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UncategorizedSupervisors defy progessive community, approve Google Bus Project

Supervisors defy progessive community, approve Google Bus Project

Anti_Eviction Mapping project data shown to the supervisors demonstrates how the Google Buses lead to evictions
Anti_Eviction Mapping project data shown to the supervisors demonstrates how the Google Buses lead to evictions

By Tim Redmond

APRIL 2, 2014 — The San Francisco supervisors defied pretty much the entire progressive community last night and gave a green light to a program that allows tech shuttles to use Muni stops for $1.

The topic of the hearing was technical: Does the pilot program meet the threshold in the California Environmental Quality Act to mandate an environmental impact report?

The real issue led to hours of testimony: Is it okay for shuttles that serve mostly upper-income people to use public bus stops, delaying the Muni buses that serve a lower-income clientele – and shouldn’t the city look first at the impacts on residents and what could be done to mitigate the damage?

City planners argued that the pilot program doesn’t need an EIR. A coalition that included labor, tenant groups, the Harvey Milk Club and environmentalists challenged that decision and asked the board to overturn it.

In the end, only Supervisors David Campos and John Avalos agreed with the progressives. With Sup. Eric Mar absent, eight other board members voted to approve the Google Bus Project.

On its face, the city’s position was hard to justify: There are more than 300 private shuttles, some of them 60 feet long, and all evidence suggests that they are slowing down Muni, clogging traffic, and adding to the displacement of residents in areas that they serve.

Under CEQA, a government action that “could have a significant impact on the environment” needs an EIR. An EIR doesn’t meant the project can’t move forward; it just mandates that the decision-makers understand the full impacts of what the project involves and consider ways to mitigate, or lessen, the impacts that can’t be avoided.

In this case, that would mean, for example, looking at whether the tech companies that pay for these buses need to put money into an affordable housing fund, or pay for better Muni service, or be limited to loading and unloading in certain geographic areas.

The Pirate Shuttles

Among the legal issues here: Can the city say that the “existing conditions” under CEQA already include private shuttles stopping in Muni zones, and look at impacts beyond that? Or should the city assume that the existing shuttles are breaking the law and look at the baseline that existed without them?

Richard Drury, attorney for the appellants, talked about “pirate” shuttle buses and noted that what the buses are doing now is illegal. The shuttle buses, he noted, are displacing people – and under CEQA, displacement is a significant impact.

The city is preparing a full EIR for the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, he said. In other words, when the city makes changes to the public transit system, it requires environmental study. But when Google wants to run pirate shuttle buses, there’s no EIR at all.

The city’s own budget and legislative analyst issued a report concluding that the buses are having significant impacts on the city — 60,000 pound buses cause over a dollar of damage for every mile they travel. A loaded SUV causes less than one penny.

They also interfere with Muni service, blocking traffic and causing impacts on disabled people who have to get on the buses in the middle of traffic.

These buses, Drury noted, are “the opposite of affirmative action.” Cities used to bus low-income people to better schools. Now San Francisco is allowing private companies to bus upper-income white adults into low-income neighborhoods of color where they displace existing residents.

Sup. David Chiu asked a question that seemed to put him on the side of the tech companies: If the shuttle program is shut down, he said, a lot more tech workers will drive.

Drury pointed out that the issue isn’t stopping the program; it’s just about creating a full study that would look at the impacts.

“Before the government does an 18-month pilot, we should figure out what the impacts mitigation and alternatives are,” he said.

In fact, the Anti-eviction Mapping Project has studied the issue and concluded that 69 percent of no-fault evictions happened within four blocks of a private shuttle stop. Rents have skyrocketed around those stops. The Municipal Transporation Agency, which runs Muni and is handling the pilot project, has done zero analysis of the eviction issue.

Wiener loses the debate

Then Sup. Scott Wiener took over, interrogating Drury, trying to push the argument to absurd conclusions – and failing.

Here’s the essence of the exchange.

Wiener: You talked about busing high-income people into the neighborhoods. What do you mean by that? You’re making the assumption that the tech workers aren’t real San Franciscans, that there is some sort of invading force, that they are not one of us.

Drury: Displacement is an impact under CEQA. The people who are being displaced are overwhelmingly people of color, lower and moderate income. They will require replacement housing or wind up on the street. When the government takes action that will result in mass displacement, CEQA requires analysis.

