95 Comments

Summary:

If Silicon Valley is too far away, and San Francisco is too expensive, there’s only one alternative. Oakland, which is both attractive in its own right and in need of financial help, should be home to more companies in the tech industry.

Silicon Valley is both a metaphor for the entire tech industry and a real place that is (on a rare good day) an hour south of San Francisco. It’s the longtime home to some of the world’s most important and valuable companies, but it seems pretty clear in 2014 that unless massive public transportation systems are created in the next decade, the epicenter of tech needs to move north.

And when that move inevitably happens, driven in part by the growing problems that private transportation systems are causing among San Francisco residents and (believe it or not) employees themselves, Oakland will have a huge opportunity to stand out as the next home for tech. Already more and more companies are choosing to settle in San Francisco as opposed to Silicon Valley, but there’s a price to be paid for setting up shop in an expensive city like San Francisco that can be mitigated across the Bay.

My wife and I — both technology media professionals with South of Market workplaces — left San Francisco four years ago for Oakland. We’ve never really looked back, especially as San Francisco has grown increasingly polarized over the role of the tech community in the stark inequality that permeates that city.

Oakland isn’t exactly a paradise. But it’s a centrally located vibrant city served by several forms of public transportation with rich culture, great restaurants, and a lot of vacant commercial real estate. And the weather’s better.

The main commercial district of Oakland — which for the sake of this discussion we’ll consider the area roughly bordered by Jack London Square, Lake Merritt, I-980, and Grand Avenue — is already home to a few tech companies, including Pandora and whatever is left of Ask.com. But there are an awful lot of spaces that could accommodate a rapidly growing tech company, and a few places — like the old Sears store at Broadway and 20th right above BART — that used creatively could house much larger enterprises.

There goes the neighborhood

So as the cost of living and doing business in San Francisco continues to skyrocket and tech workers living there spend three hours a day on private buses commuting along traffic-choked Highway 101, why haven’t more companies considered Oakland?

For one thing, it isn’t necessarily rolling out the welcome mat to notoriously homogeneous tech workers: the only violent act that has taken place during a tech-busing protest over the last few months took place in West Oakland when a window on a Google Bus was broken by protestors. A historically African-American city, Oakland’s gentrification is well underway (raises hand sheepishly) as long-time residents sell — taking advantage of a booming real estate market that’s still more affordable than San Francisco — or are displaced by Ellis Act evictions from landlords also hoping to jump on that rocket ship.

But unlike San Francisco, Oakland is in desperate need of a stronger commercial tax base. As one of the most beautiful cities in the world, San Francisco will always be able to soak tourists for supplemental income should its commercial base shift. Oakland doesn’t have anything close to the private enterprise hubs of technology, media, and finance that San Francisco enjoys, and despite what you read in the New York Times, tourism is not exactly an issue.

The city has attempted to court tech startups but it’s pretty clear that group still prefers to set up shop in San Francisco. Perhaps Oakland should think more grandly: major tech companies that are thinking about the future of the Bay Area should consider making Oakland their home. Google and Apple probably aren’t going anywhere, but younger public companies near Silicon Valley with shallow roots like LinkedIn or soon-to-be-giant companies like Box or Evernote could be prime candidates for setting a new trend in how the tech industry is distributed across the Bay Area.

Why there’s a there there

Oakland is centrally located at the junction of several major interstate highways. BART and AC Transit aren’t perfect, but almost every San Francisco resident has a story about how that city’s famously inefficient Muni system has let them down. Oakland-based tech companies would still allow business-development types to live near Frat Mason and impossibly cool designers to stay in the Mission, taking advantage of public transportation to get to work in less than an hour.

Oakland Berkeley border

The problem is that Oakland leaders need to find a way to make this happen while resisting the temptation to award the kinds of tax breaks that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was all too willing to give companies like Twitter to set up shop in a long-distressed area of the city. Instead, they need to sell the benefits of Oakland — public transportation, cheaper office space, and plenty of excellent entertainment options — so that (with more competent local governing, anyway) this city can really tackle its social woes.

Oakland’s social problems — crime, inequality, and lack of opportunities for its young people — are never going to truly change if its northern and western neighborhoods evolve into bedroom communities for lucrative companies located in other cities. That will just drive poor people further and further into troubled East Oakland or out of the city entirely, as property taxes alone won’t generate enough resources to invest in affordable housing and job training. There are a lot of Oakland residents that would likely be horrified by the notion that the corporations employing the tech workers they’ve grown to resent could be operating in their own city. But the movement of tech workers into Oakland is irreversible at this point, and if their employers were also located in the city, all residents could stand to benefit from the increased tax revenue.

