Monday’s protest that held up one private Google bus brought national media attention to the Mission and further intensified discussion about Silicon Valley’s impact on the Mission District and other San Francisco neighborhoods.
For some within the company, the shuttle stop protest struck a personal chord.
“We’re not all IPO’d, we’re not all millionaires, the cost of living is a strain on everyone,” said one Google employee, who due to concerns about professional repercussions asked not to be identified. “I make $70,000 a year. After taxes, I’m paying half of my money on rent.”
The employee said he has been living in San Francisco for four years and spent two of those years in the Mission “before being priced out.” He says he feels that the rhetoric of the protesters’ unfairly polarizes the neighborhood.
Rising tension and “techie backlash” in recent months have led him to feel increasingly threatened while waiting for his ride to work. He described one experience waiting for a shuttle in the Lower Haight when a passerby spit on the face of another Google employee standing next to him and shouted: “F*&%@#% Google.”
“There’s a real frustration because a lot of us live in these communities and it’s almost like we’re being characterized as this entirely different entity, this force descending on the city,” he said. “We’re not just here for tech, a lot of us came out here for other reasons, this really is our home.”
A former Google employee who left the company in the last year expressed a similar sense of conflict.
“Riding the shuttle was problematic for me in personal and political sense,” he said. “I support the people putting on this demonstration, even more so the people quietly suffering from the effects of gentrification… But that’s balanced with the fact that I’m a young professional and working at Google was a great career opportunity. The Mission is where I can afford to do that and live in a city.”
Another Google employee said there were discussions within the company about the impact on San Francisco and the Mission. The engineer moved into the neighborhood seven years ago and said that some of the recent problems may be coming from a sense that newcomers are arriving with a set group of friends rather than melding more into the community.
When some Google employees saw footage of the protester posing as a Google employee and harassing other demonstrators, they couldn’t believe someone they worked with would behave in that way.
“When it was discovered that it wasn’t a Googler, it made a lot more sense,” the employee said.
Numerous publications confused the protester with an actual Google employee. He was later revealed to be union organizer Max Bell Alper by the SF Bay Guardian.
“It does say something that they all believed it,” said Amanda Ream, an activist with Eviction Free San Francisco, the group behind Monday’s action.
Ream says that the protest focused on Google’s shuttle bus because it’s “the most iconic and visible image” of the tech sector’s impact on San Francisco, but that the protest was about more than just transportation.
Google’s official company response to Monday’s protest focused primarily on the day-to-day impact of their shuttle lines.
“We certainly don’t want to cause any inconvenience to SF residents and we and others in our industry are working with SFMTA to agree to a policy on shuttles in the city,” wrote a company spokesperson in an email to Mission Local.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is currently working on a policy proposal to be presented to its Board in January. The proposal will better regulate the shuttles’ impact on neighborhoods, says Paul Rose, spokesperson for the SFMTA. According to Rose, the proposal has been developed in conjunction with several tech companies, including Google.
“Over the last few years, these types of shuttles have really emerged as part of the transportation network, with thousands boarding them a day,” Rose said. “We’re in a process to allow our policies catch up to this mode of transportation.”
Rose says the policy proposal, which if approved will go into effect in the summer of 2014, would transform 200 MUNI stops into shared stops with private bus providers that had paid a fee to be part of the system. The proposal also includes attaching i.d. placards to all private buses so community members with complaints can file complaints with the possibility of enforcement.
“We have received reports from people in neighborhoods,” Rose said. “This proposal will address those concerns and promote a service that takes thousands of cars off the street.”
Update: A previous version of this article stated that the SFMTA’s policy proposal would go into effect in the spring of 2014. It has been corrected to summer of 2014.