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Get outta town: startup offers workers $10,000 if they ‘delocate’ from Silicon Valley

Offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in Bay Area have complained about the cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage

A Silicon Valley startup is paying employees $10,000 to leave Silicon Valley.

Zapier, an automation company founded in 2011, has announced that it is offering new recruits a hefty de-location package if theyre willing to move away from the Bay Area, an unusual perk that offers yet another sign of the worsening housing crisis in northern California.

Zapier, where all employees work remotely, recently announced that if current Bay Area residents were interested in improving their familys standard of living by relocating, the firm would provide $10,000 in moving reimbursements. Since CEO Wade Foster posted about the package last week, the uptick in applicants has been dramatic, he said in an interview.

A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home, he said, noting that the firm heard from roughly 150 job applicants over the weekend, including 50 who specifically mentioned the de-location offer. Housing is really challenging.

The offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have increasingly complained about the high cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage. Tech workers earning between $100,000 and $700,000 recently spoke to the Guardian about their real estate struggles, and one study suggested that for some engineers, more than 50% of their salary goes to rent.

By many measures, San Francisco has the priciest real estate in the country.

The housing crisis has had devastating impacts on low-income neighborhoods, particularly communities of color, as the growth of companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter have helped spur mass evictions, homelessness and displacement.

Wade Foster, Zapiers CEO: A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home. Photograph: Zapier

But middle-class and wealthier tech workers have also spoken up about their difficulties buying homes and raising families near their jobs, leading to articles about the next Silicon Valley emerging in regions across the US, including Texas, the Pacific northwest and the Midwest.

Foster said he wanted to take advantage of tech workers desire to leave the Bay Area by offering a competitive package to those on the fence about staying in the region.

The Bay Area is a great place to live. Its fun to be here, said Foster, 30, who lives with his wife in Sunnyvale, a city located near the Facebook and Google campuses. At the end of the day, if you cant make the money side of it work, folks seem to be looking elsewhere.

Foster said he got the idea after two recent hires decided to move out of the Bay Area to Florida and Pennsylvania to be closer to their families. Weve basically just flipped relocation assistance on its head.

The $10,000 offer from Zapier a platform that connects apps to automate tasks and now employs 85 people bucks a number of trends in Silicon Valley hiring.

Facebook faced criticisms for accelerating gentrification and worsening the housing crunch when it offered employees $10,000 to leave near its Menlo Park campus. In 2013, Yahoo made headlines when it banned employees from working at home, arguing that communication in an office setting was critical.

Foster said he has long embraced remote working and that more startups should consider the model given how many talented workers want to move away from the epicenter of the industry.

Weve seen the technology advance to a state where people can legitimately work anywhere in the world, he said, noting that his staff is global, with clusters of employees in Austin, Portland and the Bay Area.

Foster said he enjoys living in Silicon Valley, but he doesnt know how long hell stay either. As we start to think about a family ourselves, its a decision were weighing.

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Scraping by on six figures? Tech workers feel poor in Silicon Valley’s wealth bubble

Big tech companies pay some of the countrys best salaries. But workers claim the high cost of living in the Bay Area has them feeling financially strained

I didnt become a software engineer to be trying to make ends meet, said a Twitter employee in his early 40s who earns a base salary of $160,000. It is, he added, a pretty bad income for raising a family in the Bay Area.

The biggest cost is his $3,000 rent which he said was ultra cheap for the area for a two-bedroom house in San Francisco, where he lives with his wife and two kids. Hed like a slightly bigger property, but finds himself competing with groups of twentysomethings happy to share accommodation while paying up to $2,000 for a single room.

Families are priced out of the market, he said, adding that family-friendly cafes and restaurants have slowly been replaced by hip coffee shops.

Silicon Valleys latest tech boom, combined with a housing shortage, has caused rents to soar over the last five years. The citys rents, by one measure, are now the highest in the world.

The prohibitive costs have displaced teachers, city workers, firefighters and other members of the middle class, not to mention low-income residents.

Now techies, many of whom are among the highest 1% of earners, are complaining that they, too, are being priced out.

The Twitter employee said he hit a low point in early 2014 when the company changed its payroll schedule, leaving him with a hole in his budget. I had to borrow money to make it through the month.

He was one of several tech workers, earning between $100,000 and $700,000 a year, who vented to the Guardian about their financial situation. Almost all of them spoke only on the condition of anonymity, or agreed only to give their first names, fearing retribution by their employers for speaking publicly about their predicament.

