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Sunday, September 26, 2021

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News + PoliticsWhy C.W. Nevius is wrong about the Google buses

Why C.W. Nevius is wrong about the Google buses

The supes can, indeed, force changes to the shuttle program, and they almost certainly will

I keep having to correct Chuck Nevius, and this time, he’s going on about the glories of the Google buses, quoting Sup. Scott Wiener, who loves the private the shuttle program.

Nevius insists that

Actually, the supervisors have no authority over the shuttle buses, which are regulated by the MTA. The supervisors may pass a resolution of some kind, but as one insider put it, they would be passing “a non-binding resolution in support of a tentative agreement over which they have no jurisdiction.”

That’s not at all true and misses the entire point of the discussion that’s going on here. Even Wiener, who really really supports the current plan, recognizes what’s at stake.

This map shows all of the no-fault evictions that took place within a few blocks of a tech-shuttle stop
This map shows all of the no-fault evictions that took place within a few blocks of a tech-shuttle stop

First of all, the supes do, indeed, have control over things like bus stops, and zoning – and the environmental impacts of traffic projects, which is why the pilot program to allow the Google buses to use those stops required Board of Supes approval.

Now the issue before the board is an appeal by labor and environmental groups of the decision that the full project can go forward without an environmental review. Wiener doesn’t think there’s a legit environmental issue here, but he also knows that if six supervisors vote in favor of the appeal, the program as it now exists will be at the very least suspended and possible eliminated or altered in a major way.

The city would have to study, for example, whether the tech shuttles have driven displacement.

Nevius insists that “the buses don’t create housing demand any more than a rooster crowing causes the sun to rise,” but there’s plenty of evidence that he’s wrong.

In fact, several people testified before the board that 60 percent of all no-fault evictions in the city have taken place within four blocks of a tech shuttle stop. Even Wiener, at the last board hearing, in effect admitted that new sources of convenient transit drive up property values; if they put a new BART station at 30th and Mission, near where I live, people who work downtown or in the East Bay along BART lines would have additional motivation to move into my neighborhood.

But not everyone who works downtown or in the East Bay near a BART station makes a nice tech salary. These buses are aimed only at one class of people – mostly single, mostly high-paid – and they are prime sources of displacement in the city right now. Public transit, that serves everyone, has a different kind of impact, and is less a cause of the housing crisis we’re seeing in places like the Mission.

Wiener brought up Caltrain; electrifying that line and speeding up the trains would make it easier to commute from SF to the Peninsula, and might impact prices near the Caltrain stations. But again: Students use those trains. People who work in modest-paying jobs use those trains. And lots of people take Muni to the downtown Caltrain station from all over the city.

Has tech-bus-driven displacement forced lower-income people who work in the city to move way out of town, far from transit lines, and thus put more people in cars?

The shuttles are supposed to be taking cars off the streets – but are they, overall, given displacement?

It will take a while to study that – and the program can’t exist until the study is done. That means in effect if the supes uphold the appeal, the Google buses will no longer have the legal right to use Muni stops, which would severely limit the number of buses in the neighborhoods. (Oh, unless the MTA decided to take away lots of residential and commercial parking spaces and turn them into bus white zones – and you think people in the Mission and Noe are going to go for that?)

So the supes have the ability to, in effect, shut the program down. The tech companies know that, which is why they’ve been in meetings with several supervisors to look at a compromise.

We don’t know exactly what that would look like at this point, but we know that among the issues on the table are limiting the total number of buses (reducing the current number), charging more for each stop (the city can’t legally force the shuttles to pay more than the cost of administering the program, but the tech companies can volunteer to pay more), and possibly limiting some of the shuttles to hubs, perhaps downtown.

Sup. Jane Kim likes the hub idea, which among other things would make the tech workers ride (and support) Muni, just like the rest of us.

The supes can’t pass regulations mandating these things – but they can do a lot more than pass a toothless resolution. They can force everyone – the MTA, the tech companies, and the shuttle workers – to agree to a way better deal that what we have now. And if that doesn’t happen, they can uphold the appeal and kill the entire program.

