This Guest Essay in The New York Times About San Francisco Is So Manipulative

It’s the editorial equivalent of gaslighting — a lantern carried by no other than SF billionaire Michael Moritz.

San Francisco’s often the butt of far-right or centrism commentary about the unvarnished state of America’s cities. This seven-mile by seven-mile sliver of Northern California is a microcosm of societal issues that exist on a macro grade. 

Rising rates of homelessness, the ever-worsening fentanyl epidemic, an affordable housing crisis (that exists in tandem with ballooning rates of inflation), and climate crisis woes all exist in exacerbated fashions inside this 49-square-mile municipality.

Mind you, these issues are by no means unique to San Francisco; they exist in every large city in the United States. As is common phrasing in the Golden State: “As goes California, so goes the nation.” 

One could very well argue the state of San Francisco models as an evergreen and focal preamble to that saying.

(San Francisco is our nation’s proverbial canary in a coal mine — except the metaphoric quarry in question is an above-ground urban oasis populated by some 880,000 residents, navigating about one of the most walkable cities in America.)

Tech ballooned here. The high six-figure job positions rose with it. Any semblance of affordability floated away with those gasbags.

San Francisco’s problems are inherently political. The outrageous amount of red tapping around new housing and how the City contends with rehoming people experiencing homelessness leaves much to be desired. But at its core, SF’s troubles can be essentially distilled down to a single word: greed. 

And this omnipresent, unchecked covetousness is at the core of a society balancing on the edge of collapse — “as goes California, so goes the nation.”

Suffice it to say that a recent guest essay in The New York Times by no other than Michael Moritz — a Sequoia Capital partner who’s amassed a personal net worth of over $4.2 billion, flooded millions into his right-leaning endeavors like his nonprofit, TogetherSF, and, as of most recently, offered millions in initial funding for The San Francisco Standard — comes off as an erroneous take on the condition of San Francisco.

But perhaps more worrisome than the piece’s outright farces — i.e Moritz infers that SF doesn’t have a prominent mayoral system, when its current mayor, London Breed, is unarguably one of the most powerful City leaders of her position anywhere in the United States — is its gaslighting language uses and styles.

Throughout his 1,308-word pulse check on San Francisco, the billionaire claims that San Francisco’s one-party voting demographic has added to its present roster of woes. (Again, sorrows that are not foreign to any large city in this county.) Moritz, as well, used his NYT pulpit to, through a maze of elementary writing techniques, convince the reader that recently introduced tax initiatives are at the center of both small and large businesses failing in San Francisco.

This is incorrect. 

The perennial issues associated with San Francisco businesses shuttering mostly center around City zoning requirements that either hinder or outright block potential growth opportunities; unchecked rental increases that can, quite literally, force a small business out of operation overnight; and a lack of either personal, federal, state, or city funding. The irony of the latter issue being glossed over entirely by the Sequoia Capital partner is not lost on me.

Moritz notes the “hollowing out” of the San Francisco Chronicle adds to a culture of poor governance — strong words coming from a man whose partnered news outlet has commonly found itself at the center of controversy, particularly around its dangerous narrative around immigrants and their relationship to illicit drug dealing.

Moritz never mentions he has a direct relationship with a news outlet that has allegedly been organized around the goal of beating/gaining more traction than the San Francisco Chronicle; the only mention of his association with The San Francisco Standard is found in a byline at the end of his piece.

Moritz pats himself on the back in his role in recalling former SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin and three former school board members. 

Remember: Recall campaigns against state and local legislators, which used to be rare, aren’t designed to serve the greater voting population. They’re leveraged to favor the wants of financially affluent and powerful individuals by way of partisan politics, not the needs of the majority of a municipality’s residents.

The billionaire revels in his prophetic optimism for a San Francisco that “will work better for everyone,” as if prematurely congratulating himself — and, by proxy, the nonprofit entities and news outlet he helped build — in that glowing future. But let’s not forget that this sanguinity is served by a man who supported the inhumane street sweeping of unhoused individuals back in 2016.

What Moritz is conducting in his NYT guest essay is nothing new: funneling a myopic outlook of San Francisco’s existing problems into a self-assuring narrative that tightly weaves itself within a person or organization’s singular portrayal.

The Bold Italic, a beloved SF-based publication that once took on counternarratives in unapologetic tones, was acquired by GrowSF, a conservative YIMBY organization in December of 2022. The publication, which currently holds a readership north of 200,000 unique views each month, is directly owned by the aforenoted political group; both its founders, past techies Sachin Agarwal and Steven Buss — who had blocked over 4,000 Twitter accounts in 2022 — now also serve as editors for The Bold Italic; the publication has professed itself to be nonpolitical, yet will commonly reshare social media posts published by GrowSF. 

GrowSF has used nearly identical language to TogetherSF in its political verbiage: “We are a city in crisis. Our officials have failed at the basics: housing, transit, schools, and public safety. For too long, San Francisco has feared change. A truly world class city must embrace change.”

Moritz’s lackluster and lukewarm guest essay in The New York Times has only echoed the manipulative nature of venture capital funds (and the individuals behind those monies) seeking to play God with San Francisco.

In the piece’s concluding paragraph, Moritz waxes that there’s an “increasing recognition that voters have been repeatedly duped” in local elections. They’re not.

San Francisco has one of the most civically astute voting populations in the entire country. On the contrary, it’s the number of growing corporate-funded recall elections and hit campaigns by self-assured political organizations that aim to hoodwink voters. Don’t get it twisted.

Moritz is, however, correct in his assessment that there is a growing clamor for change. A true remark. He adds that it also “won’t be easy.” Again, accurate.

But change conducted through the conduit of one’s own viewpoints isn’t a positive shift — it’s a transition to exclusivity. Moritz’s own yearning for a San Francisco that “will work better for everyone” would be lost. And in its place, we’d find a society fit for only the highest-earning, affluent, culturally deprived individuals.

Fuck that. So many times over.

If San Francisco is to, in fact, crumble into irrelevance, it will be by the hand of billionaires with political agendas and the means to megaphone them outward. As engaged members of a democratic society, it’s imperative we, ourselves, remain vigilant in assessing between fact and fiction; between noninvolvement and manipulation; between a San Francisco that’s gorgeously inclusive and one that exists in a privately-owned bubble.

The latter is the reality I’d wager the vast majority of us wish to live in. 

Helping support local, independently-owned journalism that operates outside the canon of venture capital is a fitting way to help usher it in.

1 Comment

  • Patrick

    “Remember: Recall campaigns against state and local legislators, which used to be rare, aren’t designed to serve the greater voting population.”

    This would’ve been an excellent point if Chesa Boudin hadn’t been elected within a ranked-choice voting system, which, by default, does not serve he greater voting population. I cannot think of a single time that any city in the Bay Area ultimately benefitted from a ranked-choice system (Boudin and Jean Quan immediately come to mind).

    Great piece! Thanks for sharing.

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