Wiener: Most of these shuttles are exclusively within the city, Twitter, the GAP, UCSF. Why doesn’t the appeal brief talk about that?

Drury: Most of the intra-city shuttles use white zones. They’re lighter, smaller, less impacts on pedestrian safety. Most of the impacts aren’t the intra-city program, it’s the intercity shuttles.

Wiener: Let’s talk about whether these really are impacting displacement. Of 35,000 daily boardings of private shuttles in the city, only about 6,500 are inter-city shuttles. That’s about 3,250 riders. About 30 percent of those people say they would move closer to work if they didn’t have the shuttles. That’s about 1,000 people in the best-case scenario. There’s been a population increase of 75,000 people in the city. Would losing 1,000 tech workers really have an impact on reducing displacement?

Drury: Yes. Impacts are cumulative. This is one impact, one of many. It’s a significant one, a highly localized one. Within four blocks of a shuttle stop, property values have appreciated faster.

Wiener: But any improvement in transit causes gentrification. If we’re going to add Muni buses or Muni lines to make it easier for people to get around, do we have to do an EIR?

Drury: Yes. In fact, the city’s doing that exact thing right now, studying the impacts of Muni line changes.

Wiener: What if we made it easier to drive on Highway 101? Would that require an EIR?

Drury: Every road widening project since 1970s has had an EIR.

Wiener: In the context of all the auto traffic in the city, do you know what percentage of the pollution and cancer risk caused by these shuttles?

Drury: Our analysis says that the incremental impact exceeds the CEQA threshold. And it’s a poor argument to say that the problem is already bad, so let’s go ahead and make it worse.

After Wiener was finished, Campos noted: “Mr. Drury, I think I just learned not to get into an argument with you.”

Drury raised another interesting point: The city, by legalizing the tech shuttles, is attempting to pre-empt state law. California Vehicle Code Sect. 22500 states that no private vehicle can block a public bus stop.

“I don’t think the city can authorize an illegal activity anyway,” he said.

Campos asked if the city is allowing any private citizen to use the stops? Drury: No, that’s a $271 ticket.

Tech workers and immigrants

Sup. Jane Kim made a nice point, one that needs to be repeated: “I hate the analogy that tech workers are new immigrants that are discriminated against,” she said. “When Chinese workers arrived they were not allowed to own property or go to public schools. It’s not a fair analogy.”

Tom Temprano, co-president of the Milk Club (and a columnist for 48hills) noted during public comment that “When it comes to building desperate affordable housing, the city says it takes time, we need to do an EIR.When it comes to adding bike lanes, or improving Muni, the city says it takes time, we need an EIR.

But this project we’re told that there isn’t an EIR and time suddenly isn’t an issue.”

Dean Preston, a tenant advocate who lives in Alamo Square, said the issue is that “there ought to be one set of laws that apply to everyone. He invited the supervisors to have coffee with him at Hayes and Steiner to watch the tech shuttles interfere with Muni and traffic. “You can come watch and see who’s winning.”

After Sarah Jones, director of environmental planning at the City Planning Department, presented the city’s position on the issue, Campos was stunned: “The city’s argument is circular,” he said. “How can you say that an illegal condition is then the baseline?” (The League of Pissed Off Voters has a good piece on this here.)

He asked if there are places where no shuttles are stopping now that could be part of the pilot. Jones said she didn’t know.

“That’s kind of comical,” Campos said. “How do you know that there’s no environmental impact if you don’t know how many stops there will be?”

But never mind the facts. Never mind that the entire progressive community was united in this appeal. Never mind that what the shuttles are doing is illegal. When the roll call came, at around 10:30 pm, the deal was done. Supervisors London Breed, David Chiu, Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, Jane Kim, Katy Tang, Scott Wiener, and Norman Yee all voted to reject the appeal and let the Google buses run rampant over the city.

Not a good day for San Francisco. Not a good day at all.

(Full disclosure note: While I try to raise enough money for 48hills to actually pay myself a living wage, I’m doing outside freelance work. As a freelancer, I am helping edit the member newsletter of SEIU Local 1021, which is one of the appellants in the Google Bus case. (I am also teaching at City College and San Francisco’s State’s Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning and recently did a class at USF.) 