The young workers of the tech industry aren’t going to live in Silicon Valley; they want to live in the urban areas of San Francisco and increasingly in Oakland. Moving closer to them — as opposed to refining a two-tiered transportation system that creates even more division — should be the new priority for how to manage this region’s growth.

Featured photo credit: Mike Disharoon via Compfight cc Other photo credit: pheezy via Compfight cc

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  1. ‘”The young workers of the tech industry aren’t going to live in Silicon Valley; they want to live in the urban areas of San Francisco ” ….really? I see lots of young people from all over the world living commuting studying everyday in the valley.

    1. Whenever I attempt to make that argument in threads like these, San Franciscans pop up to tell me how every locale across the whole of the greater SF Bay area that is *not* San Francisco itself is a barren wasteland. I’m not sure how many of the people making that argument are actually long-time SF residents or, like, myself, relative newcomers — I suspect more than a few settled here around the time of the 1998-2001 dotcom boom. But this is very clearly the perception being promulgated by a lot of SF residents.

      Personally, I love *visiting* San Francisco, but even if I could afford it — which, despite being one of those hated techies, I can’t — I doubt I’d want to live in the city. I’m expecting tech startups to start moving toward Oakland over the next couple of years due to economic reasons, and for newcomers to the area to start discovering that a lot of the East Bay is much nicer than SF-ites would have us believe. (To be fair, I think they’re genuine in their believe that everything that is not San Francisco is an Applebee’s parking lot.)

    2. The Peninsula is suburban. Sure, there are young suburban professionals, lots of them, from all over the world. But there’s a whole class of young professionals who will only live in cities.

  2. If Tech firms do move to Oakland, they may want to tie their move(s) to reform of the Oakland Police Department. No one is going to want to relocate here if their management and staff are likely to get robbed or killed on the way to and from work, or if people have to travel in disguises to avoid being targeted by criminals. Oaklanders have resisted putting more money into the police department, at least until it is cleaned up. OPD corruption is well documented in sworn testimony in various court cases, some of which are fairly recent. So that’s a problem.

    1. Most residents I know agree that OPD needs to be improved, and its history is very troubled. But you’re far overstating the crime problem: thousands of people already work in this area without traveling in disguise or getting robbed and murdered.

      1. Overstating the problem? Oakland’s violent crime rate is ~4X national average and property crime rate is ~3X. http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Oakland-California.html

        1. The crime problems of Oakland are well documented. My comment was in response to the statement that people have to walk around in disguises to avoid crime, which is just silly. Oakland is a city with many different neighborhoods, some of which are war zones but most of which are like any city.

            1. I take it you don’t live or play in Oakland otherwise you would know that what he said is not BS.

          1. There are many, many families, such as mine, that live in or near Oakland that are not cowering in fear. It’s a very livable place.

            1. very very true

        2. I have been bicycling through the heart of west oakland for two years now. We bought investment property in Longfellow recently.

          Once someone commented something about “White boy.” And that’s the extent of it.

          I used to be the only one in the bike lane on Market to Sacramento. Now every evening i see a little convoy of women with their headlights and earnest expressions making the same commute home, turning off into streets between 40th and up.

          So yeah, parts of Oakland are sketch, but I think there are few places where the (natural, not forced) revitalization is so stark.

    2. To be fair, OPD doesn’t play around in the downtown Oakland area or up in the hills of North Oakland. The rest of Oakland does have its problems though.

    3. I kept looking for the onion logo to underscore what a farce this premise is. Its even funnier that someone would think it a good idea! I wouldnt want to wish Oakland on anyone.

      1. That’s because you don’t live here. Oakland is beautiful. And so are the worst of the neighborhoods. I would rather go through the worst places in Oakland then the nicest places in sf.

        1. Oakland is awesome. One of the best kept secrets of the Bay Area.

    4. Really? Even when San Francisco experiences on average 2500 crimes per week while Oakland experiences 500 crimes per week according to crimmapping.com?

      There’s even a greater disparity in the downtown of both cities.

