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George Boardman: SF tech refugees might see familiar sight near Digital Media Campus

George Boardman
Columnist
George Boardman
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

Observations from the center stripe: Bumbling edition

THE LESS than nimble handling of Measure W by the supervisors and the bureaucrats at the Rood Center reminds me of the signature saying of ESPN commentator Chris Berman: “Rumbling, bumbling, stumbling”… NEVADA CITY should impose its “Good Neighbor” policy on its residents before applying it to visitors, or maybe those cars I see on blocks are just a mirage … A MAN officially declares his candidacy for Nevada City Council then refuses to discuss the matter with a reporter from The Union. That’s a winning strategy … MCDONALD’S IS currently promoting a Big Mac “made with 100 percent beef.” What did they use before? … CAITLYN JENNER says Hillary Clinton doesn’t really care about women’s problems. Of course, Caitlyn doesn’t have much experience dealing with women’s problems … THE U.S. has spent $113 billion on reconstruction of Afghanistan in 14 years, more than was spent on the Marshall Plan in post-World War II Europe. How do you like the results? …

The Economic Resource Council’s new 26,000-square-foot Sierra Digital Media Campus on New Mohawk Road in Nevada City is designed to attract high tech entrepreneurs to the area, and the high-paying jobs their companies can create.

The campus is located in what passes for a high tech corridor around here, close to Telestream and Ensemble Designs. The area also has something else that will be familiar to high tech refugees thinking of setting up shop here, especially if they’re from San Francisco.

It turns out the media campus is near Streicher House, a facility operated by Divine Spark and Sierra Roots to provide lunch four times a week to the chronic homeless and people in need. (This juxtaposition was first pointed out by local blogger Jeff Pelline, a loyal reader of this column.)

The house is owned by Pauli Halstead, a Nevada City resident who is a volunteer at the nonprofit. Her generous gesture is running into some static from Nevada City officials, who claim Divine Spark doesn’t have the permits necessary to run a homeless day center on Gold Flat Road.

Local boosters may not want a facility serving the poor so close to western Nevada County’s best opportunity to grow its economy in decades, and they’ll likely get support from at least some techies.

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Despite San Francisco’s well-deserved reputation for being at the vanguard of progressive politics, the city’s leaders have always struggled with how to treat the homeless and drug addled. The city’s tech workers, many of them from elsewhere, are less than sympathetic to their plight.

Take tech entrepreneur Justin Keller, who posted an open letter to Mayor Ed Lee and police Chief Greg Suhr complaining that after three years of living in the city, “the homeless and drug problems are the worst it has ever been … The wealthy working people have earned the right to live in the city. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see pain, struggle and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work everyday.”

City officials heard similar pleas, or maybe it was just complaints from officials of the National Football League in the run-up to the Super Bowl last month. The homeless were rousted from the area near Super Bowl City, probably so the city’s less fortunate residents wouldn’t offend the sensibilities of the NFL’s corporate sponsors and their guests.

Because the city and county of San Francisco cover just 49 square miles, it’s not easy to avoid the city’s homeless. Seattle has tried to keep them concentrated in just one part of the city in an officially sanctioned tent city, something Sacramento might try to house its estimated 2,700 street people. Critics dismiss such efforts as a Band-Aid rather than a cure.

But some tech companies are willing to confront the problem, at least indirectly. Twitter located its corporate headquarters in the old Furniture Mart on Market Street, close to the city’s less-than-desirable Tenderloin District. Of course, it’s possible the big tax break Twitter got from San Francisco influenced its decision.

Many tech workers prefer living in San Francisco, even if they work in Silicon Valley. Google, among others, has accommodated these people by providing luxury bus transportation to and from work, an issue that has caused friction with local activists who blame techies for driving up rents and forcing some working class people into the streets.

Graffiti such as “Die techie scum” can be found in the city’s Mission District, formerly an enclave for the working class. The area has now been infested with techies, many of them lacking good social skills, who “act like Christopher Columbus discovering America,” according to one housing activist.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg added to the strain on housing prices in the area by spending a reported $10 million to buy and completely renovate a house near Dolores Park. Now that the construction equipment is gone, neighbors are complaining that Zuckerberg’s security detail takes up two coveted parking spots every day.

Many of the homeless in Nevada County tend to stay out of sight by camping out in the woods, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need services. Grass Valley gave Hospitality House permission in December to provide sleeping quarters to up to 69 people, 15 more than usual, and to begin sheltering people when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees in dry or wet conditions.

But such services may not last much longer. Hospitality and Booth Family Center, operated by the Salvation Army, will lose $276,000 in federal money for homeless programs beginning July 1. The funding is being diverted to urban areas, which are being swamped by homeless camps.

If Streicher House remains operational, it will serve as a reminder to tech entrepreneurs looking to locate here that you can’t escape the homeless problem, even in bucolic Nevada County. As long as everybody has an opinion but nobody has a plan, the homeless problem won’t go away.

George Boardman lives at Lake Of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union.


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