The COVID-era corporate subleasing craze has paired some strange bedfellows, as the self-driving car company Waymo is leasing empty office space from Uber, whom they had previously tried to sue into oblivion.
In the early days of the self-driving car wars, when it seemed like Uber was the odds-on favorite to perfect this elusive technology first, Google spun out their own self-driving car division called Waymo in late 2016. This led to a series of events we called Waymo problems, that is, Uber infamously poached Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who stole a shit-ton of trade secrets on his way out. This led to lawsuits from Google, which turned into criminal charges against Levandowski, so Uber had to fire him. Uber eventually was forced to cough up $245 million to settle the case, and they killed off their self-driving car pursuits, after they, you know, actually killed a person.
Waymo is subleasing a corporate office in S.F. — ironically from Uber, once its fierce rival in the race to develop driverless vehicles.https://t.co/GHtzzuc3zi— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) September 15, 2021
Yet now we have a highly counterintuitive third chapter. The Chronicle reports that Waymo is subleasing downtown office space from Uber. Bloomberg notes that this is 48,000 square feet at 555 Market Street (which is not the Uber headquarters at 1455 Market Street, where you often see protests). It is a drop in the bucket of the overall space Uber is trying to unload, which the SF Business Times pegs at 700,000 square feet.
“We’re growing our team in San Francisco and we’re excited to expand into this new beautiful space right on Market Street as we build and deploy the Waymo Driver to support both cars and trucking,” Waymo head of trucking and perception (yes that is his title) Boris Sofman said in a statement. “This new space will allow us to support not only our growing operations in San Francisco but also globally.”
This the rare recent case of a large and over-leveraged company actually finding a subletter, as Cushman & Wakefield estimates that nearly 10% of SF office space is currently on the sublease block. And there are not many takers! The average San Franciscan would probably rather see Uber lose its shirt than successfully sublease, and that is a defensible stance. But any degree of action returning to downtown is encouraging, not for the Cushmans, Wakefields, and corporate real estate barons of the worlds, but for the Financial District cafes, restaurants, and retailers who may be the last small businesses to see a full recovery, if they can hang on that long.
Image: Close-up of self driving minivan, with LIDAR and other sensor units and logo visible, part of Google parent company Alphabet Inc, driving past historic railroad station with sign reading Mountain View, in the Silicon Valley town of Mountain View, California, with safety driver visible, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)