Countercultural Entrepreneurial Renaissance vs. Big Government Gentrification | Libertarian Party of San Francisco

Countercultural Entrepreneurial Renaissance vs. Big Government Gentrification

AdobeBookshopWalking into Adobe Books, an old-fashioned neighborhood bookseller located down the street from me in the Mission at 3166 16th Street, feels like walking into a time warp. It's one of a dwindling number of stores in the area with a real bohemian look and feel to it.

It would be a real shame for it to be replaced by some sterile purveyor of expensive luggage. But according to a piece in the Uptown Almanac, that just may happen. The bookstore, which has been there 25 years and was paying $4500 a month in rent, was first told the rent would be increased to $6000/month and is now being asked to pay $8000 in the face of competing interest from a deep-pocketed chain retailer formerly known as Liz Claiborne Inc., which wants the space for its Jack Spade brand of men's bags, accessories, and apparel.

Unlike many of those who commented on the article, I don't blame the landlord. If he/she is asking $8000 a month for the bookstore to stay, then obviously Jack Spade is willing to pay at least that much. The $2000/month difference between $6000 and $8000 is $24,000 a year.

As I asked in a version of this comment posted on Uptown Almanac, would you take a $24,000 a year pay cut in exchange for keeping your neighborhood funkier and less commercialized, if the workload for you was going to be essentially the same either way?

If you would, and you have the kind of money where you can afford to make $24,000/year less than you otherwise could, in dedication to your aesthetic sense of beauty, justice, and so on, then we may have an easy solution to this problem. Just buy $24,000 in Adobe Books gift certificates for Christmas this year, and promise them you'll do the same next year in perpetuity or until the economy crashes and rents come down.

But in all likelihood you don't have the money to do that, and wouldn't do it if you did. If you would do it, that might well be why you *can't* do it -- because you haven't lived a money-accumulating lifestyle that would enable you to step in with such a gesture. Nothing wrong with that, but it may mean that from the landlord's perspective you're all talk and no walk if you're asking him/her to make the sacrifice.

The real problem here is that efforts to save businesses like Adobe Books under the present arrangement are basically fighting against the law of supply and demand and against market incentives, which is like trying to keep water from flowing downhill...




Pursuing this metaphor a bit further, the left's approach to this dilemma is basically to build dams. Since they don't have the political power to build the equivalent of a massive Three Gorges dam by banning all chain stores from SF (which would be a huge disruption of the economy and people's lives just as the real Three Gorges dam is a huge disruption to the environment and the people who live in that region of China), they seek to build a series of small dams by preventing the market from functioning, one development, one petition, one government hearing at a time.

Sometimes the dams get built, and sometimes they don't, but the war is slowly being lost. San Francisco is clearly becoming more gentrified and less alternative, and the obvious corollary to this is that it is becoming more politically conservative and less hospitable to leftist values.

The irony is that the left is doing this to themselves with anti-development policies. The water is going to go downhill, sooner or later, one way or another. Simply trying to prevent the market from functioning is a losing battle and will ultimately result in San Francisco losing the cool qualities that have long characterized the city.

But there is another way. Instead of fighting the laws of nature, we could choose to unleash market forces in a way that would favor poor people, artists, mom-and-pop businesses, the counterculture, and so on. Sound impossible? It's not. But it would take some radical changes, and mean abandoning the statism that has been the left's flawed weapon-of-choice in the fight to keep the city cool and funky. 

Here's a short outline of some of the changes that could make the city safe for places like Adobe Books to thrive -- maybe not that particular bookstore in that particular space if monied interests want it too badly, but certainly changes that would allow it and similar home-grown establishments to thrive.

• Get rid of zoning laws. Let people run businesses out of their homes, live in the back of their workplaces, turn industrial spaces into residential spaces and vice-versa, without any government bureaucracy, permit fees, or other red tape.

• Let anyone sell their stuff on the sidewalks or other public spaces without a permit. Call it Occupy 2.0.

• Eliminate the sales tax and other regressive government takings such as building inspection fees that fall hardest on small businesses.

• Allow property parcels to be subdivided into parcels as small as an owner wishes, and sold piecemeal. This would lower the economic barriers to becoming a land owner and produce lots of smaller, more affordable venues for businesses, community, and the arts.

• Trim the excessive rules and regulations from building codes so that existing spaces could be more readily modified and configured to get the most effective use out of these subdivided parcels.

• Allow not just food trucks, but all kinds of vehicle-based retail sales. Cut the red tape and permit expenses currently associated with such. And get rid of the laws against people sleeping in their vehicles, and provide more places for people to be able to park for longer periods at a stretch without fearing the street cleaning/towing/ticketing extortion operation (this would also help the environment by reducing the need for people to be continually and unnecessarily moving their vehicles).

Any of the above changes taken individually would help. Implementing the entire list would produce a countercultural entrepreneurial renaissance the likes of which has never been seen. No longer would it take tens of thousands of dollars to go into business, let alone afford your own space for retail or manufacturing. The door would be open for every Burning Man theme camp, every group of friends with a cool idea, to be able to realize that dream and have a place of their own right here in the city. Young people, artistic people, the kind of people who make a city vibrant and diverse, would flock back to San Francisco.

The chain stores could still have their big, sterile spaces, but with all the micro-businesses sprouting up around them and in the streets, who would care? The city by the bay would be fun and exciting again.

Essentially, San Franciscans have a choice. We can embrace the kind of libertarian market revolution that would turn the tables on the soulless, corporate businesses by allowing them to be out-competed by small, nimble, artistic and dynamic alternatives, or we can keep the Big Government status quo that is slowly killing us, winning a battle here and there while slowly losinthe war.