Google Donates $6.8 Million to Pay for Free Muni Passes for SF Youth

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Google has agreed to donate $6.8 million over the next two years to help fund free Muni passes for low and moderate income students, Mayor Ed Lee’s office announced today.

“This validates both the success and necessity of the Free Muni for Youth Program,” Bob Allen, a leader in the Free Muni for Youth coalition said in a press release issued by POWER, a community group involved in the fight for free transit. “We need tech companies in San Francisco & throughout the region to work with the community to support more community driven solutions to the displacement crisis.”

The Google donation comes in the midst of a growing tension between the new tech workers moving into the city and long term residents who are being pushed out because of rising rents. The tech buses carry 35,000 workers a day down to Silicon Valley and they have become a focal point for the growing divide in San Francisco. Community leaders have pressed City Hall to be more proactive in stopping evictions and in making the internet giants invest in San Francisco.

Gloria Chan from Supervisor David Campos’s office said the donation has to be considered in the context of residents being displaced. She called it a good first step but added that the students being helped with free Muni passes are also among those being driven out of the city.

Manuela Esteva, a Latina Mission resident, POWER member and leader in the Free Muni for Youth coalition, said in POWER’s press release that she is still facing eviction. “I may have to leave San Francisco because I can’t afford housing. This is a good step, but we need Google and other tech companies at the table with the community to really address the deep impact they are having on families like mine all across the city.”

POWER’s press release added:

The announcement comes as a surprise to community advocates who have been organizing for years in the community to win support for the program.  Mayor Ed Lee had already indicated his support for continuing the program in his State of the City address and MTA had indicated to the community that they were hopeful that they would be able to include the Free Muni for Youth program in their next 2-year budget since current budget projections show a 22 million dollar surplus. The MTA is scheduled to consider changes to fares on March 4th including continuing the Free Muni for Youth Program and possible expansion to include senior and people with disabilities.

“Hopefully with this new cash infusion that will free up funds so that the MTA will now be able to approve Free Muni for low-income seniors and people with disabilities,” said Donaji Lona, organizer with POWER.

Given the support from city decision makers and the monetary contribution from Google, the Free Muni for Youth Coalition is calling on the SF MTA to institutionalize the program by formally amending the fare policy to include the Free Muni for Youth program.   “The MTA should include Free Muni for Youth in the official fare policy.” said Jane Martin from the Free Muni for Youth Coalition. “It shouldn’t come and go depending on donations from Google or changes in the economy.  We need the program to continue during the next recession because that when our low-income families will be struggling again.”

Filed under: Mobile, Today's Mission

28 Comments

  1. landline

    10% of the money lost to the general fund from just the Twitter Tax and America’s Cup giveaways.

    • John

      No, without the Twitter tax break, Twitter and other businesses would have left SF and we would have lost far more revenues. City’s give tax breaks for sound reasons.

      AC was probably a net positive to the city when all the indirect revenues and benefits are taken into account.

      • C. Russo

        “City’s [sic] give tax breaks for sound reasons.” The reason was it was blackmailed into it. Twitter didn’t need that tax break, they just wanted it.

        • John

          Russo, there are so-called enterprise zones all over the world and they all operate on the same principle i.e. that tax breaks encourage economic activity and investment in your jurisdiction as opposed to someone else’s.

          Call it “beggar thy neighbor” if you want but it is how the world goes round. Jurisdictions do it because it works.

          It’s not blackmail. It’s just negotiation. When SF needs Twitter more than Twitter needs SF, expect a deal, and welcome it.

        • Mission resident

          You mean, twitter said to the city, “if you don’t give us a tax break, we will move our business elsewhere?” Is that blackmail or a statement of fact? IF they didn’t give the tqax break, Twitter would be in Brisbane and Brisbane would then have the excess city funds and mid-market would still smell like an armpit dipped in poo.

          • landline

            For the average person, mid-Market is basically unchanged. Almost no new on-street commercial activity, except for some new restaurants replacing old ones. Walk through there sometime and check it out yourself. I do often, and it seems mostly the same to me between 7th Street and Van Ness.

            Sure, there is the new highrise apartment development, but that was planned prior to the tax deal.

          • John

            I happen to think mid-Market is improving but you were claiming a loss of tax revenues due to the Twitter deal and the reality is the exact opposite – SF is getting more tax revenues than it otherwise would have done.

            Half of a pie is better than no pie.

          • nutrisystem

            I agree with landline – aside from the cute Twitter logo on the building, it doesn’t seem any different down there on mid-Market.

            The net affect of Ed Lee’s Twitter tax-break is that rents are much higher. Thanks.

          • John

            It’s definitely better along there.

            But even if it is no better, we are retaining and attracting high value enterprises to our town, rather than someone else’s town.

            You may not like success but the majority do.

          • marcos

            You mean nobody wants to hang out on the windiest corner in San Francisco and create a “vibrant” street scene? Vibrant, of course, means “more people than were here before only with more disposable income.”

          • poor.ass.millionaire

            Gotta agree with the lefties here, market st around mid market has changed very little. Gotta control all the poor and homeless there as it’s still outta control. As Marcos says, to effect change there ya gotta bring on the monied peeps!

          • marcos

            I’m saying the moneyed peeps ain’t gonna hang on the windy cold and shady streetscape no matter what.

          • John

            PAM, changing a sketchy neighborhood like Mid-Market cannot happen overnight. Or at least not unless we are willing to move the large pool of itinerants who congregate around there.