So this isn’t at all meaningless. There are, I suspect, at least six votes to uphold the appeal if the tech companies don’t cut a deal. (And if the deal isn’t good for workers and the environment, the appellants won’t withdraw the appeal, and might take the case to court if the supes reject it).

Which is why we might actually see some movement from the tech industry, and we might wind up with a much better deal and much better program – something Mayor Lee could have pushed for in the first place.

You can (and some will) call this an abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act, but the truth is, CEQA has been used for decades to win concessions from developers. City councils and mayors and boards of supervisors that are friendly to well-heeled developers and project sponsors routinely approve bad deals that damage the environment. CEQA gives the rest of us a tool to force better projects.

So that’s what’s going on here. And we will see it play out in the next week or two.


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. NO you move fascist asshole fuckface dickwad motherfucker sell out inhuman piece of feces. when the real violent revolution comes you are the first to die you diseased fuckhole for dogs.

  2. “Who the fuck pays you…”

    Wow. One of those morons that thinks that people are actually paid to comment on blogs. Incredible.

  3. I am admittedly upset that Darwinian processes have failed us all and left some outrageously stupid people in the world, yes.

  4. “Stupid motherfucker”? I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re so upset because I’ve caught you in a lie. (Also because your comments have no internal logic. Who the fuck pays you, and do they know you’re so dumb? I suppose nepotism could be the explanation. Either that or you’re on your knees under someone’s desk every day.)

  5. My point is: I wouldn’t leave my current job based on the existence of the shuttles. I’d drive, you stupid motherfucker. The proof is in the fact that I’ve already done so.

  6. This is such a San Fran argument I can’t even. “These workers?” Here we go again, determining someone’s cultural “worthiness.” Also engaging in “you can’t live here.” Did you grow up in Marin County?

    BTW., there is not plenty of housing in the Peninsula and Santa Clara County. That’s the problem. Blame can be heaped, shoveled even, on the South. They jammed in jobs and then preserved burrowing owl habitat.

  7. Untrue. I lived in the city and commuted happily by car and Caltrain before the shuttles. Removing the shuttles would change nothing. I like my job and I get paid well for doing it. A southbound commute is a pain in the ass but it won’t kill me. It’s possible I’d be more open to being poached by a company in SF if this happened but you won’t be rid of me, either way. Okay, great. Now what?

  8. Newsflash. Yes, they can.

    And you make my point for me: my responsibility to the city comes in the form of taxes, fees, rent/mortgage, etc. all of which I can afford to pay. So, if that’s all it takes, I guess the ones who can’t afford it should take a hike.

    For the record, the latter is not what I believe, but, based on your above logic, it is literally what you are suggesting.

  9. The buses exist to get us to work. They weren’t created to piss you off, establish some mysterious sociopolitical agenda, or “ruin” San Francisco.

    If you don’t like it, YOU move. And, also, fuck you. I have as much right to be here as you.

  10. “These workers,” myself included, invite you to go fuck yourself. I’ve lived in the city for 15 years, before I ever had a job South of Glen Park. I’ll live wherever I damn well please, fuck you very much.

  11. That will never happen, for two important reasons:

    1. Liability. They can’t insure everyone who enters the bus, as it is effectively company property. It’s the same reason offices are closed to the public. For a clue, note that full-time employees ride the bus for free but contractors pay a nominal fee (a few dollars, literally, per paycheck) to do so. That’s the insurance.

    2. Security and confidentiality of IP. Employees on the bus often work on many confidential projects, not just in terms of onscreen work but also in the form of speaking to each other. Exposing this to the public is something few companies would risk. I can’t even think of one who would, actually.

  12. There’s something that speaks to a mindset that sez cuz we’re already here – then we should soak the tourists who pay for our infrastructure (sales & hotel taxes); and newer residents, who pay 10x what homeowners pay in prop tax and 3x what renters pay in rent, should be inconvenienced – almost as a form of hazing.

    This is not a new attitude; the tourist thing has been going on for decades. And it used to be that new arrivals were effectively locked out of employment by the union shops.

    Seems like its just an endless round of ceaseless struggle. To the victor belongs the … endless struggle. Beautiful scenery and weather though. (and the water is pretty tasty, too!)

