It's taken most of the fall, but something has gone out of the air. The sense of fevered pressure that pervaded the city last spring -- the Dot-Com Spring, people are calling it now, as if it were on a par with the Summer of Love -- has trickled away; a significant amount of hot gas has been vented from the balloon economy.
Walking through the Mission at 1:30 on a chilly Sunday morning, Dog Bites had the odd sensation that it was possible to take a deeper breath than it had been half a year back, when everybody you met wanted to tell you about his business model, and a weirdly vacant greed seemed to have replaced all common sense. Virtual Post-It notes for Web sites? Same-day dog leash delivery? Free customized online party invitations? Hey, with an idea like that, why wouldn't you become a millionaire?
But since then reality has set in, a little at a time; though all summer long everything seemed about the same, our collective suspension of disbelief was failing. "People have been talking about it for a year, and now we're finally seeing it," said Meredith Martin, a sales agent at Lofts Unlimited; she rents lofts to a dot-com-heavy clientele. "Where we've seen the biggest impact is in the rental market. Most of these dot-coms are not buying, they're renting. Rental prices are getting a lot more competitive from where they were. A year ago you were looking at $2.50 a square foot [per month]. Then by January it was up to $3 a square foot. Then in the spring $4 was the norm. Now you're lucky to get $3, even in some of the places in South Beach."
Prop. K? Prop. L? Martin mused that at the same time rental rates are falling, there are 14 or 15 large live-work developments nearing completion in the southeastern part of the city. Take the new condos at Sixth and Brannan -- which Dog Bites privately thinks of as On-Ramp Estates. "They were originally going to be sold, but [Village Properties, the developer] looked at the figures and decided it made more sense to rent, " she said. "But if the rental prices are going to be affected, they may go back to offering them for sale. Developers never want to leave money on the table."
And then -- well, we were going to try not to mention the presidential election, but one of our friends made a comment we think expresses something a lot of people are secretly thinking. OK, he was being flippant, but he said he hoped that, when all the re-counting is done, Bush will emerge the winner, because then the economy will tank and he'll finally, finally be able to move. "Screw Roe v. Wade," we summed up for him. "I want a new apartment."
Over at Backflip -- long a popular venue for dot-com launch parties -- General Manager Charmaine Carnes said, "We certainly aren't seeing those huge parties anymore. Our business has increased, but our launch parties have decreased. I'll be honest: I have concern for the year 2001, 2002, seeing where the economy takes us in the entertainment industry."
Of course, the center lane of Valencia is still Reserved Asshole Parking on Saturday night; but even so the crowds of sidewalk smokers seem a little less bumptious, a little less sure their stock option ships will come in. At Gordon's House of Fine Eats, host Jay Beattie observed, "There's less extravagant spending. I don't notice a lot of guys in blue shirts coming in here and spending $400 on just wine."
Later we called some SOMA power lunch spots. Nobody seemed especially overjoyed. "There was a lot of venture capital money being thrown around, and that's not the case anymore," said MoMo's owner Peter Osborne. "The stronger companies will survive, but the dot-com revolution is now an evolution."
South Park, by now highlighted in all but the least hip San Francisco guidebooks as a place where the curious may gawk at the digital revolution's twentysomething millionaires, is quieter too. "Some companies are just gone," said Kathleen Hagen, a co-owner of Ristorante Ecco, whose lunchtime dining room used to fairly bristle with Palm Pilots. "EGroups used to be in the building behind us -- Yahoo! bought them and closed the building down. Now it's just empty. We definitely are seeing less of [the dot-coms]."
But not everybody is sorry to see the cycle winding down. One employee of a certain Union Square nightspot which, during the spring, seemed to be hosting a launch party every night of the week, asked, "Can I tell you a little secret? I'm glad it's over. They were annoying. I was fully against the whole thing. Their parties, granted, were nice. But the energy they created -- it was all greed and money. Every one of those people was just money grubbing. That's all they projected."
Is Dog Bites smug? No, not really. Of course it's always nice to see cupidity get its comeuppance. But it's easy, living in a boomtown and being driven slowly insane by a boomtown's annoyances, to forget what it's like to, say, look for work in a recession. And we also wonder whether reports of the death of dot-com-dom aren't, perhaps, greatly exaggerated. After all, weren't people predicting the New Economy's imminent decease last October?
Still, well -- something just feels different. Or, as MoMo's Osborne commented: "The buzz isn't on the street. The buzz is definitely not on the street."
Breaking News: Bush Leads Prop. L by 337 Votes
Sure, everyone who prematurely called the presidential election in favor of Bush feels embarrassed. But what about the more local case of those who prematurely assumed Prop. L had passed? Uh ....
