Posts tagged ‘Silicon Valley’

Liberal Douchebag vs. Liberal Douchebag: Google Employees Invade San Francisco

This is an article a reader described as being from the "screw them all" category, and I am inclined to agree.  There are many funny bits in the piece, but I particularly liked the San Francisco lefties arguing that these new Google millionaires should act more like the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts.  LOL for sure.

Incredibly, no one asks the obvious question -- why is home supply in San Francisco treated as zero sum, such that a Google millionaire moving in by necessity kicks some  poor people out.  The reason is that no place in the country does more than San Francisco and the Bay Area to make it impossible to build new housing.  San Francisco has some unique geographic constraints but you don't hear people complaining about this in Houston (which is in fact a much larger city).  In fact, I am trying to imagine Houston complaining about too many rich people moving in.  I just can't seem to focus that image in my head.

Actually, the article does very briefly consider the supply side of the equation, but of course no one mentions government development and zoning restrictions -- its the fault of capitalist speculators!  My reader highlights this paragraph:

Though he doesn’t much care for the start-up douchebags, Redmond blames not individual tech workers for the current crisis, but property speculators and the lawmakers who have let them take advantage of their precious commodity: space. “If we had a major earthquake in San Francisco, the water mains all broke, and some guy showed up with a water truck and started selling water for $10 a gallon, people would be pissed,” he says. “That guy would be ridden out of town; he’d be attacked with sticks and pitchforks. But that’s what the real estate people are doing right now – and they’re getting away with it.”

Memo to speculators:  If I have lost all access to water and am dying of thirst, you are welcome to come to my house and sell water to me for $100 a gallon.  I promise no pitchforks at my house.

PS-  One thing I did not know is that tech companies seem to be running large private bus systems

The Google buses, which often stop in spaces supposedly reserved for public transport, are a particular point of contention. This growing fleet of unmarked luxury coaches carries some 14,000 people on their 35-mile trip from the city to Silicon Valley and back. Since the search giant introduced the buses a decade ago, Facebook, Apple, eBay and almost 40 other companies have followed suit. Each new route quickly becomes a corridor of hip clothing stores and restaurants.

This is an interesting exercise in privatization.  For riders, it certainly would be nice to have routes custom designed to match your needs (ie exactly from your origin to your destination without changing trains or busses), something that is often an issue with public transport networks.  Als0- and this is going to sound awful but it is from many public surveys and not my own point of view - these private bus networks get around the social mixing issue that turns a lot of middle class riders off on bus systems.

This is obviously expensive but I understand why some companies do it.  As someone wrote a while back, no one in their right mind would put Silicon Valley in California today if it were not already there.  It is absurdly expensive to do business in CA and it is expensive to live there as an employee.  However, tech companies have found that  a certain good called "access to San Francisco" is quite valuable to the types of young smart employees they want to hire and can overcome these negatives.  So the bus system is a way for companies to better provide this good.  The irony of the article is that as so many tech companies are selling this good (ie access to San Francisco) they may be changing the character of San Francisco in a way that makes the good less valuable over time.

Regulatory Suffocation

Taxes are usually the heart of the discussion when people talk about the bad business climate in California.  And certainly their taxes are just insanely high.  But for folks like me, an even bigger barrier is the regulatory environment. We are closing several operations in California at the end of this year mainly because we are just exhausted with the compliance costs and regulatory barriers to expansion.    In Ventura County, for example, we have  a camping operation that has never made money because it is under-scale. We have the capital and desire to expand it, but it has just proven impossible to do so.

A big reason for this is the regulation in California and in Ventura County.    We once had to get something like 7 permits just to remove a dangerous and dilapidated deck.  We added a 500 gallon fuel tank for fueling boats (to eliminate the unsafe practice of driving in and out of town with about 100 5-gallon fuel containers) and it took over 3-years of trekking to multiple county and state offices to get it permitted.  We thus despaired of trying to get a campground expansion approved.   Approximately the same expansion that cost us just under a million dollars in Alabama several years ago was going to cost over $5 million and Ventura County, and the County was still piling on requirements when we gave up.  And this is even before we fart with crazy California break laws and other nuttiness.

