Share conference outlines the possibilities and pitfalls for a new economy at the crossroads
"I thought this was a reasonable solution, but two weeks later there was a major press conference attacking it," Chiu told Share attendees, referring to the coalition of landlord, neighborhood, labor, and affordable housing groups that have come out against the legislation, calling it a blanket rezoning of residential property around the city, pledging an initiative campaign challenging it.
"In part, this is politics. I'm in the midst of a race for the state Assembly this year, my opponent has supporters who have been protesting the Twitter headquarters, throwing rocks at Google commuter shuttles, vomiting on Yahoo buses, referring to tech workers as not real San Franciscans," Chiu said.
Then Chiu ramped up his rhetoric, equating progressive concerns about the tax breaks and special treatment that Chiu, Mayor Ed Lee, and others have extended to tech companies in San Francisco with a war on the sharing economy and the forced deportation of its workers.
"They are calling for war on you, even though they don't realize that what you are doing is helping to make sure we're addressing our income inequality, we're empowering everyday people by building community and using technology," Chiu said. "All of you need to get involved in the political debate. You're busy trying to change the world, but status quo interests are actively trying to ship you to Menlo Park, Oakland, and San Jose."
In the end, Chiu did urge those starting up companies to "think early about how your paradigm meshes with existing laws and regulations," but that tepid call for civic responsibility and good corporate citizenship did little to dull his feeding of techie exceptionalism, fearmongering, or appeals to vaguely libertarian values.
The pep rally atmosphere of the session got pumped up even more by Airbnb's Douglas Atkin and venture capitalist Ron Conway, both of whom had nothing but glowing praise for the burgeoning industry and its customers, offering none of the caveats put forth by Chiu or the speaker who followed him, White House staffer Greg Nelson, who talked about the challenging access, equity, and regulatory issues facing the industry.
"We at Airbnb and PEERS think the sharing economy is a jolly good thing," Atkin said in a charming British accent, presenting the sharing economy as an unstoppable and uniformly positive force that is replacing "the old economy, the last economy."
As an advertising executive in that old economy, "I was the devil," Atkin said. Now playing the role of savior, he spoke with an evangelical flair as he flashed Airbnb slides and videos, telling the crowd "there's been a decentralization of wealth, control, and power" because "you can't do this new economy without creating community."
It was easy to forget that Atkin represents a company that Wall Street analysts have valued at $10 billion, despite having a business model that is illegal in many cities, causing some hosts to be evicted and others to evict their tenants, while the company and its investors move quickly to cash out with an initial public stock offering.
Among those who would profit handsomely from that IPO is Conway, a billionaire who already got far richer late last year from being "an early investor in Twitter," as he described himself to the crowd after being introduced as someone who "has really led the way of connecting the tech industry to the public sector."
Indeed, Conway spoke proudly of funding the politicians who pushed the package of tax breaks for Twitter and other technology companies that followed it into the mid-Market area, most notably Mayor Ed Lee, the biggest beneficiary of Conway's largesse among San Francisco politicians.