Tech companies forced to face their ‘Crappy’ side

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Monday night there were two dueling awards ceremonies going on in San Francisco.

One was a lavish production called the “Crunchies” that took place inside the city’s elegant Davies Symphony Hall to celebrate the good in technology. The other event was just outside. A ragtag group held a mock event called the “Crappies,” showcasing all that is bad in tech. One award, for example, went to the biggest tax evader, Twitter Inc.
 which agreed to renovate and move into an Art Deco building in the sketchy Mid-Market area if it got a break from the city on payroll taxes.

The protesters were mostly made up of advocates for tenants and the elderly, who have been or are at risk of losing rent-controlled apartments as landlords and real estate speculators and developers evict long-term tenants in order to raise rents. Apartment rentals in San Francisco are now the most expensive in the U.S.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was a presenter at the Crunchies. Her company was also the biggest sponsor for the awards.

Therese Poletti/MarketWatch

“Ellis Act out, rent control in,” shouted the group, referring to an arcane California law that allows building owners to evict tenants if they are removing all the units in a building from the rental market, usually to enable the resale of the entire building. Ellis Act evictions have spiked in the last three years by nearly 170%, according to data published in November.

But inside Davies Symphony Hall, Silicon Valley’s version of the glitterati buzzed about in the self-congratulatory atmosphere. In idle chatter, some discounted the protesters as a small group. Another rationalization: It’s not really our fault, it’s the real estate speculators who are taking advantage of San Francisco’s limited 47-square mile space.

But as soon as the awards started, well-known angel investor Ron Conway opened the awards and made a plea for the tech industry to pay attention to what is going on in San Francisco. “We may not agree with everything the protesters outside have to say, but they do represent an anxiety,” Conway said, and he called upon the entrepreneurs, executives and others in the audience to engage with their neighborhoods and communities and donate time or their money or both. He said he would match contributions to a non-profit he chairs,, if donations reached $12,000 on Monday night. A request to for an update on Conway’s plea for donations was not returned by press time.

Social networks just for two

He also asked tech companies to donate one million hours of community service, or to assist non-profits pushed out of their offices by sharing space.

In addition, comedian John Oliver reminded the audience that they are no longer appealing socially inept nerds.

“It used to be that people who worked in the tech industry were emotional shut-ins who you could root for. Now those days are gone. You’re pissing off an entire city. Not just with what you do at work but how you get to work. It’s not easy to do that,” Oliver joked, referring to the protests over company shuttle buses, which have become a symbol of elitist tech workers.

There were a wide range of responses. On Facebook, after the Crunchies, some tech workers said they are looking for ways to give back to their communities. Later this month, an event is being held in the Mission District for “Tech Workers against Displacement” to meet with city supervisor David Campos to open up communication on the many tough issues.

In Conway’s call to action, he gave examples such as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Salesforce Inc.
  CEO Marc Benioff. Employees at Dorsey’s new company, Square take time every week to pick up the trash in the neighborhood of the company’s offices in the South of Market area. Benioff, who has instilled a culture of volunteerism at the company he founded, has also become a major local philanthropist. Still, some tech executives wondered privately if local volunteering was really the answer to the city’s big social and economic issues.

But even if not everyone in tech is hearing Ron Conway or his peers who are trying to make another kind of impact in San Francisco, it’s a good start.

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