Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Dotcom bust triggers flight from San Francisco


Summer is usually San Francisco's grimmest season, a time of year when a fog bank lays siege to the city and envelops it in a chilly shroud of gloom.

It was this miserable weather pattern that prompted Mark Twain to write that the coldest winter he ever spent was the summer in San Francisco.

But this year there is something oddly appropriate about the gray haze that masks San Francisco's picturesque hills, stunning coastline and quaint buildings.

Every day newspapers are filled with news of more closures in the dotcom economy, which fuelled the town's biggest boom since the gold rush.

On Friday it was The Industry Standard, a magazine that chronicled the rise and fall of the new economy and was almost as famous for its lavish rooftop parties as its comprehensive coverage.

These well publicized woes are a source of gloating pleasure to many who never partook of the dotcom riches -- but especially to the good people of Los Angeles, who have often regarded anyone from San Francisco as pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, self righteous, politically correct, snobbish and overbearing.

They hated the fact that the Internet temporarily made San Francisco rather than Hollywood the symbol of the California dream, and the enmity was mutual.

Despite their supposed tolerance, San Franciscans invariably regarded their southerly neighbours as a bunch of shallow, materialistic lightweights who, through their control of the media, were undoubtedly responsible for the wholesale corruption of all modern society.

Now, once again, Los Angeles is gaining cachet. People from San Francisco are actually moving there. Their eyes glaze with wonder when they talk about the low price of rents in places like Long Beach and Hollywood, where artists' lofts really contain artists and not millionaire dotcom lackeys.

They nod passionately when they read articles in the Los Angeles Times which describe how daily life in San Francisco is a dictatorship of finger wagging strangers who feel compelled to comment whenever you crossed certain bounds of propriety.

And when even the San Jose Mercury News, the flagship paper of Silicon Valley, details how the varied economic base of Los Angeles is likely to be the saviour of the entire Californian economy, they are convinced the end is nigh.

The final proof of the apocalypse came in this week's local paper, the SF Bay Guardian, which chronicled the experiences of a disillusioned lesbian who swapped the fog of San Francisco for the smog of LA.

"Leaving San Francisco ultimately has the feel of leaving the girl or boy you had the most killer hot drunken sex with," she said, "but whose irritating idiosyncrasies wound up being too much of a daily drag."

The exodus from San Francisco has not yet been statistically quantified. DJ Jon Brown was spinning his last set in San Francisco before returning after eight years to the backwaters of North Carolina.

For years Brown was a software programmer at a Web design company that went public.

Then he branched out on his own, at one time employing 22 people in his own design shop while playing house music in the city's burgeoning club scene at night.

Now he stands behind his turntable, singing along at the top of his voice to a speech by Martin Luther King that he's mixed over a potent deep house track.

"Free at last," he bellows.

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