Last Thursday, a triumphant Sue Hestor -- the land-use attorney and longtime civic activist who'd helped draft Prop. L -- took the opportunity of public comment at the city Planning Commission to gloat about her electoral victory, which has since turned out not to be a victory at all.
"In hindsight it was amusing. It wasn't amusing at the time," said architect and developer Jeff Heller, of Heller.Manus Architects, who was at the meeting. "She was getting up and saying, basically, "You have to listen to us and do what we tell you to do, and by the way all those buildings that were approved as multimedia need to be reclassified as office and taken off the cap.'"
Needless to say, Hestor isn't especially popular in Heller's circles. "She's always lecturing the commission about how she's right and they're wrong," he claimed.
We asked Hestor about her comments to the commission. Or at least, we tried to ask; she hung up on us once. "I consider the Weekly to be a hostile paper," she said, when we called her back. "So ask me your questions, and I will decide whether I will answer them or not."
We asked away; Hestor, while not especially forthcoming, said Heller had "misunderstood" her. "Office buildings that are not called office buildings are still office buildings," she said.
And, according to Hestor, the battle over Prop. L may turn out to be even more like the presidential race than we'd guessed. "If Prop. L doesn't pass, we'll resolve this in court," she said.
Readers' Freeway Comment Corner
Dog Bites is giving some serious consideration to turning ourselves into a kind of William Safire-esque language pedant; the amount of e-mail we've been receiving on the subject of articles preceding freeway numbers suggests that linguistic nitpicking is probably of more interest to our readers than we'd previously suspected. Why? Why? You don't see us pitching a fit every time someone on television says "manual re-count by hand," do you?
Reader Eric Crawford writes, "I wondered about that for a long time, and eventually it just dawned on me: (1) the first modern freeways were in LA. They got names like: the Santa Monica Freeway, the Hollywood Freeway, the Long Beach Freeway .... (2) So when they started designating these things with numbers like "405' decades later, the "the' stuck. (3) But in Northern California we never had "The Santa Rosa Freeway' or "The Gilroy Expressway.' Therefore, no "the 101' in Northern California, just "101.'"
Pieter Bach has a slightly different view: "Using "the' before a freeway doesn't necessarily indicate a Southern Californian. Many of us who grew up in Southern California in the '50's remember when all freeways were referred to by number alone. The unnecessary use of the article as an identifier is a status indicator pointing to newcomers. The article is correctly used when referring to named freeways/highways but not used when referring to numbers. Thus, "the Santa Ana Freeway,' "the Junipero Serra,' etc., but "take 280 east to Park' or "get on 101 southbound.'"
And Toby Jackson adds, "Here's another spin on the use of identifying a person's origin by how they refer to the freeways. Like most people from the Northeast (or at least the met NY area) I've never referred to a freeway by its number. NY freeways are always referred to by their name (Sprain Brook, Cross Westchester, Van Wyck, etc.). This information has no real applicable use, but like any good New Yorker, I just couldn't resist butting in."
The Biter Bitten?
Of course, now that our options for online shopping have been severely limited (see first item), it's easier to concentrate on the uses for which the Internet was really intended: the distribution of parody Palm Beach County ballots and rumors about the latest doings at the Chronicle -- of which, incidentally, John Oppedahl, former publisher of the Arizona Republic, is expected to be formally announced as publisher this Wednesday.
Dog Bites was touched to hear that our obsession with the Voice of the West hasn't gone unnoticed behind the newsroom's elaborately carved doors. Last week Chron Managing Editor Jerry Roberts amused staff by reading aloud his mock timeline of the days until Nov. 23, when the first edition of the paper produced by the combined staffs of the Chron and Examiner will hit the streets. And we were in it! We were! An excerpt follows:
"NOVEMBER 15 -- Rioting erupts at Chronicle when Kevin Leary and Carl Nolte look at new schedule and learn they've been assigned to write [Matier & Ross]-style crafts column for new section called "Millbrae Friday.' Bush-Gore dead even in Florida.
"NOVEMBER 16 -- SF Weekly's Dog Bites columns report [lead editorial assistant] Wes Haley in line to be named Deputy Assistant Vice President Food Editor for pumpkin recipes. Gore pulls ahead by 7 votes.
"NOVEMBER 17 -- Marc Sandalow breaks his string of 56 consecutive news analyses on the election to write thoughtful takeout comparing and contrasting how [Chron Executive Editor Matt] Wilson and [Ex Executive Editor Phil] Bronstein would govern. Bush back on top by 3."
Hmm. We're not sure we're entirely flattered.