Kraken CEO on Why the Bitcoin Exchange Left San Francisco: City Has ‘Deteriorated’
Jesse Powell, veteran CEO of early Bitcoin exchange Kraken, isn’t overflowing with love for government entities, to put it mildly.
When New York announced its controversial BitLicense regulatory framework for crypto in 2015, Powell immediately and permanently pulled Kraken out of the state, later referring to New York as “that abusive, controlling ex you broke up with 3 years ago but they keep stalking you.” Last month, Powell added another ex to the list: Kraken’s San Francisco headquarters.
In early April, Powell shut down Kraken’s global headquarters in San Francisco’s financial district, citing rampant crime, mental illness, and drug abuse in the area as dangers to Kraken employees that were no longer tenable. On the latest episode of Decrypt's gm podcast, he expanded on why.
“I used to live a 12-minute walk from the office in SOMA [South of Market],” Powell said, “and every day it was like playing hopscotch over human feces, and used needles, and guys with machetes.”
It wasn’t always like this, according to Powell. “San Francisco has fallen quite far. I first moved there, around 2013, and it was a very different place than it is today," he said. "It was much safer, it was much cleaner, and since then, I've just seen it deteriorate.”
A particular target of Powell’s ire is city District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin was swept into office in late 2019 by a nationwide push for police reform, one culminating in the historic protests that occurred across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Boudin’s reform-minded platform has prioritized police accountability, decarceration, eliminating cash bail, and rectifying institutional factors considered to disproportionately lead certain communities to criminality.
Powell considers Boudin’s approach directly responsible for a deterioration of conditions in San Francisco, and Kraken’s exit from the city. “His social agenda is that if you are committing crimes, [that’s] because you have been oppressed somehow ... somehow you're poor, you're an immigrant, whatever that is, and prison is not ... a justified response,” said Powell. “Unfortunately, you know, prison also is a pretty useful deterrent for crime.”
Enough people agree with Powell’s perspective that Boudin is now facing a June recall election. Powell has vocally supported the recall effort; prominent public figures like John Legend have backed Boudin, citing his work as an important piece of a national progressive push for criminal justice reform.
Kraken competitor Coinbase also demoted its San Francisco headquarters in February, but for different reasons, citing the pandemic and the goal of being a truly decentralized company with no headquarters.
Will Kraken be returning home to the City by the Bay anytime soon? If Boudin stays in office, it might be a while. Never one to put things mildly, Powell declared in a recent statement that the city “will not be safe until we have a D.A. who puts the rights of law-abiding citizens above those of the street criminals he so ingloriously protects.”
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