Category Archives: Short-form Journalism

San Francisco’s Incredible Expanding Budget

Toy Golden Gate Bridge(This story originally appeared in San Francisco Magazine)

San Francisco’s budget has almost doubled over the last 10 years, from $5.3 billion to nearly $9 billion. We’re nearly paying for two 2005 San Franciscos—even though the city has grown by only about 10 percent, or 75,000 people, and even though inflation over the same period has been only 21 percent. By contrast, Philadelphia—another major city-county—had its budget increase from $6 billion in 2005 to just over $8.5 billion in 2015.

Paying almost twice as much money clearly hasn’t solved San Francisco’s problems: We still have decaying infrastructure, thousands of homeless, and not enough affordable housing. So what exactly are we spending our double budget on?

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Tech Companies Drop the Disrupt-Speak As Soon As They Start Lobbying

(This story originally appeared in San Francisco Magazine)

Travis Kalanick angel artUber chief executive officer Travis Kalanick is on the world’s most awkward rehabilitation tour, and he’s bringing us all along for the ride. Just two years ago, Kalanick was described in media accounts as “so combative that he is at risk of seeming like a parody of today’s tech entrepreneur”; a man who wore the label of douche as a “badge of honor.” Not anymore.

At September’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Kalanick 2.0 channeled a cross between a cuddly futurist and a Republican presidential hopeful—talking, literally, about hugs and social justice. “We like to say that we give riders high fives and give drivers hugs,” he said, going on to describe his concern over the economic well-being of cabbies.

Appearing on CBS’s Late Show, a notably soft-spoken Kalanick was pressed by host Stephen Colbert to explain how automating Uber’s cars, a stated goal of the company, would help the drivers about whom he is so concerned. The CEO’s response was essentially an adult version of a time-honored whine: All the other kids are doing it. “Look,” he said, “Google’s doing the driverless thing; Tesla’s doing the driverless thing; Apple’s doing the driverless thing.”

Wait—what happened to out-innovating the competition? What happened to disrupting industries? Isn’t a man in a suit who’s extolling the virtues of conformity the exact opposite of the Silicon Valley ethos? This aw-shucks tour is an attempt to rehabilitate not just Kalanick but the tech industry itself—and a sign that the world has disrupted Silicon Valley. The dude in a hoodie fulminating that his innovation will bury you is out; the high-powered lobbyist in a gray flannel suit is in.

Continue reading Tech Companies Drop the Disrupt-Speak As Soon As They Start Lobbying

‘Peak Inspirations’: See the artwork of a climber who died on K2

Denali Schmidt on Mount Ranier(This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle)

The top of a mountain offers the best view in the world, but it might be the loneliest place on Earth. Denali Schmidt and his father died trying to reach the summit of the Ketu/Kechu mountain (K2) and take in that view.

Schmidt was only 25 years old, but he knew the risks. His father, Marty, 53, was an internationally renowned mountain climber who had tried to reach the K2 peak three times before. An estimated 1 in 4 climbers dies on its cliffs. Worse, a close friend had recently died in a hang-gliding accident. Friends and family say the loss of a friend he idolized had shocked Denali Schmidt, making him re-examine his life. His girlfriend, Larisa Minerva, called it a “shaping moment.”

So why did he go?

Clues may be found in “Peak Inspirations,” a show of Schmidt’s artwork now open at the White Walls Gallery. Schmidt had graduated in the top of his class at the California College of the Arts shortly before he left for Pakistan, and his professors say he had an extraordinary eye for the new and innovative that holds up now, two years after his death.

Continue reading ‘Peak Inspirations’: See the artwork of a climber who died on K2

Oakland thwarts wave of outlaw dancing in the streets

(Originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronical)

DDP Oakland (by Scott Strazzante)When an invading army of 60 dancers descended on the Lake Merritt Gazebo on Sunday afternoon, Mario Benton was entranced — even though it meant that the photo shoot the Oakland fashion guru was working on halted for five solid minutes.

His photographers and models stared at the colorful crowd, dancing to the music they were carrying with them on their own portable radio station. They took pictures. They even danced along.

“This is amazing,” Benton said. “It’s really free-spirited. Seeing a diverse group of people come and just dance together is wonderful.”

The only person who wasn’t getting into it at the gazebo was a political canvasser trying to get signatures for a local ballot measure. “Can I talk to you about Oakland’s future?” he asked, and nobody answered.

Ten minutes later, the dance party was gone. To know where, you had to go with it — or have a police scanner. That Sunday, as a good number of the 50,000 people in the Bay to Breakers got naked and drunk in the streets of San Francisco, the Oakland police were working to shut down a sober dance party in a public park. Continue reading Oakland thwarts wave of outlaw dancing in the streets

San Francisco just released another report about San Francisco: proving the city really needs a writing coach

(This article first appeared in the SF Weekly)

paperworkSan Francisco produces so many “studies” about itself that it must surely be the most looked-at place on earth. Feasibility studies, development reports, slavery disclosure evaluations, new special use district plans … given the chance to stare at itself in a mirror, San Francisco would rather do it on paper.

These studies cover a dizzying array of subjects and concerns, but they tend to have one thing in common: most of them appear to be written by college sophomores. They make classic English 101 term paper mistakes – and so are fit for little more than sitting on a shelf in a nice glossy binder.

Here’s three recent examples:


Continue reading San Francisco just released another report about San Francisco: proving the city really needs a writing coach