Anti-gentrification protesters block Google Bus to Silicon Valley

Google riders – ‘under siege’ or ‘alien overlords’?

From: SFgate

By: Heather Knight

12.16.13 – San Francisco has always been a city of symbols. The Golden Gate Bridge, peace signs, the rainbow flag. These days, nothing seems to represent San Francisco’s tech-fueled boom times better than those giant private shuttles that drive tech workers from the city to Silicon Valley. For some city residents, the shuttles are about as welcome as a computer virus.

“Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us,” local writer Rebecca Solnit opined in the London Review of Books this year.

According to the Bay Area Council, a business group that is representing the shuttle operators at City Hall, 30 companies are running the shuttles – and the buses make a combined total of 4,000 stops across San Francisco every weekday.

Currently, those buses are using Muni stops without permission and without paying a cent. If you parked your car in a Muni bus stop, you’d risk a $271 ticket. At that rate, the shuttle companies could be fined more than $1 million a day.

On the other hand, if the shuttles didn’t exist, tech workers would be taking a combined total of 327,000 car trips to Silicon Valley every year, according to the Bay Area Council. They’d be driving 20 million extra miles and spewing 10,000 tons of carbon into the air.

A Google bus became an international story Monday when antieviction activists, who link the tech boom with rising housing prices, blocked it at 24th and Valencia streets for half an hour. Protesters stood in front of the bus carrying a sign reading, “Warning: Illegal Use of Public Infrastructure.”

Inside, annoyed Google employees took to Twitter to describe what they seemed to think were very harrowing events.

Adelle McElveen, who a Google search (oh, the irony) says is a style editor at Google Shopping, tweeted, “My Google Bus is currently under siege by protesters at 24th and Valencia. Hey protesters: it’s not nice to hijack ppl on their way to work!”

Alejandro Villarreal, a program manager at Google, tweeted, “So my bus is being held hostage and protested at 24th and Valencia.”

Yeah, it’s annoying to be late for work, as paying riders of public Muni buses know all too well – sometimes because Google buses are blocking their stops. And San Francisco protesters can be very holier-than-thou.

But “under siege,” “hijack” and “held hostage”? You were stuck on a plush shuttle with Wi-Fi and air conditioning for 30 minutes. This wasn’t exactly a bound-with-duct-tape-in-a-dark-basement kind of situation.

Efforts to talk to Google employees who were on the bus – including McElveen and Villarreal – were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman e-mailed that the company is “not making Googlers available for interview.”

For a company that’s supposed to be about sharing information, it’s not doing much of that these days. Does anybody know what the Google barge docked at Treasure Island really is?

(We will give credit to Villarreal for his sense of humor. After #googlebus became a trending topic and he picked up more followers, he tweeted, “These new followers from the #googlebus incident are going to be disappointed when they discover my feed is basically just cats and bikes.”)

Erin McElroy, who started the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project to track evictions citywide and was among the protesters Monday, said she doesn’t think tech workers understand her point of view.

“I have a sense mostly from talking to other tech workers that they’re not interested, and they don’t really get it – or they think gentrification is natural,” said the 31-year-old Bernal Heights resident, who is a nanny for a 2-year-old and a personal care assistant for a woman with developmental disabilities.

The private buses will soon be regulated under a pilot program expected to start in several months. It would slightly limit the number of Muni bus stops the shuttles can use and require that they be permitted and display placards with identifying numbers so problems can easily be reported. The shuttle operators would pay a fee to support the program, though the amount is undecided.

Matt Regan, the Bay Area Council’s vice president of public policy, said the real problem isn’t the tech workers or their buses. It’s that Bay Area officials for too long have ignored the region’s dearth of housing, which means that in boom times, there’s even more of a scramble to obtain it.

“People’s knee-jerk reaction can be at times to blame the buses and the shuttle riders for the increase in rents and housing prices,” he said. “In reality, that’s just an indicator. It’s not the cause.”

Google buses aren’t going away – as modes of transportation or subjects of controversy. Supervisor Eric Mar on Tuesday called for a budget analyst’s report and a hearing on the shuttles to find out how they impact pedestrian safety, rental prices of apartments along their routes and the finances of the city.

“This is not just about transportation, but about the city’s fabric and who gets to live in San Francisco,” he said.

That’s a lot of weight to carry, even for a huge bus.

Quote of the week

“Tech workers are creating the demand, but they’re not the evil ones. It’s the real estate speculators who are the evil ones.”

Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union

Votre commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:


Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :