Behind the tweets - Page 2

How the Twitter tax break grew into an expensive giveaway that involves police patrols, a new Muni line — and a lot of real estate

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In 2009, Twitter vowed to stay in SF, something it now says it won't do without a multimillion-dollar tax break

But it wasn't until October 2010 that records show the deal really taking shape. According to memos from Matz, Twitter CFO Ali Rowghani met with Newsom and told him that the company's top choice for a new headquarters location was SF Mart (which also happened to be where Newsom's campaign for lieutenant governor was headquartered at a discounted rent) but Twitter's concerns were "public safety, transportation, neighborhood conditions, [and] cost."

The memos show Newsom returned to Twitter on Oct. 29 with his chief of staff, Steve Kawa, Police Chief Jeff Godown (then assistant chief), and Matz — promising not just the payroll tax break and enterprise zone tax credits but 18 hours a day of police foot patrols in the area and the creation of a new Muni express line, 47A, between the Caltrain Station and the Twitter headquarters.

None of those costs are being figured into the deal. Matz said the new Muni line was a service restoration that has already been approved but not yet funded, and that the foot patrols would simply be absorbed into the police budget. These are just a few of the many guesstimates and unaccounted for costs in this highly complex deal.

 

EXPANDING THE GIVEAWAY

Throughout the month of January, new properties kept getting added to the district by various people, from OEWD staffers to Sup. Jane Kim — who greatly expanded the district and refuses to answer Guardian questions about why — and Randy Shaw, who runs the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Beyond Chron blog and has been a vocal tax-break supporter.

"Payroll tax thing is going to happen and Randy Shaw wants us to add the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District!" OEWD's Amy Cohen wrote on Feb. 2 to a real estate consultant with the Northern California Community Loan Fund.

None of the requests for expanding the tax exclusion zone included an explanation of why that property should be in — and in each case they were added to the area without question. The only possible exception was when the Warfield Building was added Jan. 7 after OEWD learned Burning Man was seeking to rent headquarters space there. Yet Burning Man founder Larry Harvey told us it planned to move to mid-Market with or without the tax break, and that it is now negotiating for a different building, although the Warfield remains in the tax exclusion district.

"Can you add 875 Stevenson to the boundaries and send the revised map? Thx," one OEWD staffer wrote to another on Jan. 13.

"I want to add one more area: I want to go halfway down the block between Fifth and Sixth grabbing everything heading east up to the Cityplace properties," Matz wrote to another OEWD staffer on Jan. 14.

New properties were being added right up to the point that the legislation was introduced on Feb. 9. The day before, Shaw wrote to Matz and OEWD's Amy Cohen telling them that the owner of the Hastings Law School garage "should get the exemption if he thinks it might help," and that property was added. Cohen then gave Shaw credit in an e-mail to UC Hastings CFO David Seward: "We're going to put your properties in. Randy is good with it!"

Even some OEWD staffers seemed surprised that the tax exemption area had grown so far beyond its original borders. "Wow, when did the entire TL get thrown in?" OEWD Project Manager Lisa Pagan wrote to Cohen in a Feb. 8 e-mail.

But Matz defended the expansion and said it wasn't as willy-nilly as it appears. "There was a lot more conversation than was reflected in those e-mails," she told us. "The boundaries evolved due to more thorough thinking."

Yet she acknowledged it's tough for skeptics of the deal to determine why properties were included, whether political favoritism played a role, or who stands to benefit from the decisions.

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