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Recently, I celebrated the graduation of one of my peers from the UCSD computer science and engineering doctoral program with a San Diego tradition: We chatted over burritos at Don Carlos in La Jolla about the graduate’s new job at a big tech company in Silicon Valley. It’s common for my colleagues to want a last burrito before moving someplace else.
San Diego wants to retain and attract tech companies that hire skilled workers like those who graduate from the program I attend. Apparently, San Diego is in a “sweet spot” of high startup opportunity and (relative to, say, Silicon Valley) low cost – out of 37 metro areas nationally, we rank 18th.
One company, Bizness Apps, relocated to San Diego from Silicon Valley and named the cost of living as a primary factor. And while there is support for bringing these companies downtown, most of these jobs are located in places like Sorrento Valley and beyond.
At the graduation lunch for my friend, someone asked an interesting question: If you had the option of a good job in San Diego, would you want to stay? Keep in mind, these are people interested in tech industry jobs, not academia. Everyone answered yes. My friends, from other parts of the United States and abroad, all of whom can and will be offered jobs in Silicon Valley, the East Coast and Europe, want to live here in San Diego. Yet, I’m positive that they all will leave.
I want to live and work in San Diego when I graduate. I currently live in Hillcrest and take the UCSD shuttle to campus, as do dozens of graduate students. The main reason why my cohort and I do not want to live in the Bay Area is because we have no interest in the soul-sucking commutes, bank-draining rents and Mission-style burritos.
If San Diego really wants to be a tech hub that attracts and retains computer engineers in addition to the current biotech industry, it needs to plan ahead. Yes, cultivate new companies and attract existing ones so that hopefully one will employ me – but do it right. Locate more jobs downtown, uptown, in North Park or even Mission Valley, where they can be accessed by foot, bike or transit. If San Diego is successful in bringing these jobs here, do not bring the traffic that comes with them.
Most importantly, build more housing. Lots of it. Both subsidized and market-rate. While countless stories have analyzed the wishes and ways of my generation and our desire for urban, downtown living, the bottom line is that besides being better for the environment, building more housing is the only way out of the housing crisis that San Diego and the rest of California is experiencing. Indeed, rent is not cheap in San Diego, but it is more than twice as expensive to rent in San Francisco.
San Diego is supposed to be a smart and innovative city. While Silicon Valley has had great success with its high-tech companies, its success was not planned for and that can be seen in the news almost daily. The opportunity here is to attract the tech jobs that would make it easy for software engineers to stay in San Diego, but to do so while minimizing the serious issues facing other tech hubs. San Diego needs to plan ahead and be the startup city that starts up the right way by bringing tech jobs to downtown and the urban core and building more housing for everybody.
Alexander Bakst lives in Hillcrest and is a Ph.D. student in computer science and engineering at UCSD. Bakst’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.