Signs of desperation

Recent months have brought a new spectator sport to the San Francisco pedestrian: tallying "For Rent" and "For Sale" signs.

4 min read
Recent months have brought a new spectator sport to the San Francisco pedestrian: tallying "For Rent" and "For Sale" signs. In choice neighborhoods, the count is at least two per block, and sometimes as many as four or five. Craig lists hundreds of new apartments daily, with landlords introducing nearly forgotten terms, like "OBO," into their vocabularies.

Never mind that monthly rents still dwarf the lifetime earnings of most of the world's population. The point is that people are out of work and skipping town.

For the well heeled, the departure is only temporary. This is creating a new phenomenon among the still-employed: layoff envy.

"These people are too wealthy to go on welfare, so they're all going abroad for the summer," one overworked CEO was overheard griping at a popular Mission District eatery. "I'm so (expletive) bitter."

One dot-com star rumored to be heading for the hills is Netscape, Microsoft, Inktomi start-up and VC veteran Alex Edelstein. When last we heard from this 30-something exec, he was casting off his high-tech and entrepreneurial ambitions to pursue a career in local politics, starting at the very bottom rung with a potential run for the Palo Alto City Council.

Rumor has it that Edelstein's trial balloon popped once he got an up-close look at the indignities of small-town political life. After all, politics isn't all free pizza delivery in the West Wing.

"It's a tough process in that in a lot of tech companies, people expect quick results--and the political process is different than that," said Chris Kelly, Excite@Home's chief privacy officer and an unofficial candidate for the same board. "It takes a lot of planning and work and time to achieve positive policy outcomes."

Edelstein and a representative of Santa Clara Supervisor Liz Kniss pooh-poohed rumors that his tenure as the supervisor's policy aide ended with a falling-out.

"The word 'falling-out' would not have occurred to Supervisor Kniss or any of the rest of us on the staff," said the rep. "Like anyone from a business background, there were probably things about government and its processes that Alex wasn't particularly enthusiastic about. But there were many things about being on the staff that surprised and impressed him."

"I thought he was taking a trip to Thailand or something," he added.

Contacted by the Rumor Mill, Edelstein confirmed he had opted against running for office--"this time around"--but said reports of his political death were greatly exaggerated.

Instead of running for the city council, he will be focusing on "grassroots stuff" in Palo Alto, he said. He maintained that he's still interested in elected office.

Meanwhile, Edelstein's San Francisco marketing start-up Viralon has been cryogenically frozen--at least, said one Skinformant, for the duration of Edelstein's hiatus.

The would-be pol said his travel plans were undecided, and that he may not travel at all.

Microsoft-free clubbing
Some people leave high-tech for local politics and others to be...club impresarios? That's the path pursued by Netscape engineering enfant terrible, Mozilla founder and evangelist, and longtime Rumor Mill favorite Jamie Zawinski, who sneak-previewed his face-lifted DNA Lounge Tuesday night, and launches it, for good luck, this Friday the 13th.

Zawinski, last seen leading the open-source troops into battle against Microsoft and then leaving them there, has poured his energies into this new role for the past few years, gaining a real-time education in permits, construction, and San Francisco's arcane nightclub laws. His misadventures are copiously detailed in his online diary.

After Zawinski led the Rumor Mill on a tour of the club Thursday afternoon, it was clear that renovations were more than skin-deep. Zawinski leveled floors, moved bars, sound-proofed the building, installed a state-of-the-art sound and lights system, planted Web cams throughout, and is in the process of installing six Web-enabled kiosks running Red Hat's Linux.

And the browser? Netscape 4, bien sur!

DNA Lounge will Webcast in Real and MP3. Windows Media Player is not under consideration, says the club owner.

"This is a Microsoft-free club," he said.

Signage carnage
The press has been churning out plenty of unsettling stories about The Industry Standard--some by its own former reporters!--but nothing so far has touched on the spectacle, observed by anxious employees a few weeks back, of the publication's top dogs scrambling to remove ominous "For Lease" signs from the building at 315 Pacific Street in San Francisco.

The signs were up for a total of 20 minutes before Ed-in-Chief Jonathan Weber discovered them and attempted to remove them. When Weber failed to reach one, Standard CEO--and former CNET COO--Rich Marino hustled over from his executive lair to try his luck. Staffers watched nervously as the brain trust of the company took this hands-on approach to the problem, which ultimately required the assistance of someone with longer arms.

The signs materialized after a misunderstanding with the leasing agent, Weber told the Rumor Mill. The magazine apparently approached the agent about subleasing empty space in the Standard's increasingly vacant offices; the agent mistook this as his cue to post his "For Lease" signs to the world, right next to the Industry Standard logo.

Rank-and-file standard-bearers insist that the only way they're getting out of 315 Pacific is "feet first." Show me some signs of life. Send me your rumors.