"I understand why those protests were [directed] at Google buses, but they didn't make sense to me because all people were doing was trying to get to work," explained Lee on Thursday during a one-hour discussion held at The Commonwealth Club of California, a non-partisan, non-profit organization public affairs forum. The city's 43rd mayor began the night by tracing his 25-year-long political career serving under four mayors, including his predecessor, current California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. But the focus of the discussion became the city's transformation, driven by Silicon Valley, and rising tensions between tech and many non-tech workers over what Mayor Lee called "income gaps."
In recent months, those same tensions have yielded protests of Google-employee commuter buses, and more recently, the Crunchies, an annual tech awards ceremony. Indeed, where areas like Palo Alto once served as Silicon Valley's center of gravity, startups and many younger tech workers have opted to call San Francisco their home. The city's rental market prices have soared because of it: A one-bedroom in a neighborhood like Pacific Heights or SoMa can currently command well north of $3,000 a month according to real estate site Trulia.
And more new housing is on the way. Mayor Lee outlined a seven-point housing plan this January to address the city's housing shortage and rising real estate and rental prices. Among his goals for 2020: making the construction-building process easier, protecting residents from eviction, and adding 30,000 new homes to the market. Many of those new units will likely be priced out of reach for locals who don't make the sort of six-figure salaries offered by Twitter (TWTR), Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), and countless other local tech companies and startups. But Mayor Lee reiterated he is also accelerating building permits for affordable housing and that he's pushing for one-third of those 30,000 new units to be affordable housing units. His office is also working on doubling down-payment loan programs to aide homebuyers.
Another issue brought up was whether the city is making too many concessions for tech. In 2011, when Twitter mulled over whether to stay in San Francisco or move to Brisbane in San Mateo County, the city offered Twitter a tax break if it moved into the city's mid-Market St., an attempt to revitalize what for years has been a rough area. To this day, it remains a prime example critics point to of Silicon Valley consuming the city, even potentially receiving preferential treatment. Mayor Lee defended the tax break incentive, pointing to San Francisco's low 5.1% unemployment rate, down from 9.5% when he took office in 2011. "I think ... the tech companies and the businesses that came onto Market [St.] contributed to that lower unemployment," he said. "Those of you who have walked the same walk I've walked along Market St., we all see the difference."
Mayor Lee confessed there's clearly more to be done, including helping the homeless population, which numbered well over 6,400 last year according to the city's Board of Supervisors. ("I gave myself a 'C' last year because I think we weren't doing enough.") And he knows full well the work ahead won't be any less hard. Said Mayor Lee: "It's never easy, but this city is worth loving."
The new web app marks another small step toward gentrifying the city's Tenderloin neighborhood.
FORTUNE -- More homeless San Franciscans carry cell phones than you might think.
St. Anthony's Foundation runs a tech lab in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood that offers computer classes, tutoring, job search counseling, and Internet access to lower-income and homeless residents of San Francisco. Nearly 40% of lower-income guests who use St. Anthony's tech lab -- a full 2,400 individuals -- MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Feb 28, 2014 5:25 PM ET
Fortune sits down with the leader of the most recent anti-tech strike.
FORTUNE -- On Monday night, one tech awards show became a coalition's latest reason to rally.
Nearly 50 protesters gathered in front of San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, signs in hand, hooting and hollering to protest the Crunchies, a tech awards ceremony hosted by industry sites Gigaom, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch. While startups inside the event received award statues for categories MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Feb 11, 2014 1:12 PM ET
Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing upstarts are transforming a slow-to-change industry from the outside in.JP Mangalindan, Writer - Jan 15, 2014 11:45 AM ET
Even the CEO of the leading transportation company thinks the regulation is needed.
FORTUNE -- The days of unregulated tech shuttles are numbered.
For years, tech companies have hired private buses to transport their workers who live in San Francisco to their leafy suburban campuses in towns like Redwood City and Mountain View. Now those shuttles have become a lightning rod of criticism for some non-tech workers, citing class inequalities. The buses MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Jan 8, 2014 4:39 PM ET
Square goes public, wearable computers become popular, and the San Francisco culture war heats up.
FORTUNE -- No man is an island, the famous John Donne poem reads. It's especially appropriate for tech, where one new startup, app, or slab of hardware can bring about meaningful change in society.
As another year winds down for this dynamic industry, we look ahead. What do we think will be the major topics taking up MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Dec 30, 2013 2:19 PM ET
Activists fighting Bay Area landlords found a way to get the national media's attention.
FORTUNE -- It's not every day that the New York Times cares enough about California real estate to cover a landlord-tenant dispute in San Francisco. But this story had it all -- violence, vandalism, two high-profile tech companies and a whiff of class warfare.
The action that created the headlines -- not just in New York City, but MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 21, 2013 1:09 PM ET
The worst may be over, according to some local brokers.
FORTUNE -- On one thing San Franciscans can agree: renting a place in the city is pricey.
But the days of hyperbolic apartment prices may be numbered, thanks to nearly 8,500 new rental units opening in the city over the next 14 months, estimates James Wavro of J. Wavro Associates, a real estate brokerage that leases properties across the San Francisco Bay MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Dec 18, 2013 4:35 PM ET
The online service for renters in search of shelter sweetens its mobile offering.
FORTUNE -- In cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, where overpopulation and sky-high costs of living go hand in hand, finding a suitable apartment can be as time-consuming and cutthroat as landing a job. (For the latter, at least there's a paycheck in it for you at the end.)
San Francisco-based startup Lovely seeks to change the MOREChanelle Bessette - Dec 17, 2013 10:59 AM ET
The company is taking a low-key approach to its public offering, according to sources.
FORTUNE -- Twitter (TWTR) may be a publicly traded company as of this Thursday, but for the company's 2,300 employees, it'll be largely business as usual.
"I don't think you will find any Twitter IPO parties in San Francisco," says one investor. "It's just not that kind of culture."
On Wednesday, Twitter raised $1.82 billion, pricing 70 million shares at $26 MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Nov 7, 2013 8:24 AM ET
|GM's recalled Cobalt was a failure from the start|
|Michaels hack hit 3 million|
|Walmart offers cheaper money wire service|
|Americans have fallen in love with real estate once again|
|Why you should pay off your car loan ASAP|