By: Gregory Nicholas
When I was first approached to write a piece on the rise of Silicon Beach and its effect on Los Angeles entertainment culture and business, I thought it would be a breeze. I researched eviction statistics, housing numbers, job numbers, and looked at more graphs than I can count. I took this assignment as I have a unique perspective on the situation being from San Francisco (now living in LA) and seeing what both the dot-com bust of the early 2000’s and the more recent tech resurgence have done to the creative city I once called home.
Like most SF transplants I have a knee jerk reaction whenever the subject of the “tech invasion” and the subsequent artist forced exodus comes up. I witnessed firsthand musicians, sculptors, creative nonprofits, cultural personalities and artists in general forced out of the homes they lived in for years just to make way for the wave of nouveau riche to fill the spaces with their seemingly endless funding and painful lack of cultural flavor. I saw the people that made San Francisco the wonderfully strange bohemian playground it was known for, pushed into the outskirts of the foggy city that inspired their creativity. The vintage fur coats and velvet pants were replaced by polo shirts and cargo shorts. The light of the city was being snuffed out by the weight of hundred dollar bills and the conversations overheard at coffee shops turned from Kafka to Buffet (Warren not Jimmy). In the years prior it was a cliché that everyone in San Francisco was a DJ, now everyone is a CEO. And now the same thing is about to happen to my new city, or is it?
I thought it would be easy for me to quickly dismiss the Los Angeles tech invasion that loomed on the horizon as the thing that would kill the creative energy that draws so many to this city. Again I let my skeptical predisposition control my reaction to that concept without really thinking about it. Then I realized that I was comparing two cities that despite geographical proximity are two very different places. San Francisco’s “Achilles Heal” is its size. Famously 7 miles by 7 miles, SF has a limited number of desirable living spaces and areas that are sought after by both old school locals and newly gilded tech transplants.
Los Angeles doesn’t really have that problem. Unburdened by natural boundaries, the sprawl of the city can continue to branch out in every direction allowing all who want to join the fray to do so. There just simply isn’t enough space in the bay area to accommodate the number of people that want to live there. And law of supply and demand drove landlords to inevitably and sometimes painfully evict the tenants in favor of this new crowd that were willing to pay double the going rate. While the liberal side of me cringes at the concept of creative, not always well paid, artists being forced out by the heartless ogre landlords, I can’t really fault the landlords either. Anyone wants the greatest return on any investment they undertake. And rental property is just that, an investment. I don’t know many property owners that had philanthropic ideals when they purchased an apartment building in the Tenderloin. But Los Angeles has enough low, middle and high income housing options that I don’t foresee as many instances of Johnny Startup getting an old sculptor kicked out of her rent controlled apartment kind of near the beach in Venice, happening.
One of the biggest mistakes the tech transplants made in San Francisco was trying to assimilate into a culture that they were responsible for destroying. They couldn’t understand why people were angry with them as they moved their leather couches into the warehouse that only months ago threw really good after-parties. But again, I don’t think Los Angeles would really have that problem. There are enough bars, clubs and restaurants of all financial demographics that one group would not have to be displaced to accommodate another one.
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