If anything has become the symbol of what San Franciscans perceive as the “tech problem” in our fair city, it’s Google's gleaming commuter buses. Tempers run obnoxiously high in discussions about these shuttles as symbols of gentrification – not only in San Francisco, but now in cities outside California where massive development and rising rents are being blamed on tech companies and their buses.
Recently, protesters in Seattle blocked Microsoft’s commuter vans. Armed with volatile pamphlets and pithy slogans, the activists encircled the shuttles, airing their grievances that Microsoft’s affluent employees are pillaging the housing market, driving up rents, and forcing out the working class in rapidly-gentrifying areas like Capitol Hill and Ballard. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The Seattle activists are continuing the narrative we hear constantly repeated in San Francisco. New money development leads to spikes in rent, which leads to less options for the low and middle class, which theoretically means a city of gleaming condos populated by the ultra-rich. If Google and Microsoft are the bad guys, what better way to stick it in their golden craws then to protest these mobile avatars of everything they represent.
We are wasting our time protesting commuter shuttles, both here and in Seattle, as that city's alt weekly The Stranger pointed out the day the protests took place. Yes, tech companies got away with highway robbery when San Francisco recently “fined” them a measly one to two hundred thousand dollars a year for the use of our public streets. But as SF Weekly rightly pointed out in this week's cover story, standing in front of buses is merely pissing on the tip of the iceberg.
Seattle and San Francisco are battling the same demon – gentrification and the high rent prices it seemingly creates. Though both cities have had long histories with tech – Microsoft and Amazon in Seattle and Twitter, Facebook, and Google in San Francisco – the private shuttles aren't a useful target for this anger toward rapid development. The focus, both here and in cities tackling similar issues, needs to be on how local governments are insuring residents of all income levels are able to live there.
As The Seattle Weekly artfully stated, Seattle residents are protesting because they're scared they’ll find themselves knee deep in the same quagmire San Francisco is already in, with big tech running the show instead of city hall. They want to avoid living in a city that's so scared of losing tech industry cash that its leaders are willing to do anything to keep the companies there. Activists in both cities should stop squandering our resources standing around buses and start thinking about real solutions to a very real problems of affordable housing in San Francisco and Seattle.