The American dream is not working out here

Complaints from well-compensated tech workers will sound like chutzpah to many of the other 99% who are struggling to get by on a fraction of their income. But there appears to be a growing frustration among tech workers who say that they are struggling to get by.

Facebook engineers last year even raised the issue with founder Mark Zuckerberg, asking whether the company could subsidize their rents to make their living situation more affordable, according to an executive at the company who has since departed.

The cost of housing is a common complaint among Bay Area techies. Engineers can expect, according to one analysis, to pay between 40% and 50% of their salary renting an apartment near work.

Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One Apple employee was recently living in a Santa Cruz garage, using a compost bucket as a toilet. Another tech worker, enrolled in a coding bootcamp, described how he lived with 12 other engineers in a two-bedroom apartment rented via Airbnb. It was $1,100 for a fucking bunk bed and five people in the same room. One guy was living in a closet, paying $1,400 for a private room.

We make over $1m between us, but we cant afford a house, said a woman in her 50s who works in digital marketing for a major telecoms corporation, while her partner works as an engineer at a digital media company. This is part of where the American dream is not working out here.

The prospect of losing her job and not having health insurance is a particular concern, given that she had cancer a couple of years ago. If Obamacare goes away and I lose my job I am deeply screwed, she said.

Michelle, a 28-year-old tech worker who earns a six-figure salary at a data science startup said her only chance of buying a home would be if she combined income with a partner. For all the feminist movement of you can do it all, the concept of home ownership is really truly out of reach, she said. For me thats disheartening.

Another tech worker feeling excluded from the real estate market was 41-year-old Michael, who works at a networking firm in Silicon Valley and last year earned $700,000. Sick of his 22-mile commute to work, which can sometimes take up to two and half hours, he explored buying a property nearer work.

We went to an open house in Los Gatos that would shorten my commute by eight miles. It was 1,700 sq ft and listed at $1.4m. It sold in 24 hours for $1.7m, he said.

Although he said his salary means he can afford to live a decent life, he finds the cost of living, combined with the terrible commute, unpalatable. Hes had enough, and has accepted a 50% pay cut to relocate to San Diego.

We will be unequivocally better off than we are now. He said he wont miss some of the more mundane day-to-day costs, like spending $8 on a bagel and coffee or $12 on freshly pressed juice.

Michael isnt the only tech worker considering leaving Silicon Valley in search of a better life. A Canadian IT specialist in his late 40s, earning more than $200,000, has a similar plan. When I came to the Bay Area the amount of money they were going to pay me seemed absurd, he said. However, the cost of rent and childcare, which cost more than I paid for my university education in Canada, has been hard to swallow.

Sam, 40, lives with his wife and three kids in San Jose, earning around $120,000 a year at a multinational software company. I get paid a very good wage, but I have three kids, childcare is ridiculously expensive so my wife mostly takes care of them, he said.

He feels pressure being the sole breadwinner. Ive got no safety net, he said. I have credit cards, but this is not sustainable. If something bad happened Id be out of the house in a month.

Glaring inequality

Fred Sherburn Zimmer from San Franciscos Housing Rights Committee agreed that housing is too expensive in the Bay Area, but points out that there are much graver consequences for people not working in tech.

For a senior whose healthcare is down the street, moving might be a death sentence, she said. For an immigrant family with two kids, moving out of a sanctuary city like San Francisco means you could get deported. She described a building in San Francisco where there are 28 people living in studio-like closets in a basement, including a senior and families with children.

For their part, many well-paid tech workers complaining about their own predicament say they also sympathize with the plight of people on more ordinary incomes.

We think a lot about how people with normal jobs afford to live here, said the Canadian IT specialist. The answer is: they dont. They commute from farther and farther afield.

The digital marketer added: During the first dotcom boom we had secretaries commuting three hours into work Its happening again. It was absurd then and its absurd now, she said, adding that she and her husband both know what its like to be poor.

A man walks by a homeless woman sleeping on the sidewalk San Franciscos Tenderloin district. Photograph: Gabrielle Lurie for the Guardian

Sam, who works at the software company, isnt optimistic about the future. The only solution I see is a huge reset and weve already done that once in the last decade. It was really painful for a lot of people, including myself, he said, referring to the dotcom crash in the early 2000s.

Some tech workers expressed a sense of guilt about their complaints when so many people are worse off, including San Franciscos desperate homeless population.

You are literally stepping over people to get to your job to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Michael. How do you go about your daily life as if it doesnt matter?

He suggested venture capitalists should stop investing in stupid applications and funnel some money into solving real societal problems like homelessness.

