Dog Bites

Who Still Wants to Be a Millionaire?; Bush Leads Prop. L by 337 Votes; Readers’ Freeway Comments

Who Still Wants to Be a Millionaire?

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, finallybe 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?

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