Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp and a longtime San Francisco resident, has contributed hundreds of thousands to YIMBY-related local political causes, including $100,000 to November’s YIMBY-backed “Affordable Homes Now” ballot measure.
Stoppelman made waves when he called hybrid work “hell” and the “worst of all worlds" and doubled down on the San Francisco company’s remote-first policy. He’s also raised the alarm about the fiscal consequences of empty downtown real estate.
The Standard talked to Stoppelman about why he’s so passionate about building more housing, the future of downtown San Francisco and why he lives in the city—even if he can work remotely.
This interview has been condensed for brevity.
You’re one of the biggest contributors to YIMBY causes in San Francisco since day one. How did you get involved?
My involvement goes way, way back. I had gotten to the place in my career and financially where I could start thinking about trying to buy a house. Once I started looking into it, I was shocked about the state of play in housing, and the more I learned about it, the more it felt like it was this byzantine Kafka-esque system that seemed to be designed to prevent housing rather than establish new housing for people that needed it.
And really a catalyst was Kim-Mai Cutler's Techcrunch story that came out in 2014. I met with her, and started poking around looking for organizations and activists, which is how I met [YIMBY founder] Sonja Trauss. It was an exciting moment when I met her. Not to use too cheesy of an analogy, but it was like meeting a great entrepreneur at the start of their endeavor and feeling like, “Oh, this can be big.”
I told her maybe the day after the meeting, “I'll get behind you, what do you need?” So I’ve continued to support her work all the way through to the present.
How has YIMBY evolved in recent years?
It's really picked up a lot of steam. The California governor is talking about housing issues; the Obama White House and Biden White House have talked about it. It has gone from frankly a fringe idea to a very mainstream idea. I would say the NIMBYs are finally on the defense, trying to explain their position.
You’ve been vocal about your hatred for hybrid work and Yelp is now all-remote. What do you think office work looks like when everything shakes out?
The framework that I'm operating under is that remote represents a disruptive innovation. We have high quality video conferencing, we have tools like Slack, and of course traditional email. All of these things have come together in the pandemic and shown themselves to be a serious competitor to the traditional office and especially to hybrid, which I've talked about, is kind of the worst of all worlds. I don't think it's necessarily a flip where suddenly remote has 100% market share, but I think there will be a steady erosion where more and more companies realize the benefits far outweigh any potential downsides, especially as we head into perhaps recessionary times. Offices aren't cheap. And if you can operate just as well, if not better, in a remote environment and your employees are clamoring for it, then what are you waiting for?
Do you still live in San Francisco?
Given that a lot of tech leaders have decamped to Miami or LA, why have you stayed in San Francisco?
I've thought about it a lot. As I’ve discussed with my wife, we really haven't thought of a place that fits our lives better. We love it. We've been here a long time. It's a beautiful place. You've got all these incredible technology companies. You have incredible people. Sure, it has its problems, but everywhere has its problems. And I've always been solutions oriented, so I've gotten somewhat involved here and feel wedded to it. I'd like to see the city get closer to its potential. It's just, frankly, up to the citizens to put the right people in power to make that happen. And I believe it can happen. So I want to keep investing in San Francisco.
So should we expect to see you increasing your involvement in local politics?
I’ll definitely be giving to people working on issues like keeping JFK Drive open. I'm interested in connecting with and backing them.
I've gotten more interested in transportation. I was probably radicalized by the pandemic and walking my dogs on city streets here. Eventually you realize cars are not the answer.
I don't really focus on the political dramas; I'm more focused on hard issues that we need to solve like housing. Hopefully that gives you a sense of where I'm headed.
Given that most public companies in SF are remote-first like Yelp, what should the city do about downtown?
If I were to try and put myself in the shoes of city officials, I would try to embrace reality as soon as possible. I don't think small potatoes like revitalization funds or throwing some events downtown are sustainable solutions. I think it's emergency mode. What are the ways that we can bring vibrancy back to downtown as quickly as possible? The one that is most obvious is if you have empty space and or empty office towers, how can you get those repurposed as quickly as possible? Is that feasible? I don't know; I'm not a developer. One example is I’ve always felt like Jackson Square could be a really cool, hip neighborhood because it has a New York Soho feel. But because it was so office dependent, outside of office hours even pre-pandemic, it was completely dead. It felt like a waste of valuable real estate. It could make incredibly vibrant shopping, dining, going out: how do you make that happen and what are the unlocks? Obviously, there's a political will element to it. I feel like wishing that somehow enough office workers are going to come back is not going to be the path out of the crisis.