Conway’s SF.citi Aligns with San Francisco’s Real Estate Leaders

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By Michele Chandler

The San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation—a nonprofit with hundreds of members that’s commonly known as SF.citi—says it is striving to “leverage the power of the technology community” to solve San Francisco’s challenges.

Stockbridge, San Francisco, Indiana Pension Fund, Stockbridge Value II Fund, Stockbridge Smart Markets Fund, San Francisco real estate, Bay Area newsWhile its focus is on tech issues, a recent SF.citi meeting shows that the Bay Area’s commercial real estate world is strongly backing the group’s efforts to improve education, job creation, affordable housing and other issues affecting San Francisco.

About 50 people representing various commercial real estate interests attended a meeting, held in mid-February at the San Francisco office of Kilroy Realty to discuss how their industry might help to advance SF.citi’s goals, said John Kilroy, president, CEO and chairman of the realty company’s board. A call went out for donations and attendees collectively raised $300,000 to SF.citi’s effort, Kilroy said.

SF.citi’s chairman, prominent angel investor and San Francisco native Ron Conway, addressed the group, as did SF.citi’s managing director, Alex Tourk, Kilroy said. Attendees included representatives from across San Francisco’s commercial real estate spectrum—real estate owners, developers, contractors, designers and brokers, Kilroy said.

“My intent in getting the commercial real estate folks together was to help them understand some of the issues and the need to work with organizations like SF.citi so we can play a role in bringing about solutions to these problems,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll have more interaction in the future.”

While commercial real estate isn’t a major segment of SF.citi’s membership, Kilroy said the industry can play an integral role as tech firms become a growing percentage of the city’s tenant base.

His company, for example, has gone from having zero to 6.5 million square feet of office space during the past four years. Kilroy said about half of his company’s San Francisco leasing clients are technology or media firms, including cloud computing firm Salesforce and cloud storage company Dropbox. Both tech firms are listed as members on SF.citi’s Web site. Other SF.citi members with a commercial real estate focus include Cornish & Carey, Cushman & Wakefield and Colliers International, according to SF.citi’s Web site.

“I think the tech community really wants to have dialogue about what the pressing issues are in San Francisco and help find solutions,” Kilroy said. “I believe if we’re working together, we’re going to find great solutions, and that to me is very encouraging.”

Conway founded SF.citi in 2012, the year the organization helped pass Proposition E, a business payroll-tax reform measure that encourages startups and benefits small business growth.

The organization again landed the spotlight earlier this year, after Conway sent a letter to hundreds of tech companies headquartered in San Francisco asking for their support for a reform of the Ellis Act not long after eviction protestors had blocked commuter busses ferrying tech workers to their jobs.

Adopted in 1986, the Ellis Act permits tenant evictions if landlords choose to remove their rentals from the market. However, rising real estate values in the city may be prompting landlords to use the Ellis Act to evict long-term tenants covered by rent control and then sell the properties at a profit, according to an October 2013 report by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

All types of evictions climbed each year between 2010 and 2013, according to the report, but the highest rate of increase was for evictions under the Ellis Act. The number of Ellis Act evictions surged to 216 for the period between March 1, 2013 and February 28 of this year, according to data from the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board. That’s up from 116 Ellis Act evictions for similar periods in 2012-2013 and 64 in 2011-2012.

David Hayes, CEO of Skyline Construction, said he attended SF.citi’s February meeting, liked what he heard about the nonprofit’s high-level goals to solve a wide range of community concerns and pledged to donate five percent of the fee his company earns on every project completed in San Francisco during the year.

“We decided to put the funds in the hands of SF.citi and let them use the funds where they felt they needed to go. That’s fine with us,” Hayes said.

“[SF.citi] is involved with tech firms, which are now 72 percent of our billings in San Francisco,” added Hayes. “So, it just felt like a win-win that we should be involved with any type of organization that is aligned not only with the community, but with serving our employees and our business so well.”

Jeremy Wallenberg, director of external affairs for SF.citi, declined to be interviewed or make other SF.citi representatives available for this article.

West Coast Commercial Real Estate News