Why These Two Rich Tech Guys Were Yelling at Each Other
As proof that the battles over gentrification are really just two groups of rich people screaming at each other, Valleywag got video of Ron Conway (a so-called “super angel” investor and strong backer of Mayor Ed Lee) interrupting a tech conference to yell at another venture capitalist, Chamath Palihapitiya, for suggesting Mayor Lee should “resign” because of the inadequacy of his affordable housing plan.
Palihapitiya largely keeps his cool – although he refers to mysterious “riots,” presumably involving angry low-income San Franciscans who go on destructive rampage because there’s nowhere to live – while standing up for his idea of a 1% levy on startups who want to take advantage of everything the city affords them. In essence, he’s proposing a very small corporate tax with the hopes of building more affordable housing than the 30,000 units Mayor Lee seems to think are already in the bag. The city needs three times that, but the idea led Conway to pitch a fit.
Part of what irritated Conway is that Palihapitiya lives in Palo Alto, and, presumably, you can only criticize elected officials if they represent you. (Someone should ask Conway what he thinks of, say, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Not being Canadian, he must have no opinion.) Curiously, the Bay Guardian reported only two years ago that Ron Conway lived in Atherton until 2006 and was a registered Republican until 2011, quoting former Mayor Art Agnos as saying that at Conway’s 2010 political coming-out gala, he “stood up and said that we have to take the city back from the progressives… I barely knew who he was. I’ve been in San Francisco since 1966, and here he comes telling us what to do.”
Conway has put money into and/or made money off of Google, Facebook, Zynga, Twitter, Digg, Airbnb, EventBrite, PayPal, and given hundreds of thousands to Mayor Lee and to pet causes like 2012’s Prop. E, which lowered business taxes. In fact, in the last two cycles, he’s spent more money on local elections than any other San Franciscan. In post-Citizens United America, Ron Conway is the closest thing San Francisco has to a Koch Brother. He’s willing to spend whatever it takes to reshape the city’s political culture in ways that benefit his investments, the kind of “conservative” who doesn’t really care about abortion rights or prayer in school or nuking Iran, but for whom the suggestion of a teensy 1% equity tax specifically to fund affordable housing sends him into a public volcanic rage.
And even the good guy here is a hyper-libertarian multi-millionaire who once said the federal government is “completely useless” and seems to think the main goal is protecting the business community from enraged peasants with pitchforks. This is the real battle over affordable housing in San Francisco.
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