Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman paints a dystopian picture of San Francisco, where he lived for years before fleeing to Seattle. He describes a metropolis that was once diverse and bohemian descending into a homogeneous playground for wealthy tech workers.
“It was miserable,” he said on-stage at the Technology Alliance’s annual luncheon in Seattle Friday. “It was such a scene.”
Kelman is concerned that Seattle’s toxic political climate will prevent the city from rising to the challenges that threaten to turn it into San Francisco 2.0.
“When I got here, it had Weyerhaeuser and Boeing and Starbucks and Nordstrom,” he said. “You’d go to dinner and meet people who weren’t just another techster and that felt good. I just want to keep it that way and I don’t think it’s going to happen by itself. If we think we’re smarter than everyone else, we should figure it out. And if we don’t, let someone else.”
That “we” is the Seattle tech industry, which has taken a largely adversarial role against the City Council over a number of issues, most notably the head tax. Earlier this month, Seattle enacted a tax of about $275 per full-time employee, per year, on companies with more than $20 million in annual revenue. The tax’s goal is to fund the development of affordable housing and homeless services. It’s part of the city’s broader effort to prevent longtime residents from being displaced amid a historic tech boom, a problem plaguing San Francisco.
Kelman, like many of his peers, opposes the approach of the head tax but he’s concerned that the tech industry isn’t offering reasonable alternatives to deal with Seattle’s growing pains. In a widely-read blog post, Kelman criticized his colleagues for opposing efforts to enact an income tax in Washington state and the City of Seattle.
“Simply opposing every tax won’t work … now that the business community has blocked a reasonable statewide tax, we can’t be surprised the city is proposing unreasonable taxes instead,” Kelman wrote.
He sang a similar tune at the Tech Alliance luncheon Friday.
“When there’s a misguided initiative we can say, ‘don’t do that,’ but I just want us to say ‘do this instead,'” he said. “And if it’s beyond our kin because we’re not political scientists or sociologists, then you have to support the people who are elected.”
Kelman believes that the lack of support for elected officials deters people who might represent the interests of the tech industry from going into politics.
“The more contempt we heap upon the people who try to do public service the less good people will ever want to go into public service,” he said.