Twitter began trading on the New York Stock Exchange at 9:30 a.m. this morning. At the same time, 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, a group of 20 protesters rallied outside of the social media giant’s headquarters.
The activists took issue with the $22 million tax break the city gave Twitter in 2011 to keep its offices in San Francisco. The protesters argued that the city's lost tax revenue directly impacts funds for public programs for the indigent. Though this particular protest aimed squarely at Twitter, it's not the only company that has been incentivized to stick around. The big question is: What value do fast-growing start-ups bring to their hometown?
For the citizens of San Francisco on this chilly Thursday morning, opinions ran the gamut.
“Twitter, what is your public offering?”
“Hey! Hey! Have you heard? Twitter is a greedy bird!” participants chanted in a call and response fashion. Some signs read, “Twitter, what is your public offering?”
“I don’t mind if you move in and got millions of dollars. But at least give something back to the community,” Bruce Allison, 62, of San Francisco said.
Allison was among the protesters this morning, representing Poor Magazine where he is a staff writer. Allison spent a few years in the early 2000s homeless, but now rents in San Francisco’s rapidly changing SoMa district, which is known as the home of dozens of tech companies including Yelp, Zynga and Airbnb.
Many of the protesters argued that the influx of tech workers to the Bay Area has created a shortage of housing and, more specifically, an extreme shortage of affordable housing. Allison said that an 82-year-old friend of his was recently evicted, and his wife of two years also lost her apartment before they were married.
Another protester: Lisa Gray-Garcia, a single mother who has been homeless for the past year, can rattle off a list of people she knows that have been evicted, too, including herself.
“There are a lot of programs in this city that serve low income communities that really need that money. The list is endless,” Gray-Garcia said. “There are public services that need that tax to survive.”
As part of this tax break, the city requires Twitter to pledge part of the savings to better the community through a Community Benefits Agreement. The city recommends 30 percent, but that isn't a required percentage. Twitter has been tight-lipped on the topic, but a company rep recently told Buzzfeed: “There is an incorrect assumption that we are getting a lot of cash back from the city."
As for the housing shortage, most San Francisco residents will readily point out that they’ve seen rents shoot up over the past several years. However at least one person I talked to said the issue is complicated.
“Everyone deserves a decent place to live. The people that are there deserve better,” Lynn Paulsen said, speaking of the impoverished area of San Francisco right next to Twitter’s headquarters. Paulsen is a fifth generation resident of San Francisco’s Inner Sunset district.
She added, “While I think we need to do better, I don’t think Twitter has anything to do with it.”
Twitter's shares closed at $44.90--just shy of the $45.10 opening price.