San Francisco: High Tech, Low Hygiene

San Francisco: High Tech, Low Hygiene

San Francisco’s “Twitter Town” is a four-block stretch along Market Street from Seventh to 11th streets that is now considered ground zero for the “digerati” venture capital crowd. Trendy restaurants, murals on the walls and lots of coffee shops power millennial tech workers’ 24-hours-a-day hum. But Twitter Town is also reportedly one of the filthiest sectors of the town.

Out of 366 sites and 184 routes in San Francisco, Twitter Town was just awarded the booby prize as the city’s dirtiest commercial corridor in the 2014, according to the latest Street and Sidewalk Maintenance Standards report.

But community leaders can celebrate that Twitter Town is not the smelliest spot in the city, it’s only tied for “worst odor“. Twitter Town will have to share that dubious “honor” with Taylor Street, between Market Street and O’Farrell Street.

The City of San Francisco in 2011 used tax incentives in the Central Market/Tenderloin Payroll Tax Exclusion to rehabilitate 77 dilapidated warehouse buildings. The incentives included up to 8 years of 1.5% annual “Payroll Tax Exclusion” thru April 20, 2019.

The biggest catch turned out to be Twitter, which moved into the old wholesale Furniture Mart building at Ninth and Market streets in 2012. The deal with Twitter was initially met with skepticism by Silicon Valley types, but soon Danish help-desk support software maker Zendesk and a slew of new tech and arts ventures piled in to the box.

Officials for years have been hammered with complaints about the fact that only 58% of residential sidewalks and 55% of commercial sidewalks pass in San Francisco pass the city’s zero tolerance policy for feces, condoms and hypodermic needles.

The Department of Public Works has been showing up each morning at 4:30 a.m. with a battalion of street sweepers, steam cleaners, green machines and alley crews to police and disinfect the sidewalks and gutters. But the next morning, the filth is back.

In hopes that shame might be a more effective way to get residents to keep the city cleaner, the City Controller’s Office appointed ten health inspectors to evaluate and score on a multi-point ratings system every commercial and residential community in the city for litter, grime, dumped trash and bad smells. With a worst possible score for “Dirtiest Commercial Street” of 3.00, Twitter Town set the bar with a score of 2.93.  

San Francisco started its high-tech tax breaks with the intention of converting run down commercial sectors of the city into upscale “Nerdistan” clusters of high-tech industries. It was expected that the new workforce would be almost entirely college educated professionals and technicians that are associated with similar suburban locations in Silicon Valley.

As an urban planning initiative, Twitter Town has been a great financial success by turning a largely abandoned area into a hot-bed of corporate and venture capital funding. But if the goal was to clean up the community, San Franciscans are learning that hordes of high-tech Nerdistan workers may not be enough to undo serious bad hygiene.

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