The commute to Silicon Valley has gotten so bad that it is becoming a recruiting tool — for tech companies in Oakland and Berkeley.
When the Metropolitan Transportation Commission released its list of the Bay Area’s worst bottlenecks this month, it merely quantified what tech workers know too well: Most of the region’s worst commutes head either into or out of the biggest technology job centers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
For tech workers who live in the East Bay, jobs on their side of the Bay Bridge come with one unbeatable perk.
“We’re a much more attractive option to anyone in the East Bay,” said Dane Holewinski, chief operating officer of Yozio, a startup near Oakland’s 19th Street BART Station — just a few stops from the tech hub in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.
He said that locating his 2-year-old analytics company in Oakland was “very much a conscious decision” after checking out SoMa and the Peninsula, where rents were twice as high. All but two of the company’s 12 employees live in the East Bay; one of the two is Holewinski, who lives in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Increasingly, Holewinski said, job applicants “say that they live in Oakland and the East Bay, and they’re really glad that we are (here), too. It’s definitely becoming an advantage for us.”
And Yozio’s Oakland location hasn’t stopped it from landing big San Francisco clients like Pintrerest and Airbnb.
Oakland doesn’t have a critical mass of startups yet, but its ranks are growing — as are the number of happy hours and other events after work. “It’s still nascent here,” Holewinski said, “but it’s improving.”
As newly elected Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said during her inaugural speech this month, “The cool, smart people are already here.” Then she invited Google to open an office in town. “You wouldn’t need all those buses if you would just open an office here.”
Regardless of civic cheerleading, some tech entrepreneurs who live in the East Bay, like Aarjav Trivedi, are thinking about leaving. Trivedi ponders it every day as he sits in Bay Bridge traffic — the region’s No. 1 bottleneck — commuting from his job near Ninth and Harrison streets in San Francisco to his home in Berkeley.
Moving his transportation software startup, RideCell, to the East Bay would cut his commute in half, meaning he could spend more time with his 2-month-old son. The downside: While half of his workers live in the East Bay, the other half live in San Francisco neighborhoods not served by BART like the Sunset and Richmond Districts — and few drive. Their commute could double, and he’s not sure they would stay with RideCell.
Despite his commute, he sees an upside to the startup’s SoMa location. He’s likely to run into his investors at the cafe around the corner. His engineers see colleagues at lunch and pick their brains about problems they’re trying to untangle. There’s always some networking event after work where he can recruit new talent.
“It’s hard to put a value on all of these things,” Trivedi, 32, said. “As a startup, you want to be around other startups.”
He knows that commercial real estate is cheaper in the East Bay. “That’s the easiest part to quantify. The hardest part is the other stuff. But every day I sit in traffic on the Bay Bridge, I think about it,” Trivedi said.
Oakland resident Heather Shephard faced a similar dilemma when she was in the job market recently. For four years, she raced home from her biotech job in Foster City to pick up her kids from school by 6 p.m., incurring a fine for every minute she was late.
“The commute was killing me,” she said. “And if there was a Giants game in the afternoon, I was sunk. You can’t always leave work early.”
But the market for biotech jobs in the East Bay just doesn’t compare to that in San Francisco or the Peninsula. “It’s like 5-to-1 in terms of jobs there to the East Bay,” she said.
After six months of looking, she found one in South San Francisco. Her commute is still an hour. “And it is always tough, because people are coming and going at different times,” she said.
Perhaps an East Bay biotech company will bloom out of WeWork, a co-working space that just opened a branch in Berkeley. It expects to fill its 55,000-square-foot space by the end of February with dozens of startups and entrepreneurs — many of which were happy to find a place like that in the East Bay.
“There’s definitely a need there,” said Tim Pauly, WeWork’s city lead. Eventually, he said, tech hubs grow out of a cluster of startups together. “When you have a community of entrepreneurs and startups working together, then that becomes the place.”
Joe Garofoli is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @joegarofoli