  13. So you’re only worried about a small minority? By your argument, it would make more sense for cars to be banned from public roads, since only people with money can afford cars, and they as a whole make up a vast majority of the vehicles on the road.

    Basically the whole argument against tech shuttles is more “Progressive” bull, that on the surface is about dealing with a certain issue (traffic congestion in this case), but is really about trying to reduce demand to reduce prices, all without increasing supply, because the NIMBYs in their coalition like it that way. Either way, since tech workers came to the Mission for the shuttles did, this strategy to lower prices would not be alll that effective, making this a mostly political and ideological fight.

  14. You missed the point….not referring to the national 1%..,, referring to 8,000 SF riders as less than 1% of the city population.

  15. If you think people who ride the shuttles are in the 1% you seriously need to get your information from somewhere else.

  16. Who the fuck are you to tell people how to get to work. It’s probably not an issue for you, couch spud. Your petty hate and jealousy must eat you alive. Good, keep hating.

  17. My wife works at Genentech and she used to take the shuttle which stopped at the Glenn Park BART station, which was a logical spot. Many people that work for Genentech and other biotechs in SSF would BART it there and then take the shuttle. But Genentech recently reduced the program, likely due to the politics. So now she drives into work like most of the other employees. This is all about politics and petty jealousy. And unions that don’t want to compete with private sector mass transit. These tech shuttles are carpooling on a mass scale. Tim Richmond is a lfet wing idiot.

  18. Not everyone who disagrees with me is a pseudo-intellectual libertarian asshole, but on this site, they seem to be a vocal majority.

    No one claims you are going to expel 8k tech workers by restricting shuttle programs, but a lot would choose to leave for the peninsula.

    Tim recognizes that this is one of many factors. Seems to me much more reasonable that your approach of ‘meh’.

  19. “Well, in that period, median rent increased 11.6% in SF and 12.1% in Oakland, so housing was that much cheaper a year ago:”


    “There are a lot of differences between adding 3.5k new units to a housing market and 8,000 residents migrating to the peninsula, though.”


    “The unit mix will be different, the demographics different, and the reaction of owners and tenants different.”


    “The problem with people who make arguments like yours is that you want to ignore all of these nuances.”

    No. The pretty mild point I’m making is that focusing on the commuter buses—as Tim called them, one of “the three worst things that have happened to renters in this town in the past ten years”—is shortsighted, given the relatively small number of people involved. We cannot magically expel all the shuttle commuters, but even if we could, it would not rewind the clock far enough to solve the problem entirely.

    What nuance am I ignoring that would invalidate that premise?

    “Sorry, but ECON 101 and a copy of Atlas Shrugged only gets you so far, and that’s not far enough.”

    Ugh. This kind of shit is so poisonous to the discourse in San Francisco. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a pseudo-intellectual libertarian asshole. Perpetuating the idea that this is an Us-vs.-Them issue with no common ground isn’t helpful.

  20. Well, in that period, median rent increased 11.6% in SF and 12.1% in Oakland, so housing was that much cheaper a year ago:


    There are a lot of differences between adding 3.5k new units to a housing market and 8,000 residents migrating to the peninsula, though. The unit mix will be different, the demographics different, and the reaction of owners and tenants different.

    The problem with people who make arguments like yours is that you want to ignore all of these nuances. Sorry, but ECON 101 and a copy of Atlas Shrugged only gets you so far, and that’s not far enough.

  21. I don’t read it as CN feeling entitled. He said he succumbed to his lower self (and envy at others not paying) in his not paying. That the officer gave him a hard time and then yanking the tix due to celeb status is not CNs fault. He even said “what am I suppose to do – insist on the tix?”.

    This article does bring up the subject of MTA officers discretion-ability; dismissing tix for celebs/friends/politicos/attractive-women … How selective is this enforcement, anyway? Other poster complain about homeless getting tix while the “entitled” skate. If I was an officer, I’d be inclined to ticket someone who isn’t gonna throw up on me or go all mad-crazy. Greying guys in sport-jackets seem like easy targets to me.

