The New York Times continues to want to sensationalize San Francisco's ever-increasing wealth and income disparity — despite Manhattan being the capital of such disparity. The latest example is a piece that profiles full-time trash picker Jake Orta, a Mission resident who regularly sifts through the garbage bins on Liberty Hill for tossed-out treasure.
Those bins include the ones that get rolled out of Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's tudor manse on 21st Street — the second Bay Area home, a pied a terre in the city, that Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan purchased in 2012 and renovated over the course of several years.
Orta tells the Times that he's retrieved "a vacuum cleaner, a hair dryer, a coffee machine — all in working condition — and a pile of clothes" from the black bins of the Zuckerberg-Chan residence, and it's all part of the $300 or so per week that he makes by reselling what he finds.
Orta lives in a studio in the Mission, and the Times wants its readers to feel increasingly uncomfortable about the fact that there are 100 or so people who do what Orta does, making a meager income off of the trash of the city's millionaires and billionaires.
The piece tracks with a widely discussed and linked piece from early March in which the Times predicted that San Francisco would soon be "drowning in millionaires" after the IPOs of Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and other companies all planning to IPO this year.
Several real estate agents and investors were quoted in the piece getting extremely excited about the prospect of "ten thousand new millionaires" appearing overnight, and the impending era when the average single-family home in San Francisco will cost $5 million. These are both arguable predictions — and as anyone who's worked at one of these big companies that IPO'd in an earlier era knows, it's only the first 10 or 100 employees that likely to stand to profit mightily from an IPO. A lot of people are probably just going to come into enough quick cash to make a down payment on a home, but not make an all-cash offer on a multi-million-dollar house.
But that brings me back to the trash-picker piece. Yes, it's been an uncomfortable reality for all of us, middle-class or otherwise, seeing the people who pick through our recycling and trash bins to eke out an existence in the gentrifying and ever-more expensive neighborhoods of our fair city. But is this really a) a particularly new phenomenon that's worthy of a major newspaper story, or b) a phenomenon so peculiar to San Francisco that it deserves this kind of attention.
"But trash scavengers exist in many United States cities and, like the rampant homelessness in San Francisco, are a signpost of the extremes of American capitalism," the Times writes. "A snapshot from 2019: One of the world’s richest men and a trash picker, living a few minutes’ walk from each other."
It's perhaps more of an example of the income diversity that still manages to exist in close proximity in the Mission, despite escalating rents.
The rich and poor also live in close proximity in New York City, and what's perhaps more notable there is that traditionally low-income neighborhoods like Harlem, the Lower East Side, and Chinatown have been under increasing gentrification pressure over the last two decades to the point that Manhattan barely has any poor people anymore to pick through the wealthies' trash. Both cities have this problem. I just wish the Times would stop exoticizing our tech-fueled wealth boom as somehow strange, sensational, or wildly different from the millionaire's playground that their city has built for itself — and with far fewer development controls or battles over affordable housing.