      SF experienced 530 crimes in the last week within a one mile radius of the Chronicle building.

      http://www.crimemapping.com/map.aspx?loc=900+Mission+Street+San+Francisco+CA+

      Downtown Oakland experienced just over 30 crimes in the last week within a one mile radius of Oakland City Hall.

      http://www.crimemapping.com/map.aspx?loc=1400+Broadway+Oakland+CA

  3. Jonathan Claybaugh Monday, February 17, 2014

    Why no mention in the article about Oakland’s incredible lack of political leadership?
    And for all the mention of conflict in San Francisco why no mentions about the recent history of rioting in downtown Oakland? I would be much, much more worried about the Black Block, et. al. protestors in Oakland harming my business than I am about some folks standing around a bus in San Francisco. You are not seeing people throwing bricks through plate glass windows in downtown SF.

    I don’t see any significant increase in Oakland’s tech related commercial tax base happening without these issues systemic, and long running issues being addressed.

    1. I did link to an editorial calling for Jean Quan to avoid seeking re-election (I certainly don’t plan on voting for her) right underneath the photo, but maybe that was too subtle. Agree that is still an obstacle for Oakland.

      As for recent rioting, I didn’t mention it because that seemed like a moment in time as opposed to an ongoing problem. That area of downtown Oakland has been relatively peaceful for several years now, I think with more effective leadership and an increased police presence, future protests of that sort could be avoided.

      1. Agreed, but some people take a snapshot in time and think it is representative of the whole.

  4. I live in Oakland. No company who reviews news headlines every day would move into Oakland. News always starts with how many have been shot and how many died. Living in low income senior- senior housing; as soon as we leave our gated area we get pistol whipped, thrown to the ground hard enough to break collar bones; attackers too dumb too realize that low income seniors have no money & jewels. Old lady at the local ATM was stabbed multiple times by a thug who never even asked her to give him her money before he started in on her. The worst part is I am just as scared of the Oakland Police as I am of the gangbangers. No one living here goes out at night except for Africian-American men. I never leave my apartment without my MACE. I sleep with a stun gun under my pillow. Because the fact is; if I hear someone breaking into my apartment, even if I called the police I would be dead long before they showed up. I never go out at night unless I am getting into my car to leave Oakland and I carry a stun gun just to make it to my car. Having tired of being threatened by beggars unless I give them money–I now do all by business in Alameda. I have a no-deductible auto insurance policy; so if I get rear ended I canjust drive away without getting out of my car, only to be raped and tortured to death by the trollers in the the car that hit mine. AMC-Bay theater in Emeryville/Oakland had nearly 30 shootings last year and half of them were homicides–these guys are not using BB guns. Just saying…all of Oakland is the War Zone.

    1. WhenKeepingItRealGoesBad Eve Abbott Tuesday, February 18, 2014

      Although this comment sounds very alarmist and exaggerated, I think it most closely resembles the truth and reality of living in Oakland. In essence, Oakland is the ghetto of SF. I’m a confident and generally non-fearful late 20s male, and I avoid Oakland like the plague after sunset. I can dig it during the day.

      But why would wealthy tech employees want to take such extreme risks and why would companies want to put their empires in such situations. Job offer in Oakland vs job offer in SF, what would you take? Seems like a no-brainwr. Therefore, crime reduction seems the only legitimate way to induce people to move to Oakland. I’d gladly pay 25-75% more rent to have a much better chance of avoiding assault or death.

      I very much enjoyed the article and appreciate the optimism of the author. Hopefully things will change, but as everyone knows, change takes time and concerted effort.

      1. Yes yes, we understand you are afraid of black people

      2. So I live in downtown Oakland, mid-30’s male and work in biotech, I walk/cycle home regularly from the BART to Adam’s point and I’ve never had any problems. It’s a city, so you have to be smart, stay to the well lit areas and etc but Oakland keeps getting better and better, now when I head home from the 19th street BART, there are usually a lot more commuters coming off.

        I love living in a sunny, walkable city, there’s occasionally some crime but that’s city life. If you want to live in a suburb, do that, if you want the excitement and energy of a real, non-homogenized city, come to Oakland!

        1. I live in Adams Point too and agree that the original comment is part of fantasy land in regards to this part of the city. You can tell how bad crime is in a neighborhood by the numbers of windows with bars on them. Adams Point has virtually zero as in over 99%.

    2. I also live in Oakland, and the terrifying scenario described here bears no resemblance whatsoever to my experience. It’s just wrong that “all of Oakland is the War Zone.”

      I live about 2 miles east of the lake in a family neighborhood of multiple ethnic backgrounds, many 1st-generation households. As a white graduate student in the arts, I too sheepishly raise my hand on the gentrification front–a literal front in my case, as a block west begins to get too expensive and a block east begins to get too dangerous. Sometimes my housemates and I hear gun shots, probably about a mile or more east. There are spotty neighborhoods with gang-related gun violence in Oakland (like many other struggling post-industrial American cities), it’s true, but I personally have never felt threatened.

