How California's ballot could reshape Silicon Valley
Voters in San Francisco, the surrounding Bay Area, and California at large will vote Tuesday on key issues affecting Silicon Valley.
Why it matters: At stake are industry issues like gig workers' employment status and internet privacy, as well as broader measures on business taxes and the region's housing crisis, which many view as driven by tech wealth.
On the state-wide ballot:
- Prop 22 (Calif.): The controversial “gig economy” ballot measure pushed by companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Postmates, and DoorDash, Prop. 22 would preserve the status of California-based drivers for ride-hailing and delivery services as independent contractors instead of employees. It would also establish some modest new benefits those workers could accrue.
- Prop 24 (Calif.): This measure is intended to “fix” loopholes left in the California Consumer Privacy Act, namely letting companies “share” (as opposed to “sell”) user data to other services, and exempting those who have a “business purpose” from user opt-outs (including online ad targeting). It would also beef up the enforcement resources available by setting up a new agency.
- Prop 15 (Calif.): This proposition would chip away at 1978’s Prop. 13, which capped property taxes, by allowing commercial property assessments to rise to market value, creating potentially billions in additional tax revenue for local governments in California. The proposition doesn't affect residential property.
- Prop 21 (Calif.): The measure takes aim at the state's housing crunch by allowing local governments to expand rent control laws. In 2018, voters rejected a more aggressive proposition to expand rent control.
On local ballots:
- Prop. F (S.F.): This proposition would phase out the city's payroll-based business taxes in favor of a tax on gross receipts. It would increase registration fees and taxes for some larger companies, but would be more uniform across industries, and decrease taxes on small businesses with less than $1 million in gross receipts. Large tech companies would likely see bigger tax bills.
- Prop. L (S.F.): Introduced by Supervisor Matt Haney (whose district includes a number of tech company offices), the proposal would levy a special tax on companies that pay the highest-earning employee 100 times or more than the median salary of its San Francisco workers, starting in 2022.
- Prop. RR (regional): A last minute addition, this measure would add a small sales tax meant to finance the Caltrain train system, which is at risk of shutting down because of the pandemic-induced drop in ridership. Though far from perfect and limited in its reach, Caltrain has been a popular commuter option for residents along its San Jose-to-San Francisco stretch.
Between the lines: With the pandemic stretching work-from-home policies into next summer, a number of tech employees have packed their bags for the suburbs or different parts of the country.
At the same time, others have grown more interested and active in San Francisco's politics, counter to the civic disengagement that's often been more common among tech workers.
- "I do think that people have now seen more examples of bad governance in SF that have caused people to feel like there is a need for change," Sachin Agarwal, an entrepreneur and former Twitter and Lyft employee who started Grow SF to get more involved in the city's policies, tells Axios.
- Some are even running for office. "There are two things the tech industry can't do: keep you safe and build housing," David Young, a candidate for the BART board of directors and a former startup executive, tells Axios. "The fact that we stay away from it basically allows the industry to be a bit of a punching bag."
- Yes, but: Even when rank-and-file workers weren't paying much attention to local politics, tech power brokers like famed investor Ron Conway have been deeply active behind the scenes for years.
The bottom line: How these propositions fare next week could significantly alter Silicon Valley's labor structure, privacy practices, real estate situation and more.