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Musk’s X sign a distraction for San Francisco mayor

Musk’s X sign a distraction for San Francisco mayor
A pedestrian takes a photograph of the new Twitter X logo at the company's headquarters in San Francisco, California, US, on Saturday, July 29, 2023.

A large, flashing “X” sign on San Francisco’s Market Street marked the end of Twitter and its bird branding. It also represented a struggle by Mayor London Breed to get the social network’s owner, Elon Musk, to follow city laws.

San Francisco officials had stopped Musk’s company last week from taking down the “Twitter” sign in front of the building, as the crane was obstructing traffic. By the weekend, the old sign was gone and a large X was placed on a rooftop, blinking into nearby residential buildings. An inspector filed a complaint with the city because X did not acquire a permit for the work. 

By Monday afternoon, the X was taken down — again without a permit, according to the Department of Building Inspection and City Planning, which said it received 24 complaints about it.

“As for Twitter and what’s happening there, I think the challenge we’re running into is that no one can be above the rules,” Breed told Bloomberg last week. “No one minds that you want to do something different and creative with your space, but you can’t just do it like changing your sign, obstructing traffic and not even asking anyone for a permit.”

The sign is the latest in a string of conflicts between X, formerly Twitter, and the City of San Francisco, which is grappling with a host of other issues, from a deteriorating inner city to an opioid crisis. Earlier this year several former employees sued Musk’s company for allegedly pushing them to violate California’s building codes and labour laws. X was also sued for not paying rent at the San Francisco headquarters.

Breed said she is trying to pivot citizens’ focus away from Musk’s distraction. “Twitter, now X, represents one thing in San Francisco, but we have so many other incredible companies and so many other important parts of our city that hardly get any attention,” Breed’s office said in a statement on Monday. The city “will continue to stay engaged with the property owner of the building to ensure they follow the city’s process for timely notifications, permit requests, and other procedural matters”.

Outside of Musk’s public battle over city permitting, San Francisco is struggling to revitalise its downtown core. Musk has been a harsh critic of the city. “Many have offered rich incentives for X (fka Twitter) to move its HQ out of San Francisco. Moreover, the city is in a doom spiral with one company after another leaving or leaving” he posted on X on Saturday. “We will not.”

Musk started sparring with Breed not long after his Twitter takeover, when city inspectors investigated complaints that he was turning several conference rooms at the headquarters into makeshift bedrooms. “So city of SF attacks companies providing beds for tired employees instead of making sure kids are safe from fentanyl. Where are your priorities @LondonBreed!?” he posted in December.

Part of the challenge, Breed said last week, is the constant conversation around San Francisco’s problems. “Let’s try to talk about solutions,” Breed said in last week’s interview. “Let’s try to get ‘yes’ rather than using these social media platforms to focus on the negativity and continuing to tear San Francisco down.”

The building inspector who issued the complaint over the X wasn’t allowed onto the roof on Friday to see whether the sign was safely secured, according to the complaint. A representative for Twitter “did explain that the structure is a temporary lighted sign for an event”, the inspector said in the report.

The inspector tried again on Saturday, was denied again, and mailed Twitter a notice of violation

Now that the sign is down, X will still owe fees, the Department of Building Inspection and City Planning said. That will account for the unpermitted installation and removal of the illuminated structure, and the cost of the investigation.

The city doesn’t have much leverage; Musk is the richest man in the world, and the fines to his company could amount to thousands of dollars. DM

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