      And of course, there are, like, more than one neighborhood in Oakland. They range from potentially dangerous to cloyingly suburban. There’s a thriving DIY music and art scene. There’s great beer (and pot). There’s a diner owned by the guy from Green Day. It’s just a freaking city, y’all. Don’t go to the scary parts if you don’t want to.

      1. I not want to live somewhere where I can hear gunshots. Long live Bay Area. Long live Sunnyvale …I love you BAY AREA.

    3. 30 shootings at bay street? 15 murders at bay street mall??! this isn’t reality, not even close…

    4. This has to be a joke, right?! “No one living here goes out at night except for African-American men.” All I can do is shake my head in disbelief at this post.

    5. “AMC-Bay theater in Emeryville/Oakland had nearly 30 shootings last year and half of them were homicides” Huh? What are your sources here?! This is so horribly inaccurate. There’s never been even ONE shooting at AMC Bay Street. Thanks for spreading fear & Paranoia.
      -EvilleEye.com

    6. Why do you feel the need to lie and make stuff up? You don’t even live in Oakland. I know for a fact that 30 people were not shot near the movie theater in Emeryville and 15 didn’t die.

      Why do these lying trolls feel the need to trash Oakland?

    7. This is the single most ignorant, alarmist, confused, and incorrect reference I have ever heard to Oakland. I have lived in Oakland my entire life in various neighborhoods and have never suffered from a mugging or property crime. Sure I have a friend who was mugged in Fruitvale once but that can happen in ANY CITY IN AMERICA. I went to Middle School in the heart of Downtown Oakland and WAS NEVER scared for my safety. The vast, vast , vast majority of crimes occur in the currently more downtrodden neighborhoods in West and East Oakland. Again where is the AMC Bay Street theatre? Right next to West Oakland, also I searched pretty thoroughly and could only find a few references to crimes at the theatre, NOT 30 in a year. Again the vast majority of Oakland has a far better crime rate than the Tenderloin in San Francisco that is right downtown. Look come visit Oakland and check it out for yourself before you judge it, the person above me is entirely confused about the current status of Oakland.

  5. Pleasanton in Alameda county) is on BART, 680 etc. and already home to many high tech companies plus there is lots of room for more business parks and housing would be my choice. Great climate too and a historical downtown.

  6. “It seems pretty clear in 2014 that unless massive public transportation systems are created in the next decade, the epicenter of tech needs to move north.”

    I see a statement, but I don’t see any real evidence that proves that statement. Would people in Silicon Valley agree with it?

    1. Judging by feedback on Twitter, and the experiences of friends sick of the 101 commute, it seems to me that a lot of people agree. We’re wasting resources figuring out ways to move people from where they want to live (SF/Oak) to Silicon Valley, and already there are lots of examples of companies deciding to set up in SF rather than the traditional spots in the Valley because of that.

      1. Don’t disagree vociferously.

        Corroboration would be nice, maybe the number of people who are commuting daily from SF to the Valley.

        Like this:
        http://www.businessinsider.com/silicon-valley-private-buses-2012-10
        … which says that about 7,500 ppl use tech companies’ private busses daily (might be higher now).

        1. Please note I linked to Susie Cagle’s excellent Medium post, which is probably one of the best infographic-type posts I’ve ever seen and is full of statistics on this topic, just at the beginning of the middle section.

          https://medium.com/the-nib/700c51a43a4

      2. It’s worth noting that BART is on schedule to reach San Jose by 2017-18, and there’s already Caltrain. I don’t think we can get region-wide transportation systems much more massive than those.

        Of course, BART’s southward extension will also benefit any businesses that relocate to (or start in) Oakland.

        1. When will BART circle the bay around from SF > San Jose > Fremont?

          All the tech companies with insane cash hordes should put 0.5% into a regional transporation hub. It’s a crime how capital is horded and labor has to live in ever more unlivable conditions with bumper to bumper commutes and crappy infrastructure.

          Also why can’t BART be upgraded to be 24 hour? Let’s build this sucker up like NYC. All those towns on the peninsula to SJ to east bay with zoning ordinances preventing tall buildings in your downtown- you are the problem. Zone high rises near BART stops.

          It’s clear that our density needs to increase in the bay area and we need some type of regional transportation authority to coordinate things.