You are caught in this really uncomfortable position. You feel very guilty seeing such poverty and helplessness, added Michelle, the 28-year-old on a six-figure wage. But what are you supposed to do? Not make a lot of money? Not advocate for yourself and then not afford to live here?

Sam agreed. The whiny millennial snowflake type would say youre a terrible person making things worse for us. The truth is, if I gave up, what would I do? Should I knit sweaters and trade them?

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How a failed attempt to get porn off the internet protects Airbnb from the law

The story of Airbnbs current battle with San Francisco over regulation actually begins with a senator who prayed to control the pollution of internet porn

Airbnb, like pornography, is a business based on selling a fantasy. Porn offers the simulacrum of a sexual encounter; Airbnb, that of being a local in a city not ones own. Theres less fuss, less muss, and a much reduced chance of STDs and irritated neighbors.

At least, theres less fuss for the visitors. Cities around the world, however, are waking up to the headache of hosting transient populations in previously residential neighborhoods, and attempting to crack down.

But while local politicians in Reykjavk, Berlin and Barcelona are taking a stand against Airbnb, their counterparts in the United States have struggled to come up with regulations that have teeth.

On Monday, Airbnb sued San Francisco in federal court, seeking to prevent the city from enacting a strict new law that would put the $26.5bn company on the hook for ensuring that its listings comply with local regulations.

Suing its hometown is a tricky move for a company that has attempted to brand itself with the sense of belonging, but legal experts tend to agree that Airbnb is in the right: Airbnb is protected from much local regulation by a twenty-year-old federal law that was originally intended to purge the internet of porn.

How Section 230 changed the internet

In the summer of 1995 back when it took at least an hour to download a decent nude photo from the internet, let alone a video senator James Exon of Nebraska took to the floor of the US Senate to deliver a prayer over the virtual but virtueless reality of internet pornography.

Almighty God, Lord of all life, we praise You for the advancements in computerized communications that we enjoy in our time, he intoned, before beseeching God to guide the Senate in regulating indecency out of the internet, or as he put it, consider ways of controlling the pollution of computer communications.

Exons prayer was answered with the passage of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a much-maligned law that was decried by free speech advocates, dismissed as a departing Senators half-baked notions by the New York Times editorial board, and swiftly struck down by the supreme court.

Twenty years later, what remains of Exons quixotic quest for a godly cyberspace is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a last minute addition to the legislation that nevertheless has become the linchpin of the modern, open internet.

Section 230 holds that providers of interactive computer services cannot be held liable for the content that users post on their sites. That means that Yelp cannot be held liable for users leaving negative reviews of your business and eBay cannot be held liable if you bid on an autographed baseball that ends up being counterfeit: the platforms are held to be neutral intermediaries and their tantalizingly deep pockets are out of reach.

Senator Ron Wyden told the Guardian that he and Chris Cox, then a Republican congressman from Orange County, California, wrote Section 230 to allow the internet to grow and flourish, and prevent lawsuits from crushing new platforms for commerce, education and speech.

At the time, I certainly thought it would be useful and create jobs in the digital economy, but did not imagine its impact as a cornerstone of internet law allowing for the existence of social media and numerous other types of online businesses, he added.

Indeed, internet advocates credit Section 230 with enabling the web we have today, in all its diversity.

What does the internet look like in a non-Section 230 world? asked Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. It looks like online classified ads. Think how much better our lives are because we have online marketplaces instead.

Attempts to crack down on Airbnb

The internet may be governed by federal law, but the acceptable uses of an apartment or house (or any structure or piece of land) are very much the province of local governments, many of which either ban or curtail short-term rentals.

Almost all short-term rentals in San Francisco were illegal until 2014, unless the host obtained a permit to run an old-fashioned bed and breakfast. Even after the city legalized short-term rentals if hosts registered with the city and followed certain rules less than a quarter of the approximately 7,000 Airbnb hosts signed up. New York state law forbids renting an entire unit in an apartment building for fewer than 30 days, which means a significant percentage of short-term rentals in one of Airbnbs largest markets are illegal as well.

As cities attempt to crack down on the bad actors, Airbnb is an obvious target. The company knows who is renting units, and when, and could much more easily discover and punish anyone breaking local rules than government workers can.

Its just shameful that when Airbnb knows that cities are struggling to maintain their stock of affordable housing and keep tenants in housing, that they refuse to work with cities and states to have their platform not be used for illegal rentals, said New York state assembly member Linda Rosenthal.

