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December 11 2019

San Francisco: Have a New Tech Idea? Get a Permit!

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

San Francisco policymakers are tired of taking a backseat to technology. Instead of allowing innovation to flourish and developing a thoughtful policy that won’t inhibit it, they will issue innovation permission slips. San Francisco’s new layer of tech red tape will create a bottleneck for technology and stifle innovation.

This week, the city’s Board of Supervisors approved a plan to create an Office of Emerging Technology which will give its blessing to tech entrepreneurs and companies to test their new inventions on the streets of San Francisco. They would have to obtain a permit, pay a $2,000 fee, and survive a public comment period, before being able to test their products.

The plan has a couple more hurdles to jump before it can become law.

The implications of this plan are clear to those who constantly develop or fund the creation of new ideas:

“Speed and focus are important for startups. This office would dilute both,” said Ben Narasin, a venture partner at NEA, in a previous San Francisco Business Times article.

New government permissions add new layers of red tape to the research and development process that will slow down the innovation and potentially limit these ideas from hitting the market entirely.

This means the government is picking winners and losers among inventions and innovations. Government bureaucrats--not consumers--will determine which products which eventually come to market and succeed.

It also sets developers at a disadvantage against competitors who can knock off their ideas during that waiting process. We know that in a free market, the first person to market gets an advantage. However, in the end, it’s the best product that wins consumer dollars.

Lawmakers are clear that this is about control over the tech industry. The policymaker who introduced the proposal, Norman Yee, said: “We will not be reactionary to technology as we have in the past.”

He’s worried about a bunch of pogo sticks one day being dumped on city streets, after the blanketing of electronic scooters on city sidewalks in 2018. Public safety and wear-and-tear on infrastructure are his concern.

Here’s a big irony, a major tech conference just pulled out of hosting its annual conference in San Francisco because of the homeless crisis, open drug use, feces in the streets, other public safety concerns, and soaring hotel costs.

Oracle’s 60,000-person conference will cost San Francisco an estimated $64 million a year. 

By focusing on tech inventions on their streets, policymakers are conveniently diverting attention from the burgeoning homeless crisis and its impact on the city’s residents and tourists. I’m sure more residents care more about rats and drug needles on sidewalks than they do about robot delivery machines.

San Francisco has been the home to the tech industry and spawned so much innovation. However, because of increasing government regulation over tech and unwillingness or inability to deal with the homeless crisis, it may one day see itself left out of the future of tech.

Instead of writing permissions for innovation, city leaders ought to focus on pressing public safety issues affecting citizens and visitors. Finding new ways to stifle tech, will just drive tech away.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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