhouse bus boy (“Don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched”).
But there was one idiom I never fully understood until moving to San Francisco: “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”
We are a famously open-minded city that likes to judge what we can be open-minded about. Dare to suggest that tech newcomers are good for us and you’ll be criticized for heralding the destruction of San Francisco’s “soul.”
From the 1849 Gold Rush to the 1906 earthquake and fire to the 1967 Summer of Love, the only constant in San Francisco has been continual and radical change.
So why are we resisting today's tech revolution with such fierceness? What city wouldn’t want to be a magnet for innovators from all parts of the world?
Some argue that tech workers are too entitled to embrace. But the episodes of tech “bros” acting like insufferable jerks are not representative of an entire industry.
If grandma is right, efforts to limit tech and keep newcomers out of San Francisco will ultimately hurt us more than the people we are raging against.
The rage comes from anger and fear, which is real. Longtime residents are angry about changing neighborhood character. Some are also afraid of being passed over – or worse, pushed out.
San Francisco tried to limit growth for decades with the noble goal of “avoiding Manhattanization.” But absent a wall and moat, a city this desirable can’t keep people away. Refusing to build enough new housing (and public transit) to support future population led to our housing crisis.
Now we're being hit hard by market forces we can't deny with wishful thinking. The sad reality is that people with more money will always have access to low housing supply in high demand, which leads to the tragedy of displacement.
No-fault evictions are awful and the most vulnerable among us deserve our collective help. We need regulations to keep our market-based society from becoming the Hunger Games.
But that doesn’t mean we should disregard the basic laws of supply and demand. If we have to live with capitalism, why go out of our way to provoke its dark side?
Yet protests over the “Monster in the Mission” are in full swing.
The “monster” is a 10-story housing complex of 350 units proposed above the 16th and Mission BART station – a dream for transit-first advocates. It would be new housing that won’t displace anyone other than customers of a Burger King.
The opposition calls the market-rate development a “monster” because it will attract more tech workers to the Mission. It doesn't matter that a percentage of the units will be below-market. The protesters are willing to kill new affordable housing simply because they dislike tech workers.
Talk about “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
Doesn't anyone see how these new units will provide a safety valve to prevent displacement? 350 people living above the 16th Street BART station are 350 people not competing for existing housing in the Mission.
Still, protesters are determined to stop the “monster.” They are pressuring the school board to block the development for casting a shadow on a school playground. They even claim it restricts the right of homeless people to use the BART plaza as a “living room.”
If we squander this opportunity to build much-needed housing on a rapid transit corridor connecting San Francisco to the Bay Area, grandma’s words will surely haunt us when we look in the mirror. Because the only monster we’ll see is our own disfigured face.