          SF is cool but the main reason everybody can’t stand living in the south bay is it’s too car dependent. You can barely even see anybody during a day in your life there. Spending your life in a car sucks.

  7. 6 months ago I moved to West Oakland. When I told my friends I was moving there I got all kinds of responses ranging from “You gonna die!” to “Oh my god, you’re going to get shot/stabbed/robbed/etc”. Previous to living in Oakland I was in North Hollywood in southern california which is also known as a rough-ish part of town. Hilariously enough, my renters and auto insurance went DOWN when I moved to Oakland. When I was engaged in my search for a place to rent in Oakland I did familiarize myself with the crime statistics and they were pretty eye-opening I will admit. But having lived in West Oakland now for the past 6 months, it seems like everyones proclamations of bad things that would happen to me havent come true at all.

    And now I get news articles from friends in SoCal about crazy things happening in Oakland, but I simply havent seen this stuff happening first hand. It almost seems like some of the news outlets in the Bay area like to use Oakland as their go-to for “OMG, crazy shit is going down, be afraid, LOOOOK!!!”

    Of course, these same people rarely ever seem to hear about bad stuff going on in San Francisco, which seems to have a nasty habit of killing pedestrians fairly regularly for example.

    Overall, I think Oaklands real problem is the perception outsiders have of it. I’m not saying that there isnt problems, but I think people blow them way out proportion.

  8. I have lived in Oakland/Berkeley for the last 10 years and I have had mixed experiences the entire time – from every apartment having been a former marijuana grow space to landlords unwilling to enforce tenant regulations on nuisance neighbors. I have also seen or heard shootings at or within a block of my last 4 apartments. I think it is unfair to say there is a disproportionate amount of crime in Oakland but I do agree that it is often the highlight of what is reported. As for tech companies moving into Oakland, I think it is inevitable as the Bay Area becomes more and more densely populated with affluent workers. However I don’t see Oakland’s long standing reputation as a dangerous city changing. And no offense to my current city of residence, but this place will never compare to other major international destinations. It isn’t even on the map in that respect.

  9. Capital is shy and capital is coward, hence, some tremendous changes need to be entrenched in Oakland before a rush of capital or tech companies moving in or relocating to Oakland. And this, Mr. Krazit, is the intersection of sociology, economics and tech for Oakland.

    As a five months transplant to Oakland, after more than 20 years in San Francisco, I will be moving back into San Francisco, in a couple of months and there is a moral certainty of that happening. Here is why, even though, my living and general expenses will be 25% – 30% more in San Francisco than Oakland, it is worth every penny. Commuting headaches every day, car pool or mass transit, cost of gasoline and a toll on my mental health is not worth the calculated savings.

    Quality of life is another. Of course, Oakland’s reputation precedes it’s reality. I however, do not see some gang banger coming into Union Square in San Francisco and spraying bullets on innocent by-standers on an intersection; and that what happened and will likely happen again at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland. Just go take a walk around the plaza and be a witness to boarded up stores in the “financial district” of Oakland, really depressing.

    I live a couple of blocks from BART station in a new apartment complex; you must have your car in the complex’s paid garage or park on the street where you are guaranteed to have your car broken into. One morning just outside my apartment window, three cars in a row have windows all smashed up.

    To each his own and certainly, Oakland it not for my family and I do not see it as Austin, TX or Dublin, Ireland in the foreseeable future.

    1. “…I however, do not see some gang banger coming into Union Square in San Francisco and spraying bullets on innocent by-standers on an intersection; and that what happened and will likely happen again at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland…”

      You may not see it or hear about it very often, but this exact thing happened on the very day before you posted this comment, right in front of the Westfield Mall on Market Street. It’s not the first time, either. The violent crime rate is actually significantly higher in downtown SF than in downtown Oakland (mostly because of the Tenderloin).

      1. No sir!. not every day please. Stay to the facts, no hyperbole. I do however, concur with you that the Tenderloin is literally the urinal of San Francisco and it is right next to Union Square, with all it’s uber outlets: Saks, Fendi, Prada Ferragamo etc.

        I walk through the Tenderloin 5 – 6 days a week, it may full of derelicts and serious crack heads, sleeping in dumpsters (have pictures to prove it) but is not even close East Oakland in terms one’s safety for property and life.

  10. Whatever the solution is … the reality is that Silicon Valley is high $ and congested. I was there last 20+ years ago when I was in the AF. It was crazy then. I can only imagine how bad it is now. Something’s gotta give. At some point people realize they have to have a life and what you describe isn’t cutting it.

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