Bob Lee – Cash App via PR NEWSWIRE
San Franciscans have become accustomed to a baseline level of crime and filth in their city.
Motorists leave car windows open and doors open to prevent overnight break-ins; Pedestrians subconsciously swerve across the sidewalk to avoid zombie-like drug addicts; The downtown area largely empties after dinner.
But the death of Bob Lee, a tech entrepreneur and former executive at payments company Square, has shocked the city.
Lee, 43, was killed early Wednesday morning in the relatively quiet Rincon Hill neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the downtown offices of Instagram and Google. It is visible in the CCTV footage that after 2:30 pm when a car moved, he fell on the ground holding his side. As of Thursday, San Francisco police had not identified a suspect and said no arrests had been made.
For the city’s tech elite, who have made San Francisco one of the most expensive cities in the world, the death of a revered executive could be a turning point that forces them to confront the sector’s problems — or Accelerates the exodus already built.
After Lee was named as the victim, tributes poured in from across Silicon Valley. But they were beset by questions and accusations about the city’s status.
Elon Musk tweeted, “Violent crime in SF is terrible and even if attackers are caught, they are often quickly released,” asking the city’s chief prosecutor to investigate repeated violent offenders. What action is being taken against.
“I fear for the safety of friends/colleagues in SF,” said Vivek Sodara, co-founder of email app Superhuman. “SF hasn’t come back. SF remains dangerous.
A homeless man is seen by homeless people on a street in West Oakland, California – Taifun Koskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Statistically, San Francisco is not an outlier. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the city’s violent crime rate was 14th out of 23 large US cities, its murder rate was even lower, and both were near historic lows.
The police union accused the newspaper of trying to “sham people concerned about rising crime”, pointing out that crime had risen sharply over the past three years.
Statistics don’t tell the story of how the city often feels. Homelessness and drug use have become a nationwide problem in the US, but in San Francisco it is centrally concentrated and the victims are disproportionately sheltered, meaning they are on the street and thus appear flimsy.
The city’s beauty and history – home of the Gold Rush, Beats and hippies – make its problems all the more striking.
While violent crime is comparable to other urban centers, property crime, such as theft and burglary, is notably higher than in most cities. Storefronts on Market Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, are still in place three years after they were first fortified in the face of nationwide protests.
“There’s a brutality here that I don’t think I’ve seen, and I’ve had outreach on every continent,” remarked a UN envoy once visiting the city of Oakland on the San Francisco Bay.
Tourists coming to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and Alcatraz are almost completely shocked by the roadside tents, discarded needles and human waste. For residents, it becomes something to screen out.
Encountering shortages is a daily fact of city living. During the three years I lived in San Francisco, from 2018 to 2021, I had friends who were threatened at knifepoint, who hid behind cars and took children away from daylight shootings.
Incidents like this become part of the drudgery of daily conversation, along with the latest embarrassing Twitter spat between The Fog and venture capitalists. This is shocking, but completely normal nonetheless.
Flowers are left outside an apartment building in San Francisco where a technology executive was stabbed to death – AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Sometimes it feels like much of the tech industry has set itself up to stay on top of the problems while simultaneously keeping itself out of the city’s problems.
It doesn’t seem a coincidence that Uber first took off in San Francisco: It offered locals a way to get around quickly while spending as little time as possible on the streets.
Once, when I remarked that I was about to walk a few blocks from my morning meeting to my office, the person I was having coffee with practically begged me to order an Uber, exclaiming “unfortunate.” warned about.
Companies based in and around San Francisco have used technology and influence to solve the city’s problems rather than solve them.
Food delivery apps DoorDash and Instacart were also born in the city, providing on-demand convenience to people without leaving their homes.
Meta, Google and Apple provide air-conditioned coaches to transport employees from the city to the offices. Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg is now urging people to never leave their homes, promoting the idea of living and working inside a virtual reality metaverse.
Salesforce, the city’s largest private employer, has sponsored a park at the top of San Francisco’s transportation hub. While it is an example of civic investment, even it jars with the reality of the city: it is 70 feet above the streets where the homeless population lives.
The tech industry may protest this attribution, but that’s part of the problem.
There are dozens of factors that explain the epidemic of drug use and homelessness in the city, but the cost of housing is one of the main drivers. A huge influx of money combined with strict regulations on new buildings would be a recipe for a housing crisis in most cities: this one in particular is surrounded by water on three sides.
Although the city is often held up as a mecca for drug addicts nationwide, 70% of its homeless population comes from San Francisco itself. They have been pushed out of homes at a high rate partly by rising property costs, technical staff.
Tents set up by homeless people are seen on a street corner in San Francisco – REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File photo
In 2011, start-ups including Twitter and Uber were given tax breaks to set up in the gritty Mid Market neighborhood of San Francisco, in hopes they would revitalize the local economy. Instead, he built an in-office cafeteria.
Tech companies also opposed taxing corporations created to help combat homelessness.
Some experts believe that squeezing Silicon Valley for more money will solve San Francisco’s problems. The city’s sclerotic and byzantine government has repeatedly failed to come up with a plan for more housing in the city, while a permissive drug culture has failed to keep up with the magnitude of a fentanyl crisis that killed more people in 2020 than Covid Was.
Tech bosses have become more active in recent years. Musk’s outspoken ally David Sachs heavily funded the city’s successful effort to vote out the city’s left-wing district attorney Chessa Boudin last June. Michael Moritz, a Welsh-born billionaire investor, finances TogetherSF, a group demanding better from local government.
Lee’s murder may inspire other technocrats to try to fix the city’s problems instead of just swimming on top of them.
There is every possibility of him leaving. Musk moved himself and Tesla from California to Texas in 2021 and has been a vocal critic of his former home since the move. Already, San Francisco’s population has dropped to its lowest level in a decade. Lee’s death may spark further exits.
Sadly, Lee himself had recently moved from San Francisco to Miami, fearing that the city was “deteriorating”. He was planning to fly back to Miami on Tuesday but extended his trip by a day.