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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.