Oh, and among the people testifying against the Google Bus project was my son, Michael, who rides Muni to high school and complains that the tech shuttles slow down the 24 line and make him late to class. I didn’t ask him to testify or tell him what to say; he got mad enough on his own to come down to City Hall and wait three hours for his two minutes. He’s even more mad that we lost.)


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Google should be exposed for their treatment of the Google bus drivers, as well. As a former Google driver, I can tell you the drivers are working the Google shuttles for less than minimum wage. Google contracts the routes to private bus companies, who create what they call a “split shift”, on which the driver works about 8 hours (4 in the morning commute and 4 in the evening commute). The driver is paid $18.50 for those hours worked, but the time in between is spent at GOOGLE, in Mountain View, unpaid all day long while the Google employees are inside working. Yes, the drivers wait outside in the bus all day, unpaid!

    The drivers are not allowed to take the bus back to San Francisco, where they started their day, and where their car is at. The drivers cannot take the bus anywhere on their “split” – not even to go and get lunch in town. Additionally, the drivers are not allowed inside the 5 restaurants at the Google campus, where all Google employees eat unlimited free meals. Drivers cannot even go inside the restaurants to BUY lunch there. The Google bus drivers have no choice, except to pack a lunch every day, or walk into town to get lunch during their unpaid 8-hour split in Mountain View. Drivers are unpaid ALL DAY LONG during their “split”.

    It takes a the drivers 16 hours away from home to complete the Google shifts, and they are paid 8 hours at $18.50. When you consider the 8 hours stranded at Google, that reduces the hourly rate to $9.25, which is less than San Francisco minimum wage.

    At least 2 contracting bus companies have been sued over this already, but the problem persists. Google should insist that the drivers are paid for every hour they spend on the job. That would cause every bus company to comply, and level the playing field for the bus companies when it comes to submitting bids to get the Google contracts. As it stands now, no company can afford to pay any more because they couldn’t compete with the other companies to bid low enough to get the Google contracts. This problem is GOOGLE’S fault. Paying the bus drivers for their entire day should be written into the Google contracts with the bus companies. .

  2. I recently left a comment in a facebook thread about my disabled mom being affected by two back-to-back shuttles parked at the stop she had to take for her week of jury duty. She was late three times that week because her bus couldn’t stop and just drove on by.

    I said this:
    “I bitch about the mega buses idling at SF’s public transit stops and preventing San Franciscans (like my disabled mom) from riding MUNI buses. She was late three days out of five to jury duty because two tech shuttles parked in her MUNI stop back to back so the bus she needed to get to court had nowhere to stop and just drove on by.

    I’ve also been nearly hit by the monster buses driving super fast down small neighborhood streets they are far too big for. They have to straddle multiple lanes to traverse SF’s streets without coming dangerously close to parked cars–which they do anyway.

    I would love for them to all gather at a parking lot on the Southern and Western edges of the city, near freeway on ramps. Tech employees can use city transport to get to them and they wouldn’t have to displace transport that San Franciscans pay for and deserve to be able to use.

    Alternatively, I would love for tech employees to use CalTrain, BART, and regional bus services to get down the peninsula and then be picked up by their shuttles on that end and taken to work. It would be nice if some of the money being used to support private shuttle companies was instead going into our local and regional transit systems. It would also be nice for these riders to be part of the community and to see and experience the good and bad of these systems. If they find them unacceptable, it would be awesome to have their support (and funds) in advocating for change and improvements.”

    A special gentleman named Bill Fumerola, who I do do not know but who I could see works at facebook, first replied with this:
    “workers at those companies should all take 2.5+ hours to get to work instead of 45 minutes because muni drivers are bad at their jobs.”

    And then he followed up with this:
    “Mhris: propping up your disabled mother as the victim of the corporate busses is the real genius. how can anyone argue with that? anyone who disagrees with you implicitly hates disabled women.

    those busses are subject to all the same rules of the road that any other vehicle is. if they’re parking where they’re not supposed to, ticket them. if they’re driving dangerously, pull them over. if they’re using the road that paying their state registration allows them to… well shit, i guess there’s nothing that can be done about that.

    of course, you’d love them to gather somewhere that makes it more convenient for you. what a perfect world it would be if everyone did what made it more convenient for me. completely scalable, too.

    your convenience requires asking people to take a 45 minute bus ride downtown so they can ride 45 minutes to work instead of having the busses pickup employees in neighborhoods. that doubles the commute time for thousands of people every day.

    but, hey, your mom wouldn’t have to wait 10 minutes for the next bus every now and then.”

