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Dreamforce and OpenWorld may be fun for attendees, but for SF residents, it’s tech money run amok

Man, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for anyone living or working in downtown San Francisco. I do both, and let me tell you, Oracle and Salesforce.com are both on my sh*t list.

The two companies, in quick succession, rented out an entire city block in front of Moscone Center in traffic-heavy downtown San Francisco for their conferences. They turned Howard Street between Fourth Street and Third into little tech conference cities, even going so far as to carpet the road – in turf green for Dreamforce, Oracle red for OpenWorld. They set up giant swaths of comfy chairs and lounge chaises under umbrellas, and permanent enclosures for shade facing large screens.

Oracle went with "Oracle red" for its carpeted street OneWorld enclosure. Photo taken on iPhone.
Oracle went with “Oracle red” and huge circular television screens for its carpeted street OneWorld enclosure. Photo taken on iPhone.

It’s an ongoing tradition, a few years in the running. And it’s the tradition from hell.

I’ve spent half a month trying to avoid being trampled by conference attendees, badges flapping in the wind, on my walk to work. For the duration of each conference, Uber and Lyft invoked “3X” surge pricing and regular taxis were nowhere to be found. Once you found a car, getting out of the downtown area took ages because you’d get caught in the mess. Friends and colleagues were forced to cough up extortionist sums for street parking just to go to work. Forget trying to find a spot at your usual restaurant or bar.

It was a huge disruption – and not in the good way – for a core, busy part of San Francisco. Not surprisingly, both companies declined to comment on this story.

Don’t get me wrong, I like ping pong and lounge chairs as much as the next person. But the fact that this was built at expense of pedestrian and resident sanity – which are populations not allowed into the security patrolled playground – is more than a little annoying. It’s particularly depressing how little the city of San Francisco makes for the inconvenience (more on that later).

It only seems fair to repay the tech conferences’ kindness with some sugar of my own. So, without further ado, here’s everything ridiculous about Dreamforce. (Oracle is spared my wrath because it came first and I tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away, so I only took bad photos on my iPhone.)

First things first: Grown men and women in suits eating sandwiches and typing on rainbow bean bag chairs. The awkwardness of this can’t be overstated and it captures everything weird about the adult-child syndrome of the San Francisco tech scene. We make tons of money and build significant products that impact countries across the world, but hell hath no fury like a developer working at a company without a ping pong table. It’s our privilege, nay our right. I actually have a friend who quit a job because the company lacked a ping pong table.

Grown men in business clothes on beanbags.
Grown men in business clothes on beanbags at Dreamforce.

It makes sense of course that Dreamforce would include ping-pong tables alongside the bean bag chairs. People played merrily under the beating sun, perhaps taking a permanent break from deathly dull panel talks like “5 things you need to know about managing sales managers” and “Nextgen iPad sales productivity experience.”

Ping pong adventures were more interesting for some attendees than the Dreamforce sessions indoors
Ping pong adventures were more interesting for some attendees than the Dreamforce sessions indoors

In case you’re not into ping pong, you could also amuse yourself with a life-size chess set or a bean bag throw game (Editor’s note: football tailgaters know this as cornhole). Prime time musical entertainment, if you couldn’t get into the Will.i.am wearable device announcement, came in the form of band videos streamed on the big screen.

A giant chess set at Dreamforce! Pretty spiffy, but no one seemed interested in playing.
A giant chess set at Dreamforce! Pretty spiffy, but no one seemed interested in playing.
Can't have a tech conference without toss-the-beanbag, obviously
Can’t have a tech conference without toss-the-beanbag, obviously
Some singer from some band croons on the big screen for a sea of conference attendees
Some singer from some band croons on the big screen for a sea of conference attendees

Ok, some of it looked pretty cool, albeit ridiculously over-the-top. It was a tech playground, surely appreciated by the more than 100,000 Dreamforce attendees. But if the company wanted to build a wonderland, why not hold the conference somewhere less disruptive to heart of the city? There are plenty of venues out on waterfront property, or in the Dogpatch, where the street closure would have caused way less irritation.

I suspect for both Oracle and Dreamforce, putting on such a big show functions as much as advertising for the companies as it does good event throwing. They like causing a huge ruckus in downtown San Francisco, because then everyone in tech knows they’ve arrived.

I, rather naively, didn’t understand how this was legal at first. But the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority explained to me that anyone can apply to close a street down, as long as they’re willing to pay the fee and go through the approval process (which includes a public hearing). That explains it, I thought. At least the city is pulling in tons of cash from this disruption to funnel into other programs or efforts.

But brace yourselves. The actual sum received by the city of San Francisco is pathetic. Depressing even, by tech fund standards.

It costs $553 to close a block temporarily, if you book it 60 days in advance, which both Salesforce and Oracle likely did. Even if you multiply that cost by a four-day conference, it’s barely more than $2,000. Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesperson, said that the city also charged for the increased number of police officers, fire officials, and rerouting of Muni transit, but he couldn’t say how much more it cost Oracle and Salesforce.

I hope it was a lot.

