San Francisco exodus as tech giants lean in to remote work

Kyala Brown, right, and her family have lunch at their new home in El Cerrito, California. Brown’s family previously lived in San Francisco. (AFP)
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Updated 14 September 2020

San Francisco exodus as tech giants lean in to remote work

  • Work-from-home trend is disrupting a top hub for tech talent amid the COVID-19 crisis

SAN FRANCISCO: Real estate agent Kilby Stenkamp sees moving vans on San Francisco streets where she used to see building cranes and tech company hipsters.

A work-from-home trend kicked into overdrive by the pandemic is disrupting a city long a mecca for tech talent.

“People are leaving San Francisco, and they’re taking their jobs with them,” Stenkamp said.

“There used to be cranes on the landscape, now it’s U-Haul trucks.”

Tech workers who flocked to San Francisco to be near Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other internet firms are moving to parts of the US where life is slower and the cost of living cheaper.

Tech titans are encouraging the trend. The exodus has left some downtown skyscrapers deserted, shops doubting reopening, and streets haunts of the homeless.

Rents here have fallen by an average of 10 percent, while home prices in communities across the Golden Gate Bridge are climbing, according to real estate agents.

Facebook is changing its hiring practices to recruit talent far and wide instead of needing workers to live near campuses.

The social networking giant said it even might save money, since it adjusts the pay for positions based on local cost of living.

Back in March, San Francisco became one of the first US cities to implement restrictions of moving around for work, school and other activities. Nearly six months later, life shows little sign of returning to the way it was before the pandemic, causing some residents to question whether to stay.

“Once upon a time, a reason why we wouldn’t have wanted to move was because we had friends who had kids the same age as ours and we saw them all the time,” said consultant Kyla Brown, who left the city for a town about 25 km away. “Practicality right now was the No. 1 priority; social life has all gone down the drain, thanks to COVID.”

The family moved closer to Brown’s parents for babysitting needs, and work is done by telecommute.

Twitter and online work collaboration tech firm Slack have announced employees can work from home indefinitely.

Online bulletin board Pinterest announced recently that it spent $90 million to cancel a lease for more Silicon Valley office space, saying it will stick with its current San Francisco offices.




More than 2,000 businesses have permanently closed their doors in the San Francisco Bay area due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. (AFP)

“As we analyze how our workplace will change in a post-COVID world, we are specifically rethinking where future employees could be based,” said Pinterest head of business operations Todd Morgenfeld.

“A more distributed workforce will give us the opportunity to hire people from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences.”

Google and Facebook are not expecting workers to return to their campuses until the middle of next year at the earliest.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said he expects half of the firm’s employees will be able to permanently do their jobs from home within 5 to 10 years.

“It is a lot easier to move bytes around than to move atoms around,” Zuckerberg quipped at one point. “So I’d much rather have us teleport by using virtual reality or video chat than sit in traffic.”

Many workers are delighted to reclaim hours wasted in Silicon Valley commute traffic, even if in the comfort of chartered buses complete with wireless internet.

French financial analyst Romain Daubec and his American wife, a Facebook employee, are leaving the Mission District despite a cut in rent due to the pandemic.

Reasons included that the cost of living is still high, the social scene has withered, and many of their friends have already left.

The couple set their sights on Denver, some 2,000 km away but in a close time zone to Silicon Valley.

They get the beauty of mountains and the joy of paying about 30 percent less in rent.

While Facebook and other tech firms ultimately adjust pay to local costs of living, states such as Colorado and Texas pay tax at much lower rates than San Francisco.


Liberalization of dollar exchange rate at hospitals leaves people dying in their homes

Updated 12 min 6 sec ago

Liberalization of dollar exchange rate at hospitals leaves people dying in their homes

  • Lebanese doctors emigrate after their money, lives, and homeland idea are stolen

BEIRUT: The American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) has adopted the banks’ approved dollar exchange rate, which is 3,900 Lebanese pounds, in a number of its departments instead of the official exchange rate, which is fixed at 1,507 Lebanese pounds.

This decision has sparked a state panic among people, who fear that the entire private hospital sector would follow suit.

Based on the decision of the AUBMC’s administration, the entrance fee to its emergency department is now 600 thousand Lebanese pounds. This fee did not exceed previously 190,000 Lebanese pounds. Moreover, a visit to a doctor in the hospital’s outpatient clinics jumped to 225,000 Lebanese pounds after it was a maximum of 120,000 Lebanese pounds.

The value of the Lebanese pound against the dollar collapsed during the financial crisis that Lebanon has been facing since the end of 2019. There are now three exchange rates for the dollar. The official exchange rate remains at 1,507 Lebanese pounds, and it applies only to imports of fuel, medicine, and wheat as well as hospitalization costs and insurance agencies. Banks apply an exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds for dollar deposits. The dollar exchange rate on the black market is 8,300 Lebanese pounds.

