Protesters attack housing issue via Google bus, Twitter protest 

click to enlarge Tony Robles
  • Evan DuCharme/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Tony Robles of POOR magazine speaks to protesters at a candlelight vigil outside Twitter headquarters Monday, hours after a separate demonstration against a Google bus.
In a Google bus blockade in The City’s Mission district Monday morning, about two dozen protesters dubbing themselves the San Francisco Displacement and Neighborhood Impact Agency and a Google employee imposter underscored yet again what they consider an eviction crisis linked to the tech industry.

Yellow-vested protesters held a “Warning: Illegal Use of Public Infrastructure” sign, highlighting the problems they see with Google’s commuter shuttles picking up workers at Muni stops. Two activists boarded the Google bus at the stop at Valencia and 24th streets and passed out eviction surveys with the likeness of a civic seal.

A man pretending to be a Google worker got off the bus and shouted at protesters, “This is a city for the right people who can afford it! If you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave!”

The hoaxer, who later revealed he is Max Bell Alper and works as an organizer with Unite Here Local 2850 in Oakland, called his impassioned tirade “a piece of improv political theater” to demonstrate his worry that housing and transportation in The City are becoming less and less affordable.

Alper, 33, noted his comments — which went viral and caught national attention — were intended to be “completely absurd” due to the issue.

“It’s completely absurd that anybody would want to live in a city that only rich people can afford,” he said. “Completely absurd to have public transportation cut while tech companies aren’t paying their fair share of taxes.”

Rental prices within a walkable radius of many Google bus pickup sites have risen more rapidly than elsewhere in the region, according to “The ‘Google Shuttle Effect:’ Gentrification and San Francisco’s Dot Com Boom 2.0,” written by former UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design graduate student Alexandra Goldman.

Goldman’s report found that two-bedroom apartments within half a mile of the Google shuttle stop at Valencia and 24th streets saw a 27 percent increase, versus 20 percent for those between half a mile and a mile away.

Protesters’ fliers claimed that tech companies’ private shuttles access more than 200 Muni stops about 7,100 times each weekday without permission and without contributing funds to public infrastructure. If fined for the past two years, the companies would owe an estimated $1 billion to The City, the fliers claim.

The figure is closer to 4,000 times each weekday and includes commuter shuttles not only for tech companies in Silicon Valley, but for colleges and corporations within The City, said Carli Paine, a project manager with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The practice causes public transit delays and is “really confusing and imperfect, and not sustainable,” she said.

On Jan. 21, SFMTA board members will be asked to approve an 18-month, $1.5 million pilot to develop a network of about 200 Muni stops that private shuttles must pay $1 to use per stop.

Late Monday afternoon, about 100 activists from 20 different organizations marched from the Twitter headquarters to the Westfield Mall protesting a broad range of “inequality” issues.

“This was an excellent bookend to that [Google bus] story,” said United Educators of San Francisco spokesman Matthew Hardy.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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