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San Francisco’s ‘Google Bus’ Plan Faces New Challenge

| February 20, 2014
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Activists surround a Google bus in a December 2013 protest at 24th and Valencia streets. (cjmartin/Flickr)

Activists surround a Google bus in a December 2013 protest at 24th and Valencia streets. (cjmartin/Flickr)

In a legal tech-bus protest, an assortment of San Francisco activists is appealing to the Board of Supervisors to stop the city’s plan to continue accommodating private commuter shuttles at public bus stops.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in January approved a pilot program to require shuttle operators to get permits and charge them $1 for each stop they make in the city. The unanimous vote came after a series of angry protests against the buses, used by tech giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook to transport employees to work in Silicon Valley.

The fee program would also cover shuttles used for other business, office buildings and UC San Francisco and other local colleges. But it’s the high-tech commuters that upset activists, who believe the well-paid workers are responsible for driving up rents and displacing longtime residents.

“I have seen the rent listings along my street skyrocket. I’ve seen my neighbors have to pack up and move,” said one of the appellants, Sara Shortt. She’s executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and has lived on Valencia Street at 22nd Street for 16 years. The other appellants are the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the San Francisco League of Pissed-Off Voters.

The crux of their argument is that the SFMTA board should have put the plan through a full environmental impact review under the California Environmental Quality Act. And that review, they argue, should consider not only air pollution but also the displacement of people and housing, particularly in low-income and minority communities.

‘There was no real serious cost-benefit analysis. The city has the responsibility to do that kind of due diligence before giving away the store.’— Sara Shortt
Housing rights activist

“There was no real serious cost-benefit analysis,” Shortt said. “The city has the responsibility to do that kind of due diligence before giving away the store as they have.”

The SFMTA, however, maintains that such a program does not require such a review. “We developed this pilot proposal to help ensure the most efficient transportation network possible by reducing Muni delays and further reducing congestion on our roadways,” spokesman Paul Rose wrote in a statement. “We are confident that the CEQA clearance is appropriate and will be upheld.”

The CEQA guidelines do, in fact, specify that significant environmental impacts could come from projects that “induce substantial population growth in an area” or “displace substantial numbers of people, necessitating the construction of replacement housing elsewhere.” Does that definition apply to expensive apartments in the Mission just as it would to, say, construction of a new shopping mall? The Board of Supervisors will decide.

The Board of Supervisors is not authorized to make changes to the shuttle plan, but they could force the SFMTA to suspend it and complete a detailed environmental impact review before going forward. The board has until early April to hold a hearing on the appeal.

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Category: San Francisco, Tech, Transportation

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About the Author ()

Journalist and media producer specializing in public health, mental health and immigration. Multimedia editor at TED Books and regular contributor to KQED radio. Stories in various forms (words, photos, audio and video) have appeared in the Atlantic online, New York Times, Boston Globe, Sacramento Bee, and with the Center for Investigative Reporting. Fluent Spanish speaker (can’t resist a good salsa beat) and fourth-generation San Franciscan. Go Giants! Reach Grace Rubenstein at grubenstein@KQED.org.
  • Eric

    “I have seen the rent listings along my street skyrocket. I’ve seen my neighbors have to pack up and move,” said one of the appellants, Sara Shortt. She’s executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and has lived on Valencia Street at 22nd Street for 16 years.

    Sara is correct, rents have gone up.. I suspect however Sara is being protected by San Francisco’s rent control ordinances and her ability to work for a non profit is being subsidized by the landlord who cannot raise her rents to keep up with the cost of living.

    In San Francisco a great deal of housing inventory is kept off the market because of rent control. Lots of people want to just rent for awhile and then retake the property to enjoy themselves or have a relative live in… You cant do that in SF so people leave them vacant.

    Owners cant affordable upgrade their buildings so they leave them stagnating.. I know a tenant paying only $500 a month for a place in a booming part of town.. His neighbor is paying for the same size unit next door $3000/month.. The city requires the owner pay the tenant $250.00 a day if any upgrades to the property are required him to relocate for the night.. The owner is not allowed to raise his rent.. Does Sara think this is OK or fair?

    • renerivers

      I think you might want to recheck your facts. Would property owners be willing to give up prop 13 if rent control is removed? After all rent control was a response to prop 13. Also a property owner can improve their property and pass the cost on to tenants above rent. So the idea that property owners can’t afford improvements is BS. And anyone holding property off market is greedy plain and simply. They can charge what ever rent they want upon move in. After that its limited to a percent per year (I think its 2). Which is the same % that property taxes are limited to under Prop 13.

      So please save your complaints about how unfair rent control is. It a tired argument that really has no basis in reality.

      • Kevin Smith

        Prop 13 is the WHOLE state ….& any politician that touches it will DIE !

      • Robert Church

        get a job, buy your own property, stop trying to tell other people what to do with their own. You people are pathetic.

    • Kevin Smith

      Rent control addicts are just selfish property thieves who only care what they can get for as little as they can pay. IT REALLY IS NAKED GREED !

  • Nadia Silvershine

    I don’t get it; if your real anger is at the rent increases and the Ellis evictions, why get made at the Google buses? The buses do a great service of keeping more cars off the road. If you are angry at the rent situation, then do something about it–direct your anger at the rent situation, not at the buses.

    • Kevin Smith

      Yeah, if you are mad about the rent…. stop renting ! Less demand will lower the rent fools !

  • Dan

    Rob Anderson tactics. Interesting.

  • Kevin Smith

    We need to get this poverty pimp Sara Short of OUR beautiful city… Let her go to a ready made cheap toilet in the shape of her desires…. DETROIT!

  • Parque_Hundido

    Sara Shortt needs to pay a tax for wasting time and civic energy that could have gone toward useful ends. Weaponizing environmental impact review is about as low as they could go, putting them right up there with Rob Anderson, who was so upset at the idea of cycling that he managed to gum up SF’s cycling plan for 5 years with an impact review. Congrats on being just as despicable as Rob Anderson.

  • Genius

    All the generously paid high tech workers should just have a daily parade in the area with ther Lambos, Mazaratis and Ferraris when they commute to work. Maybe Sara will be happy.