I have often told folks that I would love to see a liberal defender of all this regulatory overreach try to construct and open a restaurant in Ventura County.  It would be fascinating to watch.   (All this musing was touched off by this article on underground restaurants that try to sidestep this regulatory cost and mess).  We are a service business and California still has a lot of money, so we still operate in California.  But I continue to wonder why any company, like a manufacturer, remains in California.  Sell there yes, but produce anything you can out of state and ship it in.  Even as a service business we do a bit of this, no longer stick-building anything but having all our buildings, cabins, stores, etc built in Arizona as modular buildings and then shipped to California.  Even our labor force is partially "imported", as we hire folks who live in their RV's to come from all over the country to live and work at our campgrounds.

As I read the other day, if Silicon Valley were not already in California, would anyone in their right mind put it there?

Postscript:  One other story:  California's regulatory environment has caused a real shift in the culture as well.  At one location that we are closing this year, a local attorney has regular dinner meetings with groups of our employees to brainstorm among the group to see if they can come up with something to sue us over.

The Corporate State

From Henry Payne:

Rent-seeking is the new venture capital model, Kleiner Perkins managing partner Ray Lane explained to an electric car-conference here Wednesday.

In an extraordinary speech, Lane laid out how market socialism can guarantee profits for politically connected VC firms like Kleiner -- far more preferable to the old model of "throwing a dart at a dart board," as Lane has put it. While Silicon Valley-based Kleiner made its reputation as a financier of tech startups like Netscape, Lane confided that they are inherently risky ventures in uncertain, fast-moving markets.

By contrast, Lane expressed admiration for communist governments like China and market-socialist economies like France where government determines new markets, thus providing a more certain investment climate for rent-seekers. With Kleiner partner Al Gore lobbying for federal mandates from wind to electric cars, Kleiner would be assured of a return on otherwise risky investments like Fisker Automotive, a California electric car company.

Government and Cost-Cutting

Government officials have mastered the cost-cutting game, or should I say the cost-non-cutting game.  The trick they have learned is that whenever budget or tax cuts are proposed, they threaten to cut the most critical expenditures.

Now, as I have pointed out, such behavior in a private company would result in one's termination.

When I was in the corporate world, if I wanted extra funds for my projects, I would have to go in and say "Here are all my projects.  I have ranked them from 1-30 from the most to least valuable.  Right now I have enough money for the first 12.  I would like funding for number 13.  Here is my case."

But the government works differently.  When your local government is out of money, and wants a tax increase, what do they threaten to cut?  In Seattle, it was always emergency services.  "Sorry, we are out of money, we have to shut down the fire department and ambulances."  I kid you not "” the city probably has a thirty person massage therapist licensing organization and they cut ambulances first.   In California it is the parks.   "Sorry, we are out of money.  To meet our budget, we are going to have to close down our 10 most popular parks that get the most visitation."  The essence of government budgeting brinkmanship is not to cut project 13 when you only have money for 12 projects, but to cut project #1.

I can just see me going to Chuck Knight at Emerson Electric and saying "Chuck, I don't have enough money.  If you don't give me more, we are going to have to cut the funds for the government-mandated frequency modification on our transmitters, which means we won't have any product to sell next month."  I would be out on my ass in five minutes.  It just floors me that this seems to keep working in the government.  Part of it is that the media is just so credulous when it comes to this kind of thing, in part because scare stories of cut services fit so well into their business model.

Matt Welch has a great 8-point takedown of similar scare story on the current California budget crisis.  You should definitely read it, but I wanted to add a #9 -- this idea that the core, rather than the marginal, expense is always the first to be cut.  From the LA Times:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed slashing state spending on education by $3 billion to help close the budget gap, and the state would pay dearly for canceling classes, firing instructors, cutting class days and shortening the school year, experts said.

Promising students would go to other states, taking their future skills, earnings and, possibly, Nobel Prizes elsewhere. California companies would then find it harder to attract high-value employees who might be dubious about moving to a state with sub-par schools. [...]

John Sedgwick, co-founder of Santa Clara solar-energy company Solaicx, agreed.

"When you think about the genesis of Silicon Valley, it really started from its superior educational base" at Stanford and UC Berkeley, said Sedgwick, whose company makes the building blocks for photovoltaic cells. "That indicates that you don't want to kill the goose that's laying the golden eggs." [...]

The only way the most "promising" students would be affected is if, when the schools cut back, the best professors (rather than the worst) are fired and the most promising students (rather than the most marginal) are denied admission for limited spots.  Really?  If Berkeley has 10 fewer spots, it's going to start cutting admissions with the Physics wiz kid who had a 2400 on her SAT?

Further, is it really true that California only attracts people to its work force who went to school in California?  A top Michigan or Harvard grad won't do just as well?  I went to college in New Jersey yet have never held a job in that state.

Now, I understand that part of the argument is that workers may not come if the local primary schools for their kids are bad.  And that is true.  But California has had poor performing schools despite years of high and increasing spending.  Matt has much more on this in his piece.

Postscript: Of course, as crazy as it seems, there may be some reality to this threat.  I could easily see the University of California system, when faced with the choice of cutting back on some post-modernist social science program or a physics program that has produced 7 Nobel Laureates, choosing the latter to cut in a fit of outrageous political correctness.

At the primary level, it is very possible that the bloated school administrations filled with rafts of useless assistant principals will choose to fire teachers rather than themselves.  So unfortunately the plans to cut the most useful spending in a crisis and keep the most useless is not just a threat, it is a reality.

The Silicon Valley of Begging

Stephen Dubner's roundtable on the Economics of Street Charity got me thinking about a recent experience visiting Boulder, Colorado, an odd but lovely town in which I used to live.

Here in Phoenix, most of our panhandlers show little or no innovation.  They are still using the "will work for food" or "Vietnam vet" cardboard signs that were an innovation years ago, but now are tired and hard to believe.  All the signs were generic.  None of them seemed tailored to the local audience. 

So where is the innovation in begging occurring?  Someone must have first thought of the "will work for food" come-on which I presume was so initially successful, since everyone copied it, just as they copy any successful innovation in the marketplace?

My vote for the Silicon Valley of Begging is Boulder, Colorado, and specifically on the Pearl Street Mall.  I have recently visited homeless capital Santa Monica, and San Francisco, as well as New York and Boston, and none of their beggers hold a candle to those in Boulder.  Here is why:

  • Their come-ons were unique -- I never saw the same one twice
  • Their come-ons were well tailored to the local audience.  "Need Money for Pot" is not going to get one anywhere in Oklahoma, but it is very likely to elicit a chuckle and a buck from a UC college student or sixties-survivor Boulder resident.  Given that President Bush has about a 0.01% approval rating in Boulder, many of the come-ons led one to believe that giving the beggar a buck would show one's disdain for GWB.

More Parking Lot Blogging!

I bet you thought I was kidding here when I said I might pursue my new niche in parking lot blogging.  Not so - here today is an idea from Ross Mayfield:

My uncle was a guru on wall street when I asked him where I should invest my paper route money. He said to visit the parking lots of Silicon Valley companies during the weekend. If the parking lot was full, there was a good chance they were close to a breakthrough or release.

At the corporations I worked for, this would probably just mean that everyone was working on Powerpoint presentation for an upcoming planning conference.  Anyway, I don't know much about Silicon Valley, so I don't know if it will work, but this is an interesting suggestion to use the Internet to gather intelligence:

But with enough mobloggers, a panopticon of performance may be a great leading indicator.  So this weekend I started the Parking Lot Indicatr group and people have taken interest.

Hopefully, the cars are not all there responding to an SEC inquiry.