  22. It’s a state law that limits the amount that can be charged during the pilot program, sorry.

    And Google, knowing that San Francisco could not charge them a fair rate during the pilot program wrote out a check for $6.8 million to cover free fares to low income youths for two years, along with a commitment to pay a fair price once the pilot program was over.

  23. “Sure, I’d love to live lots of places, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to do that. With any living situation, there’s a list of responsibilities, fees, rents, mortgages, etc.”

    Where does “impose on our city” come in? Assuming all these tech workers aren’t late on their rent and mortgages, at what point is someone supposed to seek your blessing to move to San Francisco?

  24. People can’t just decide to live where ever they want. Fool’s paradise thinking. Sure, I’d love to live lots of places, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to do that. With any living situation, there’s a list of responsibilities, fees, rents, mortgages, etc.

  25. SFMTA gets it right – if there’s no regulation then there’s no controlling these shuttles. The “permanent” plan, while nowhere near perfect, is far better than the miserable situation we’ve been in for the past 18 months (and the wild west for the 5 or 6 years before that, when Google, Facebook, Apple and others started running their shuttles wherever they wanted to). Why the supervisors didn’t allow the “permanent” plan to go ahead with the stipulation that SFMTA address specific issues (like the environmental impact report) over the next 1-2 years) I do not understand. Instead they are risking pushing us back to the “wild west” scenario where these incomprehensibly huge vehicles terrorize neighborhoods like mine.

  26. You missed my point. People have a right to live where they choose. You don’t get to decide.

    Evicting people in the middle of a housing crisis is shitty. No arguments there. Where it seems we disagree is that I’m not very interested in hating a bunch of my neighbors because they commute or write software for a living.

  27. ~2.25 people live in each housing unit. 8k/2.25 = 3,556.

    We added 3,514 units in 2014 (most recent data available).

    So, again. Wind back the clock a year. How cheap was housing?

  28. There’s lots more housing down south and east bay, than in 49 sq. miles of SF and they don’t NEED to live here and drive up our housing costs and destroy our culture and communities for their WANTS. And no, the UN does not protect techies who want to evict people. The UN doesn’t manage rent control… the city and state do. And thank god we have it.

  29. I so strongly concur with what you wrote, Auntie Techy. If the techies don’t like taking buses to a bus terminal, like non-techies have to do, including many shuttle bus drivers, let them move closer to where they work.

  30. Au contraire – a lot of shitty people making these arguments are also the ones saying ‘supply and demand!’ as if building more luxury condos will lower housing costs, but imagine what duping 8k vacant units on the market will do to costs, if that’s really the case?

  31. Why not change the, to me, puzzling law that limits SF to only charging for costs of administering the program. All real estate in SF has high value and no real estate is more valuable than bus stops. Those bus stops are comparable to Clive Bundy grazing his cattle on federal land without paying grazing fees. Can’t the supers charge rent for the public commons’ bus stops?!! And if they can’t, undo the law that prevents them from charging rent.

    And why not charge tech companies bus use for the way the tech buses slow down public transit for the hoi pollloi tax payers who pay for the bus stops in the first place?!

  32. “what I’d like is for these workers to live close to their jobs… there’s plenty of housing in the So. Bay, East Bay but no, it’s not hip enough”

    Plenty of them do. How many people do you think work at the headquarters of Facebook, Google, Apple, EA, and Genentech? A lot more than 8,000.

    (and, by the way, there’s a housing shortage in the South and East Bay, too.)

    “Who ever promised these people they could live where ever they wanted and impose on our city?”

    1. The UN Declaration of Human Rights
    2. It’s their city too.

    “Seems like entitlement at it’s worst.”

    Thinking that you get to decide who gets to live in San Francisco is entitlement. It is totally fair to debate about the merits of a program that shares public transit infrastructure with private transportation, but the people on those buses have as much of a right to be here as you do.

  33. what I’d like is for these workers to live close to their jobs… there’s plenty of housing in the So. Bay, East Bay but no, it’s not hip enough and the new workers coming in want to brag about living in SF. Who ever promised these people they could live where ever they wanted and impose on our city? Seems like entitlement at it’s worst.

