Local residents demand that Twitter pay it forward

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Janina Glasov

When the Bay Area’s techie-elite got richer yesterday, its poor refused to get poorer.

San Francisco-based technology company Twitter went public. By the time the New York Stock Exchange closed yesterday, more than 13 million shares of the online social networking and microblogging company had been traded, bringing Twitter’s value up to $31 billion.

But there are serious doubts those riches will make it out of the company’s office at 1355 Market St., as expressed by the nearly 100 local workers and residents who gathered outside the Mid-Market office building to express their outrage at this possibility.

 The rally was organized by a coalition of activist groups including South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), Senior and Disability Action, Eviction Free San Francisco, and the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee. At noon, the protestors held a press conference to articulate their concerns.

“We are here today to ask Twitter, ‘What is their public offering to San Francisco?’” organizer Angelica Cabande from SOMCAN said as she opened the press conference.

It is a reasonable question, considering Twitter’s relationship with the city in recent years. When the company threatened to relocate to Brisbane in the spring of 2011, Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors approved the Central Market/Tenderloin Payroll Expense Tax Exclusion—or the “Twitter Tax Break” as it came to be called. The tax incentive offered companies that moved to the neighborhood a six-year break from paying the city’s 1.5 percent payroll tax for all employees hired after the move. It was estimated that it would save Twitter $22 million in corporate taxes, lost city revenue that could have been used to fund things like public transportation, education, health, safety and social services. So, the only moving the company did was to Market.

“We have Twitter on a tax-free perch,” organizer Tony Robles from Senior and Disability Action explained, “not engaged in the community they’ve set up shop in. It’s like a virtual thing—they’re here, but they’re not here.”

It was recently discovered that the Twitter Tax Break might have actually cost the city as much as $56 million, when you add in the city’s decision to stop taxing stock options shortly after its based the Mid-Market tax break. This news and Twitter’s coinciding decision to go public have incensed much of the public.

“Can you imagine a company with all that money getting welfare from San Francisco?” exclaimed speaker Tommi Avicolli Mecca from the SF Housing Rights Committee.

The various speakers at the press conference all voiced the same demand—that Twitter be here if it’s going to be here, by reinvesting some of its profits into San Francisco and its communities. Many went on to link Twitter’s presence to the recent rash of evictions and the escalating affordable housing crisis in the city.

“We know why the evictions are happening a few blocks from here,” Avicolli Mecca announced, referencing the impending eviction of all 60 tenants from the 1049 Market Street building. “Because companies like this are moving in.”

Twitter’s decision to relocate to the Mid-Market area, with its abundance of liquor stores and dilapidated hotels, might have seemed questionable at first. However, 15 other technology companies have followed its lead since, to occupy a total of 1.3 million square feet of commercial office space in the neighborhood. The tech industry’s continued demand for office space has grown so great that owners of residential buildings like 1049 Market are converting their properties to meet this need. As tech companies flood the area, the well-paid employees they bring with them are also creating a new market for housing that is attracting real estate developers to the neighborhood and instigating more evictions.

“Evictions are up 81 percent this year in this neighborhood alone, and it’s because of this company,” surmised Erin McElroy from Eviction Free San Francisco. “Twitter, the tech industry, gentrification—they’re all connected.”

“I have been living here in SOMA for over 40 years,” stated speaker Teresa Dulalas, who is being evicted from her home of 30 years. “I have never seen such a massive displacement of residents until now. Twitter, I want you to hear this—we are victims because of you!” she screamed up at the office floors above the crowd’s heads.

The protest continued at the Central Market/Tenderloin Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting that evening. As Robles informed us, they will not rest until city officials and tech companies recognize the negative effects of their presence in San Francisco and take actions to constrain and correct them. Until then, people like Teresa are not safe in this city.

Meanwhile, the remaining shares of Twitter went onto the stock exchange today. And when Twitter’s valuation is way up, its stock has fallen since it opening at $45.10, closing the day at $44.90 and now standing at $42.30 at this story is being posted at 11:15am PT.

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