How a pair of Arizona transplants plunged into Bay Area’s housing fray

By Chase Kamp

As a new resident to the Bay
Area, it’s still a strange thrill to see the
Twitter headquarters on Market Street,
or to know that my Words with Friends
tiles are bouncing around inside the
Zynga building off the I-80.
However, the booming tech
industry has changed the face of San
Francisco.
In the 1980s, the Silicon Valley
tech giants and their employees
primarily resided in the south Bay
cities of Mountain View and Palo
Alto. Since then, however, young
tech startups have preferred to chase
success in bustling San Francisco, and
big tech money has continued flowing
into the city.
The demand, and dollars, coming
from the tech world have skyrocketed
the city’s real estate costs. Last year,
San Francisco surpassed New York City
with the most expensive average rent
in the country, and with it came rising
eviction numbers.
The city’s median home price is $1
million. To compare, the 2013 median
home price in the south Tempe 85284
area code is $349,000.
Many long-time San Franciscans
fear the city is becoming a pricey
suburb for Silicon Valley, pushing out
middle- to low-income residents and
members of once deeply ingrained
minority populations. Personally,
I’ve overheard a good share of casual
resentment—and in more and more
cases, outright derision—for “Techies,”
who some see as entitled and uncaring
about the city’s future.
I spoke to a former classmate,
Kahley Emerson, about her experience
in the industry. Five years ago,
she dropped out of ASU to take an
internship at an online video network
in San Francisco and has worked in
the city’s tech industry ever since,
taking on assignments from coding to
eCommerce.
Emerson, like others, fears a
potential downswing similar to the
popping of the ‘90s tech bubble.
“I really like [the city] and it’s an
exciting place to be during my young
professional life,” she said, “but I don’t
know if it’s a sustainable thing.”
The unstoppable ubiquity of cell
phones and computers makes the
wellspring of tech jobs similar to the
California Gold Rush of 1849.
“The people who made lots of
money during the 49ers were Levi’s,
because all the miners wore their
jeans,” Emerson said. And the luxury
afforded by those profiting most from
the boom is staggering.
Though she writes code during
the day, at night Emerson works as a
dance club DJ. She was invited to spin
records at an office party for a very
lucrative company that makes widely
used web development tools, the Levi’s
to this generation’s miners.
She said she was paid $300 to
play music for only 45 minutes and
was treated to complimentary high-end
liquor at the open bar.
“The excess I’m seeing is really
hard to ignore,” she says.
She and her boyfriend live
together in a rent-controlled apartment
in the hip Haight neighborhood,
which she said would otherwise be
unaffordable.
The world of tech startups and big
venture capital is risky, Emerson said,
quoting notable tech entrepreneur Reid
Hoffman.
“Running a tech start-up is like
jumping off the Grand Canyon with
a bunch of airplane parts you have to
build on the way down.”
Emerson said she plans to enjoy
the fruits of her hard work in the
San Francisco tech industry, but also
to remain humble in the face of the
unpredictable boom.
“You can’t be an elitist idiot about
your life,” she said.
“There’s always the chance that
things will turn around as quickly as it
rose.”
As someone living in Oakland who
is more gratified by processing words
on a computer than code, I didn’t think
I was affected by the tech tide, but
everyone around me is soaking in it.
For now, I’m here to stay. I can’t
tell if the Twitter bird is settling in to
make a nest or is readying for takeoff.

Editor’s note: Chase Kamp,
whose roots connect to both ASU and
Corona del Sol High School, relocated
to the Bay Area six months ago to
be closer to the thriving music and
entertainment industry he writes
about for several local and national
publications. Adapting to the new
environment and its associated living
costs became an early challenge,
which he quickly solved by moving to
the ‘burbs. But now there’s a new crisis
among longtime San Franciscans, and
Kamp finds himself with a birds-eye
view of the phenomenon. His report
follows.

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