  34. Not everyone can afford a car, and you aren’t allowed to walk on freeways, so we should tear them down, because gentrification!!!!

  35. I believe this kind of thinking is perpetuating a myth. Google buses don’t cause evictions. I believe that the two are caused by the same phenomenon, which is lack of housing development in San Francisco and on the peninsula. Choosing to direct our rage at what this sideshow doesn’t do anything to address the root cause.

  36. 100 percent of all no-fault evictions in the city have taken place while the city built homes at a rate less thasn half of normal population growth.

  37. And as President Obama once famously said to McCain, the best way to kill a program or idea is to launch a study. This is not news to the Progs, who are actively routing for another recession

  38. Because the other 99% of people aren’t ‘suffering’ because of the shuttles. Most people have a favorable opinion on the shuttles. 83% agree they take cars off the road.

    There are legitimate problems with the shuttles, which is why 72% of people want them regulated. The MTA program would kick the buses off smaller streets, and reduce conflicts with Muni. Those seem like improvements, to me.

    If we don’t like traffic jams and scarce parking, why would we want to replace a few hundred buses with a few thousand cars?

  39. Reading these comments, you really notice that there is a very vocal segment of our population that wants to turn San Francisco into some sort of frozen in time, hippy theme park for dissafected, middle aged Progs.

  40. Who said anything about Nevius not paying Muni fares? If anything the tech buses prevent Muni buses headed toward BART and Caltrain from being more crowded…It’s interesting that there’s a focus on the tech buses, but not an equal focus on the UCSF, Academy of Art, CPMC, Kaiser buses that run exclusively within San Francisco with many more runs than the 10-20 trips the tech buses make daily.

  41. If your figure of 8,000 is correct, why does the 99% of San Francisco have to suffer so the 1% can ride in air conditioned, wifi comfort to their jobs, when the rest of us are trapped in traffic jams, crowded buses/trains, and have to wait for the tech shuttles to move out of public bus stops?

  42. 8,000 people take a shuttle to work.

    That’s less than 1% of the city. Less than 1 year’s population growth.

    Can 8,000 people gentrify an entire city?

    If every shuttle rider disappeared tomorrow, housing would still be incredibly expensive. This issue is a distraction that prevents an honest discussion of the causes of the housing shortage.

  43. you miss the point… the general public who use BART and freeways (public ways) aren’t the ones gentrifying the city. It’s the well paid techies who can pay the higher rents, who want to be near Google stops who are driving poor people out of those areas. Not the sole reason for the evictions but definitely a big factor!

  44. Since Jane Kim is all about the hub, wouldn’t it make more sense to put it in front of her house? And really, if you’re an enemy of disdain, arrogance, brattiness and snarkiness against anyone who dares oppose their viewpoint, look no further than Tim himself.

    And please, 48Hills, spare us the b.s. that Kim is some type of warrior against the privatization of public spaces. Feel free to have the balls to ask her about her support of fencing off McCoppin plaza, a public space, because many homeless and down-trodden folks use that space. We’re waiting. . .

  45. They often put “near BART” and “near freeways” as well, not to mention “near restaurants” and “near WholeFoods”

    Do they all cause evictions as well?

  46. “make the tech shuttles available to everyone”….won’t work for several reasons….Liability issues for one…tech workers usually can’t sue for anything negative that happens to them on the bus because technically, they are on the clock once they step on the bus…if they are able to bring any action against their employer and bus subcontractor, they likely have agreed to binding arbitration …tech bus riders usually don’t engage in bad behavior on the buses because they will likely lose their jobs if they do, so there’s no need for security. Caltrain and Samtrans have a law enforcement division to deal with people behaving badly or violating the law….the shuttles would have to employ security to deal with the general public. Finally all the private shuttles would do is to price their rates so high for non employees that the general public would not be able to afford to ride the private buses.

  47. You’re right Nevius is not a journalist…he’s a columnist who’s free to embrace any position he wants. Also Nevius used to be a sports reporter likely still holds press credentials for the Niners, Giants, NFL, etc. If he doesn’t have current credentials, his request for press passes are automatically approved because of his past sports background and current position with largest newspaper in Northern California.

