SF Business Times Promotes False Story of Tenderloin Nonprofits “Fleeing” for Oakland

by Randy Shaw on February 27, 2013

According to a front page story in the February 22-28 issue of San Francisco’s Business Times, “Priced out: Nonprofits flee S.F. for Oakland,” “even traditionally affordable neighborhoods that have housed a lot of nonprofits—including Mid-Market, the Tenderloin and the Mission District—have become pricier, displacing an increasing number to Oakland.” The chief example is Abigail Falk’s Global Citizen Year, which the story claims was paying $36 per square foot in the Tenderloin, but now only pays $24 per square foot in Oakland.

But Global Citizen Year was never in the Tenderloin. It rented at 466 Geary Street, in much pricier Union Square. No Tenderloin nonprofit pays $36 per sq. ft., and Tenderloin nonprofits are not fleeing to Oakland due to rising rents. To the contrary, the area remains very affordable to prospective commercial tenants, and has a surplus of vacant and or under-utilized spaces. The Business Times story is false, and could damage efforts to attract nonprofits and small businesses to the Tenderloin. It apparently sought to bolster a false yet widely promoted narrative about nonprofit displacement from the still struggling Tenderloin and Mid-Market, a story line that ignores the facts.

When reporter Renee Frojo called me about rising office rents in the Tenderloin, I expressed surprise. I told her the Tenderloin had relatively little office space, and that I knew of no nonprofit group in the neighborhood forced out due to rising rents. She never asked me about the alleged $36 per sq. ft. rent. If she had, I would have asked for the address—after all, no Tenderloin nonprofit pays anywhere near that amount.

But a story about the Tenderloin’s failure to fill commercial spaces despite the city’s current and prior economic booms would not be “news.” Instead, the Business Times joined other media in promoting a false narrative that has the city’s economic boom causing displacement in long distressed neighborhoods.

The media can’t sell a story about a small nonprofit moving from pricey Union Square to Oakland; after all, who would care? So instead we got a fictional story (labeled as true) about nonprofit displacement from the Tenderloin on the front page of San Francisco’s most highly regarded source for business news.

It is precisely the BIz Times’ credibility on business issues that makes rebutting its false narrative so important.

Mid-Market Myth

In addition to its falsehoods about the Tenderloin, the Business Times article also fails to cite a single nonprofit who left Mid-Market for Oakland to obtain lower rents. How is that possible? Hasn’t the media repeatedly told us that steeply rising rents from the street’s high-tech boom have caused massive nonprofit displacement? There should be dozens of displaced groups to quote.

But nonprofits have not left Mid-Market with any greater frequency than before high-tech’s arrival As I wrote last November, the chief displacement of nonprofits from Mid-Market was caused by the vacation of the Grant Building at 1095 Market Street. I represented the tenants facing eviction in 2001 and we stopped the displacement, but a new owner in 2008 succeeded in vacating the building.

The sad plight of the displaced nonprofits of the Grant Building got little attention, apparently because it cannot be blamed on the high-tech industry.

While the article cites nonprofits relocating to Oakland from “San Francisco” and “SOMA,” that’s different from what its headline and thesis claim the story is about.

If you are looking to open a business in San Francisco, the Tenderloin may be the last bastion of affordability. Unfortunately, false articles associating the Tenderloin with sky-high rents could deter new businesses, making revitalizing the Tenderloin even harder.

Note: There is no link to the full story since access is via subscription only.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

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