San Francisco High-Tech Boom: Building Towers in an Earthquake Zone

May 21, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

There is a frenzy of high-tech, big capital investment in San Francisco—more new office space is being built here than in any other North American city. Much of the construction is in high-rise buildings in the South of Market area known as SoMa. The 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in the western U.S., opened there early this year. SoMa has become the home base of many of the world’s largest tech companies, such as LinkedIn, Dropbox, Yelp, Zynga, Airbnb, and Uber. A dozen high-rise buildings are planned or under construction in San Francisco at this time.

This high-tech boom rests on global networks of exploitation and environmental destruction. In Salesforce’s case, this runs through the servers that make up their “cloud”—manufactured in Third World sweatshops with materials mined by people working under slavery-like conditions in oppressed countries—to the companies that make up their client base, including Merck and Lilly pharmaceuticals, Adidas, T-Mobile, ConAgra, Comcast, and Toyota.

The new buildings literally rest on shaky foundations. Studies say that there is a 70 percent chance of a 6.7 or greater magnitude earthquake in the Bay Area in the next 30 years. The SoMa soil consists of layers of mud and clay—which will turn into slush in a major earthquake, a process called liquefaction. Despite this, in San Francisco “a five-story building has the same strength requirements as a 50-story building.” (New York Times, April 17, 2018)

In fact, San Francisco is actually reducing its building requirements. In 2008, the city adopted a new approval process for high-rises taller than 240 feet, allowing them to be built with floor-to-ceiling windows, a selling point for residential towers, and also lowering costs and build time. In other words, they are gambling with people’s lives for a better view and lower costs!

Even now, as more and more buildings are going up, the land in SoMa is sinking. Since the 58-story Millennium Towers, a high-rise luxury residence, opened in 2008, it has sunk a foot and a half and is leaning 14 inches toward neighboring high-rises.

Lucy Jones, a former leader of natural hazards research at the U.S. Geological Survey, told the New York Times that 10 percent of the buildings in San Francisco could collapse in an earthquake. This is in a city where, in 1906, the deadliest earthquake in U.S. history killed an estimated 3,000 people and made 200,000 homeless. How many people would die in the next major earthquake? What kind of society would build these massive towers when the dangers have been known for decades?

This seems insane—and, from the standpoint of humanity, it is. The high-tech capitalists who run these companies think of themselves as cutting-edge wizards who are shaping the future. But they are actually caught up in and act within a framework set by the larger logic of the capitalist-imperialist system. They seek momentary advantage for their companies by building in San Francisco—driven by the breakneck compulsion of capitalism to construct their towers on foundations that can turn, in an instant, into shaky ground, where it all just might come tumbling down.

This is the vicious, heartless, and ultimately blind system we are up against. As messed up as it is, capitalism will not fall of its own insane compulsion and underlying contradictions; it has to be overthrown by the people. And people need the science of communism to make revolution. This ruling class is NOT all-powerful, this system CAN be overthrown, and a much better society and world are possible. Get with the new communism developed by Bob Avakian, take up HOW WE CAN WIN, How We Can Really Make Revolution and spread it everywhere!



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