Lebanon is suffering from a shortage of dollar reserves at the Banque du Liban, and this has been reflected in the gradual removal of subsidies on basic materials, especially medicine.

The president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, Suleiman Haroun, said: “There is pressure on private hospitals, but we hope that part of the dues for private hospitals will be paid so that they can carry out their duties.”

Haroun warned that “if the subsidy on medical supplies and medicines is removed, people will die in their homes and not at the doors of hospitals.”

He said that he had been informed by an importer that the central bank had removed subsidies on sterilization materials.

Haroun pointed out that the decision of one of the major hospitals to adopt the dollar exchange rate of 3,950 Lebanese pounds does not apply to the official tariffs with the guarantors.

The most prominent of these guarantors are the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), the Cooperative of Government Employees, and tens of health insurance companies.

The director-general of the Cooperative of Government Employees, Dr. Yahya Khamis, warned that the hospitals’ adoption of a dollar exchange rate of 3,950 Lebanese pounds means that “disaster will inevitably happen.”

Bechara Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, expects other private hospitals to follow the example of the AUBMC early next week. He warned against “the policy of infiltrating the rights of the working class and people with limited incomes.”

He said: “This means an increase in the cost of the hospital bill to more than three times and the collapse of the purchasing power of citizens and guarantors. This will result from the inability of the NSSF, the Cooperative of Government Employees, military sectors, and insurance companies to fulfill their obligations. The citizens will have to bear the difference, which is equivalent to double what the guarantor companies pay.”

Asmar highlighted that “this will lead to the collapse of the health system as a whole.”

The decision’s advocates believe that adopting the banks’ dollar exchange rate for the pricing of hospital services is similar to what happens with the subsidized food basket – this subsidization adopts the dollar exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds, not the fixed official exchange rate of 1,507 Lebanese pounds.

An official in an insurance company said: “If the matter applies to all medical services in hospitals, the difference that will result from the hospitals and insurance agencies’ adoption of the fixed exchange rate will be borne by either the citizen or the insurance companies, which still charge the citizens insurance premiums at the official exchange rate.”

The head of the General Labor Union refused to adopt “any hidden tariff, as is currently happening, because this would be met with immediate action, taking to the streets, and staging sit-ins outside these hospitals.”

Health Minister Hamad Hasan stressed on Thursday that “subsidies for the health and hospital sectors and the medicine sector will not be affected at the present time, and this is out of the question.”

Hasan announced that a solution has been reached “between the Syndicate of Private Hospitals and the Ministry of Health requiring that dues are paid to private hospitals within a month for coronavirus patients through a loan of $39 million from the World Bank.”

He said: “The Ministry of Health follows the Lebanese law, and everyone must participate in the solution, not the other way around. Enough bidding on people’s pain. Any individual action taken by a hospital exposes it to accountability.”

Former Health Minister Mohamed Jawad Khalife, however, said: “The decision of the AUBMC is very transparent because all the hospitals charge patients based on the dollar exchange rate of 3,000 Lebanese pounds without officially announcing it. Let the minister of health kindly take from me an admission document into any hospital to realize that the 15-percent difference between the pricing of the Ministry of Health and that of the hospitals is received by the hospitals, which charge citizens 8,000 Lebanese pounds.”

It does not seem that the problem of hospitalization in Lebanon is limited to the financial issue. Hospitals are facing the resignation of many of their doctors, who are emigrating to other countries after accepting offers after the collapse of the purchasing power of the national currency.

One of the nurses at a well-known hospital in Beirut said: “The hospital is in a very bad condition as if it is deserted. Patients who used to come from abroad for hospitalization in Lebanon can no longer come because of coronavirus. Lebanese patients postpone non-urgent operations until after the pandemic. Some of the doctors whose incomes have declined due to the financial crisis and the coronavirus crisis began to emigrate abroad. Among these are well-known doctors.”

Former Health Minister Dr. Karam Karam said: “In the 1980s, doctors emigrated from Lebanon because of the war, but there remained hope in the country. Now, we have many qualified doctors leaving Lebanon either to the United States or to the Arabian Gulf countries, and the reason is financial. Many of these doctors’ children are continuing their education abroad, and the doctors are no longer able to pay their tuitions due to the freezing of their deposits.”

He added: “As a doctor, what I earn is not sufficient to pay my clinic's rent or my assistant’s salary. More seriously, there are a number of highly qualified histologists who will leave Lebanon as well. The situation is tragic. They stole our money, our lives, and our dignity. They even stole the idea of the homeland. They are a group of thieves and mafia controlling this homeland. They made us hate Lebanon and even Palestine because of what they do in their names.”