    I replied to someone else with this:
    “Public schools suck so let’s divert money from them into charter schools so only the suckers that are too poor to get out will have to suffer the truly shit schools. Of course, that also removes any parents with the time or skills to advocate and organize on behalf of improved public schools. Or, in this case, buses & trains.

    Also, that’s not how Bill’s comment reads. I think he was saying because MUNI drivers had *no choice* but to drive past the stop the shuttles were PARKED at that they are simply bad at their jobs and magical tech workers should not have to suffer a regular commute to the far away workplace *of their choice* simply because San Francisco residents *are* being impacted by their mobile behemoths. Guess what, they chose their commute, not me, not the city of San Francisco. They are not special. They are not the first folks with a commute that *they chose*. Let them deal with it, instead of a whole damn city that never agreed to absorb or accommodate this madness. I don’t give a crap how long it takes. I took a 2.5 hour bus ride home everyday after high school. Are they less capable than a high schooler with homework? Give me a break. I’ll continue to side with the folks that work minimum wage jobs and don’t get to cut their commutes in half in order to spend more time with their families. Their commutes get even longer when their buses CAN’T stop to pick them up.

    And when I went back now to grab his comments, I saw he had added this after I left the convo:
    “there are areas of town that got sick of the tour busses (e.g. “San Frnacisco Sightseeing”) which are about the same size as the shuttle busses & operate more or less under the same rules & laws. after hearings and public discussion and updates to the rules, now certain blocks (e.g. ones near Alamo Square) as off limits. those busses now have to use different routes and stop on different streets. similarly the shuttle bus operators now have paid agreements with SFMTA that restrict stops/routes. that’s how real change happens.

    cars, muni, pedestrians, shuttle busses, tour busses, taxies, private town cars, etc all are legally allowed to exist on these roads. the law applies to everyone. if i block a muni stop with my car, i should get a ticket. so should the shuttle/tour busses, unless the SFMTA agreement allows for it.

    it sure is easier to target a highly visible symbol than it is to actually spend effort making legislative changes. making real change in city hall is hard.”

    Not only is he lovely and charming and a wonderful voice for facebook, but he’s also so extraordinarily well informed about how perfectly legal everything pertaining to the megabuses is. Of course, I’m being sarcastic and your account above of the community meeting last night makes it abundantly clear how little tech bros like Bill care about the truth regarding their impacts on our community. Of course, lack of knowledge does not affect in the least the size of their egos or their mouths.

  3. The progressive majority on the Board ended with David Chiu. People use the inaccurate term “moderates,” but these people are right wingers in Bay Area terms. They support developers and the rich, against the poor, the working class, and the environment; nothing moderate about that.

  4. I watched the first couple of hours on Channel 26. Drury was great and articulate, and so was your son, while Wiener was simply appalling. The other Supervisors were not much better. Hope State law wins out and we can start the process over, hopefully with new legislators in San Francisco.

  5. The real Trickle Down theory.
    Bad policy at the top encourage those below to do the same.
    The Supreme Court gives wealthy donors the legal right to buy our politicians,
    which empowers GOP front organizations to spread bald-faced lies about AHCA, Benghazi, IRS, etcetcetc,
    which empowers Republican Congress to spend millions attempting to kill AHCA,
    which empowers US legislators to make public racial slurs about the President of the United States,
    which empowers governors and state legistatures to shut down women’s health centers,
    which empowers local judges to let wealthy convicted child rapists off with a slap and a wink,
    which empowers state police to strip/cavity search a woman on the highway in broad daylight,
    which empowers local police to shoot a man for eating a burrito in the wrong neighborhood on his way to work,
    which empowers my Board of Supervisors to blatantly shill for the tech and developer interests at a public hearing.
    And it’s working just fine. No-one gets held accountable.
    Thanks, Ronald Reagan.
    Your legacy lives on, as my city dies out.


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