It’s worth noting that conferences like Oracle and Dreamforce are a boon for local businesses. Restaurants and hotels get to beef up their coffers with the flood of visitors. It’s only a pain in the butt for…well…everyone else just trying to live and get to work in downtown San Francisco.

Chevy's temporarily closed down, probably because it realized it could make way more money renting out space for Dreamforce events
Chevy’s temporarily closed down, probably because it realized it could make way more money renting out space for Dreamforce events

18 Responses to “Dreamforce and OpenWorld may be fun for attendees, but for SF residents, it’s tech money run amok”

  1. Erik Charles

    As the author and presenter of the afore-mentioned deathly dull talk on “5 things you need to know about managing sales managers” – I wanted to share my materials.

    https://xactlycorp.box.com/s/ms5jm6nm3fmwvcvcefcy

    Why should Dreamforce attendees be the only ones to benefit from my soporific style? Download the .pdf and…
    – Use it as a sleep aid, no prescription required.
    – Host a viewing contest to see who can keep their eyes open the longest.
    – Have a reading, and try your best to imitate Ben Stein.
    – Create drinking game rules around the deck (and please share them with me).

    Erik “Deathly Dull” Charles

  2. Briscoe Pelkey

    Sounds like you didn’t attend “5 things you need to know about managing sales managers” which was very lively and relevant to people that can use that information! Awesome talk by @erikchaz – who is anything but “deathly dull!”

  3. roastedbagel

    Wow, whine much? Also, the “$2000 is all that was made by the city” is a completely unfactual statement. Are you a “reporter” or just a blogger? Because you’re doing a horrible job at both right now.

    Making fun of “grown men sitting on beanbag chairs”? Wow, good job stooping to the level of People or OK!Magazine.

  4. I’m pretty disappointed in this article. I expect more from journalists, and if you’re going to make the claim that the City of San Francisco only received $2000 from Dreamforce, you’re going to need to do a whole lot more research to back it up than multiplying the cost to block a street for a day by four. The city estimates the benefit of Dreamforce to be over $100 million to the local economy, according to the San Francisco Travel Association.

    In addition, Dreamforce attendees gave canned goods and prepared meals to the hungry, with the goal of raising a million (which would then be matched by both CEO Marc Benioff and guest Tony Robbins). Every year the city attracts philanthropists drawn by Marc Benioff’s extremely philanthropic example. This year, the Andreessens donated $500,000 to three non-profits focused on promoting diversity in the tech industry.

    So…sorry you couldn’t park downtown. Maybe you should be mad instead that our beloved Giants were, at the same time, playing playoff games against the Cardinals right in the same area — maybe that would also have something to do with the parking lots being full and Uber and Lyft charging surge pricing?

  5. But, if the conference were about a topic of greater interest to you, say social networking, would you object to it happening in your backyard, and all those people filling up your local bars and restaurants? I mean, isn’t that one of the reasons you live in SF?

  6. craigslist

    dream force was slightly worse than oracle,as oracle has its concert on treasure island
    and sales force is down town,but both bring lots of money to the city,how can the hotels charge $500 for hotel room,about 20,000 have employment for the week,

  7. Bill Wright

    Oh man, SF residents are never happy unless others are giving them free handouts, and few things get them riled up quite like another person who makes more money than they do because doing so is deemed “unfair”. You’d think with the huge amounts of money the tech people spend in this city, employing thousands in hotels, restaurants, etc. people would be grateful, and not spend so much time whining.

    • andrew berg

      this comment is exactly the problem. The people of the city are being pushed out, and the industry that pays its mostly white, upper-middle class backround males too much also confers no value. “Disruption” as these short-sighted, naive and self involved morons love to say, is not a good thing when it comes to where a large group of people live and how they get by. In fact, stability is always better than disruption unless upper middle class white males are getting disrupted. They are typically the staus-quo that causes som much trouble in the first place. These people that work for these companies come here and replace residents. The people who are complaining are losing their homes to the most oblivious bunch of privately educated people of all time.

  8. I’m sure it was pretty inconvenient last week with an extra 100,00 people on the streets but San Francisco is the home of Salesforce and it is one of the city’s largest tenants which I’m guessing means it contributes an enormous amount of tax revenue to the city and is a significant local employer.

    During the week Salesforce attendees donated 1 million meals to those most in need which was then matched by one of the keynote speakers. Their Foundation recently donated millions to local schools to support IT training and development in K-12, and Marc Benioff, CEO, has invested tens of millions in the local children’s hospital.

    On the whole I think they’re quite good citizens and have done more to encourage philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility than any other company on the planet with their 1/1/1 model which has since been adopted by many other companies.

  9. You know…I am trying really hard to feel sorry for you, but then I think of how many cities would actually *pay* to have either of these events come to town and then I am over it.

    • andrew berg

      sf does pay for it. The “city” as such is not gaining any benefit. The city is the people that live there and they are getting the total shaft. The mayor’s office gets $omething out of it. All of the politicians get $omething out of it. but the city… the city just gets trammeled and filled up with ugly condos that no “city” person would ever want to live in, surrounded by people that no educated person would want to have anything to do with, and “amenities” that appeal to nobody except the LCD from suburban indiana who have recently come in to ill-gotten money.