Airbnb is not the first online platform to earn money off potentially illegal activity, to the consternation of local officials. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

The fact that Airbnb has the capacity to act on behalf of the government does not mean it should do so, however, argued Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Weve always had intermediaries. Long before the internet came along, there was the phone company, and that was the place that cops and regulators would go to find out who was doing what, Tien said.

Imagine if the phone company were actually legally liable for everything that phone users said. The protection of intermediaries is very important to protecting any kind of privacy that we have.

Airbnb is not the first online platform to earn money off potentially illegal activity, to the consternation of local officials. Several states have tried to crackdown on online sex work advertisements and online ticket scalping, only to run into Section 230.

StubHub has been sued a gazillion times and there are a whole lot of people saying they are facilitating the circumvention of anti-scalping laws, Tien said. I suspect that the percentage of transactions on StubHub that violate some states anti-scalping law are pretty high, but that doesnt matter because of Section 230.

The Communications Decency Act doesnt render all business laws moot simply because a business happens to operate on the internet, said Matt Dorsey, press secretary for the San Francisco city attorney, which will defend the citys law at a hearing on 1 August.

Regulators versus the online marketplace

While San Francisco prepares to defend its bill in court, other cities are wading into the legal morass as well. The Los Angeles city council is considering regulations that also attempt to put Airbnb on the hook for ensuring the legality of its users listings.

If San Franciscos law is thrown out by a judge, other cities may head back to the drawing board and try a new approach.

Thats typical for local regulators confronting a new online marketplace, Tien said. First, they go after the platform, then after they realize the limitations imposed by Section 230, they move onto another strategy.

Im hoping that were moving into the second phase, he said, into areas that will not run afoul of the values that 230 is trying to protect.

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Burning Man buys 3,800-acre ranch is it about to build a year-round festival?

Festival organizers purchased a 3,800-acre property in Nevada for $6.5m, but usually the city is built then burned as a statement about impermanence

Burning Man, a hedonistic 10-day festival in the Nevada desert, has bought a massive property where it plans to build a year-round location.

Festival organizers announced today theyve closed on a deal on Fly Ranch, a 3,800-acre property in Washoe County, Nevada, for $6.5m, half what owner Sam Jasick asked for a few years ago (he has since passed away, and his son Todd was more interested in closing the sale). At recent Burning Man festivals, organizers said they were taking potential investors on tours including well-known burners and technologists SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and Airbnb executive and Burning Man board member Chip Conley. None have confirmed involvement in the Fly Ranch deal.

For the longtime Burning Man community its a controversial decision: the premise of Burning Man is that its a city built and then broken and burned at the end of the festival as a statement about impermanence.

Fly Ranch will involve year-round infrastructure. The Burning Man organizers, who in 2012 created a not-for-profit group in part to make this purchase feasible, explained their decision to make the temporary festival permanent.

Those who have been deeply affected by a Burning Man event or experience have often asked, How can we bring this beyond the event? How can we make this really matter? And we too have wondered, What would it mean to have a year-round location beyond the playa? What if we had a place to experiment with and apply the Ten Principles 365 days a year, in addition to the one-week event?

Organizers called the purchase the next step in the grand experiment that is Burning Man.

In early plans for the land, Burning Man architect Rod Garrett wrote in a lengthy proposal that at Fly Ranch: Employees and affiliates may build on a Homestead basis, or rent or buy into the Village community at the projects north end.

Fly Ranch has 640 acres of wetland and dozens of hot and cold spring-water pools. A small flat area would serve as a new campground, while the Fly Geyser, the result of drilling in 1964, releases a constant stream of water that shoots five feet into the air. Burning Man is usually held in Nevadas Black Rock Desert, but has a long history with the Fly Ranch, briefly moving there in 1997 after someone died during the festival the year before.

The first Burning Man was held on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, but when co-founder Larry Harvey and his friends tried to burn a wooden effigy of a man it would not burn. Police eventually broke up the beach party, but a tradition was born. Since then, Burning Man has become an enormous, established festival with 70,000 attendees last year and multiple offshoots around the world.

For Silicon Valley, its a crucial annual gathering. Elon Musk has said you cant understand Silicon Valley unless youve been to Burning Man. As tech wealth has grown, technologists are building themselves increasingly luxurious camps and arriving regularly by private plane, which has led to class tension during the event.

For now Burning Mans not saying much more about it other than that the Fly Ranch location is under construction and Burners should not try to visit the ranch. Note: Do not try to visit Fly Ranch during Burning Man 2016. Seriously.

Burning Man co-founder Will Roger said a few years ago that he wanted to build a utopia people could live in year-round: What interests me is the experiment in a permanent community.

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