            Absent moving them to a more suitable location, then progress will be very gradual, one Twitter, restaurant and coffee shop at a time.

            But if the much worse Times Square in NYC can be transformed, so can mid-Market. It’s just not an overnight thing but rather a gradual renaissance.

          • poor.ass.millionaire

            Yes to john- change will be *very* gradual at mid market, due to the concentration of homeless and non profits/SROs.

            No to Marcos- look at the mission. SROs and gang bangers, and you still have cupcake shops and artisanal coffee coexisting cheek by Jowl. Only, it took 20 years. Mission is so crazy now, I bet that even. Mission/16 can get gentrified if they build that proposed large condo complex over BART. Now having well of folks and all those SRO’s, that will be really interesting.

  2. godzuki

    Great! This is the sort of corporate “giving” that should be supported, commended and celebrated.

    • Frank

      “City officials say the Google gift is one of the largest private contributions for city services in San Francisco history.”

      Thank you, Google!!

  3. pete

    Won’t ever be enough for the professionally agitated.

  4. Mario

    Supply issues aside, there is a simple mechanism to make the competition for the limited housing farer to low-income people without vilifying specific parts of society. Institute a local progressive income/capital gains tax. This being a liberal town, it sounds pretty obvious. Prop 13 can be reformed very NARROWLY to allow municipalities to institute a local income tax for residents/workers with a 2/3 vote (just like all taxes require based on Prop 13). It could kick in on incomes above $100,000 and grow progressively. It would reduce the disposal income of the wealthy and reduce the price they are willing to pay in rent. The tax revenue can be used to build public housing or improve education and public transportation, all policies that provide more opportunities to low-income people. If the underlying problem is extreme income inequality, there is no point attacking the upper middle-class and leaving the mega-rich intact. Just tax progressively and avoid personal attacks.

    • John

      Are you saying it is “only” Prop13 that disallows any city in CA from introducing a city income tax?

      That is not my understanding.

      And anyway the point of State laws is to prevent special carve-outs and exceptions. Sounds to me like you want SF to secede from the State. Not sure you have the votes.

  5. sugarfoot

    I’m not sure free muni for youth is the best way for Google to ‘help’ struggling families in SF.

    I’m just wondering why it takes $3 million a year for the program, when there are 31,000 kids registered and a monthly muni pass is $23. Comes to $713,000. Maybe the system could be streamlined a bit somewhere.

    • landline

      You calculated the monthly, not the yearly, lost revenue of the program. 31,000 * $23 * 12 = $8,555,600.

  6. landline

    Another well researched and well written article from intrepid reporter and analyst Darwin Bond-Graham about Google, its revenues and tax avoidance strategies: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/28/google-money/.

    Last year, Google had revenues of about $60B and net income of about $13B. Its contribution of $6.8M towards the Muni program is .01% of its earnings or .05% of its profit. To put that in perspective, their contribution is comparable to a person earning $50,000 per year making a $5 donation to Muni, or 2.5 bus rides.

  7. nutrisystem

    The busing in of 40,000 highly paid (relative to existing residents) tech workers by Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. has caused a stunning increase in rents.

    Lets make a very rough estimate of what this rent hyperinflation costs the residents of SF, just to get a ballpark notion of how laughably insignificant the $6.8 million gift is by comparison…

    If 100,000 units of housing cost an extra $1000/month, that’s an extra $100 million per month, or $1.2 billion per year in rent expenditures.

    Thus the HURT is 352 times bigger than the HELP.

    The only solution to rent hyperinflation in SF (and the Bay area in general) is for these rapidly growing companies to step up and provide housing for at least part of their workforce, thus taking the heat off the packed existing rental stock.

    Google alone is sitting on $10B in cash, so could afford to build a deluxe workforce housing option without breaking a sweat.

    By building workforce housing, the Tech Majors would not only be helping themselves recruit and retain talent, they would be helping the Bay Area: allowing young companies to thrive (because they could pay employees considerably less if housing was affordable), and allowing new creative blood to come into the economy.

    • John

      The 40,000 commuters being bussed out (not “in” as you stated) is overwhelmed by the half million commuters who travel into SF every day for work.

      So the net effect of people who live in one county and work in another drives rents DOWN not up. The suburbs provide a housing surplus and SF runs a housing deficit.

      And even that assumes that you can prove a link between commuter shuttles and rents. It’s a mere hypothesis without evidence. By definition excess demand can only drive up rents for vacant units, because of rent control.

      Finally, I do not want homebuilders running technology and I do not want tech companies building homes. In any event, no self-respecting worker wants to live in a “work camp” complex full of people he works with. Your idea is virtually an argument for the forced repatriation of people based on their occupation.

      The overwhelming majority of SF’ers do not work in tech. Your problem lies elsewhere – much of it due to city policies that suppress the supply of homes. Start there if you must scapegoat.

      • nutrisystem

        So this is your idiotic theory: the Tech Bus phenomenon drive rents DOWN?

        John, stop. You’re just embarrasing yourself. You’ve made it clear that, as a real estate speculator, you personally benefit from the rent hyperinflation, and thus have strong motive to concoct justifications for the Tech Buses.

        • John

          I never said the tech buses drive down rents. What I said is that the net effect of commuting between counties drives SF rents down, because far more workers commute into the city than out of it.

          I also noted your complete absence of evidence for your claim. It’s just a theory.

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