Hotel rates of $2,000 a night. Meeting-table rentals costing $150 an hour. Swank parties held steps from people bundled in sleeping bags on the street.
Thousands of bankers and executives are descending on San Francisco this week for the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, inundating the tech capital for days of schmoozing and dealmaking. With it comes the annual complaints about the city’s high prices, lack of space and street squalor.
“It comes up with our members every year,” said Steve Ubl, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the world’s largest drugmakers. “It gets worse and worse in terms of concentration and cost. It’s outrageous.”
The health-care industry’s premier event, a celebration of innovation and money to be made, also highlights San Francisco’s vast wealth disparities as well-to-do attendees hobnob at parties while stepping around people living in cardboard boxes. This year’s confab comes as the city is grappling with heightened attention on its troubles, with its homeless crisis worsening, tech companies facing backlash and President Donald Trump lashing out at California’s policies.
And in a blow to the area’s reputation as a corporate destination, Oracle Corp. last month said it would hold its OpenWorld conference in Las Vegas after more than 20 years in San Francisco because of the city’s pricey hotels and street conditions. The move is estimated to cost $64 million in lost revenue.
“San Francisco has squandered its place in the sun,” said John Price, CEO of Greffex Inc., an Aurora, Colorado-based genetic engineering company, who traveled to the conference fresh off a business trip to Asia. “San Francisco is the Bill Clinton of cities. It squandered itself with its flaws.”
The JPMorgan gathering at the Westin St. Francis, which attracts about 10,000 people, has long drawn the ire of some attendees. Conference-goers have taken to Twitter and blog posts to express concerns about the homeless situation and watching city officials clean up human feces, all while spending thousands of dollars on hotel rooms and resorting to holding meetings in bathrooms.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon weighed in during an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business that aired Tuesday. When asked about complaints about the conference’s location, he said it’s “not quite that bad.”
Attendees “know where they’re going, they plan for it the same time of the year,” he said, pointing out the city’s Chase Center venue as a new location for functions. Still, he said San Francisco has been hurt by bad policy and the bank is going to become “deeply involved” in the city.
For San Franciscans, complaints about the city’s issues are nothing new -- and the idea of wealthy business travelers complaining about street poverty has sparked ridicule.
“My dream would be that they’d see this as an opportunity to reflect on the humanity of others,” said Kelley Cutler, human rights organizer at the Coalition On Homelessness. “I feel like it’s a missed opportunity when people are just seeing the homeless as a nuisance and trash and seeing the solution as just sweeping them away.”