Y Combinator CEO seeks to turn around San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO: Under cathedral ceilings and soaring stained glass windows, Garry Tan clutched a microphone as he greeted a crowd of political centrists, including San Francisco’s mayor, local prosecutors and police brass. “Welcome to the church of turning San Francisco around!” said Tan at a fundraiser he was hosting for local Asian American female political candidates just days before the Super Tuesday elections.
For a man evangelizing for change in San Francisco, owning a condo that used to be part of a church comes in handy.Last year, he scooped up the $3.95 million space near the city’s palm-tree-studded Dolores Park to hold events like this one – events he hopes will shift San Francisco from its idealistic progressivism toward nuts-and-bolts centrism.
Tan’s day job is chief executive of Y Combinator, the accelerator for tech startups that has helped create household names including Airbnb, DoorDash, Dropbox, Instacart and Reddit. But Tan’s passion, as it is for a growing number of tech industry leaders, is San Francisco politics. He is one of a cadre of love-them-or-hate-them tech executives and investors with lots of opinions about the city and endless piles of cash to, as they say in the tech industry, move fast and break things.
To some of San Francisco’s political establishment, Tan, 43, a Stanford grad, has become the most annoying in a parade of wealthy tech executives. He has created a bombastic online persona while spending about $400,000 on local politics in the past few years – with potentially a lot more to come. And on the social media site X, where he has 425,000 followers, Tan doesn’t just rub some people the wrong way, he enrages them.
Tan, who says he is a moderate Democrat, wants three not-exactly-radical changes to San Francisco: a beefed-up police force with more power to combat the city’s property crime epidemic and anti-Asian violence; a thriving public school district that pushes students academically; and more housing for people of all income levels in a city struggling with tent encampments and a disappearing middle class.
The knock against the Bay Area’s tech leaders about a decade ago was that they weren’t civically engaged. Now many of them are living in San Francisco and raising children there, rather than fleeing for exclusive suburbs. Many say they simply want a more functional city for their families and employees.
Tan is raising two boys, ages 4 and 8, with his wife, Stephanie Lim, who co-founded the publishing house Third State Books, in the city’s pricey Noe Valley neighborhood and looks like any other San Francisco tech dad.
In March, he backed a successful measure to advise the school district to reinstate algebra for eighth graders after the advanced course was eliminated over concerns that white and Asian children were accelerating in math faster than their Latino and Black counterparts. He also supported the election of numerous moderate candidates.
Tan is optimistic about the future of the city. He said he thought the fast-growing artificial intelligence industry, centred in San Francisco, would hasten the city’s revival. He recently moved Y Combinator from Mountain View to within the city limits and just a couple of miles from its struggling downtown. He presses the founders of startups accepted into the Y Combinator program to live in San Francisco because he thinks proximity to one another is so essential – and because it’s a boon to the city he loves.


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