  48. I think the only power that the SF Board of Supervisors has over the SFMTA these days is the power to confirm mayoral nominees to the Board of Directors and vote the SFMTA budget up or down. Additionally, if someone appeals an SFMTA Board of Directors decision to the Board of Supervisors, then the Board of Supervisors must vote to uphold the appeal — or not. The Board of Supervisors is not otherwise required to approve decisions made by the SFMTA Board of Directors.

  49. I propose the creation of a single hub for the shuttle buses, to be located in front of Scott Weiner’s house, wherever that is, since he loves them so much, but especially because he displays such disdain, arrogance, brattiness and snarkiness against anyone who dares to oppose them, choosing to polarize people instead of unite by stoking the narrative that opposition to the buses is all about people being anti-tech; it is not.

  50. The map is a little disingenuous. The circles are each about a mile in diameter – not quite the “four blocks” cited in the article. So, its like saying a “Google” stop on Potrero Ave will have people coming from Mission or Valencia to access it. A stop on Van Ness will affect rents on Fillmore St. That stop on 19th Ave will push up rents on 9th Ave!

    And the actuality of the total numbers of evictions pales in comparison to 10-15 yrs ago. Yes, the percentage increase is impressive – but the total number is not that significant.

    But, by all means Peskin & Kim, create inconvenience to achieve “affordability”.

  51. Yep, first time I ever saw a 2-bedroom for $2800/mo in the Mission District it said that at the bottom of the ad – “near Google bus stop.”

  52. “These buses are aimed only at one class of people – mostly single,
    mostly high-paid – and they are prime sources of displacement in the
    city right now.”

    Just curious as to why you mentioned the fact that the riders are “single.” Do you have a valid concern as to their assumed marital status (for which you have no data whatsoever) or are you just using that as a “dog whistle” to the rest of SF’s aging NIMBYs to mean young people?

  53. Bus terminal. we have a bus terminal all busses should get out of the neighborhoods except muni busses which will carry you to the BUS TERMINAL all the tech fucks can take muni to the BUS TERMINAL. use the goddamn BUS TERMINAL AND IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT MOVE closer to where you work!

  54. gee, wonder why landlords always put “near Google stops” in their ads for rentals? It’s an amenity that has driven housing prices up and poor people out.

  55. I hope the long arm of the FBI investigation into city hall corruption uncovers what is given to Devius in freebies in exchange for him supporting their foolhardy schemes. Devius is just a mouthpiece for the billionaires… anyone notice how many tickets he gets to sold out games?

  56. Well, we don’t want to *assume* that, we want to *know* it. And the only way to even attempt to know that would be to carry out a thorough environmental study …
    … like the one that the supervisors are trying to mandate.

  57. While it’s totally reasonable to want to limit the private use of public space, it’s not true that there’s “plenty” of evidence that shuttles cause evictions. There’s actually almost none. Shuttles run through most of our denser apartment-filled neighborhoods. Evictions happen in most of our denser apartment-filled neighborhoods. Most San Franciscans live in our denser, apartment-filled neighborhoods. That isn’t causation. Ending the shuttles wouldn’t change the fact that this region hasn’t provided nearly enough housing for the number of people who want to live here.

    One other point that isn’t based in any evidence at all is that shuttle stops raise have a higher positive impact on property values than other forms of public transit. These shuttles benefit only a few people and only go to one place. BART allows access to an incredible transit network. A BART station is incredibly valuable, both for residents who have greater access to employment and to businesses who can draw customers (or employees) from a larger population.

    I wish tech shuttles didn’t exist. I wish we had better transit down the peninsula, but pretending that they’re the reason the housing crisis exists instead of a small sideshow of that crisis unproductive.

  58. How about this for a wild idea– make the tech shuttles available to everyone. Obviously, for a charge, and they would still go to where they go, but still– more mass transit can’t be a bad thing, right? Right?

    I’m thinking that’s NOT what Tim has in mind, though.

    Here’s another question– why does the city have to study whether the buses cause displacement? Everything causes displacement in one way or another. Displacement isn’t an environmental concern, unless you’re assuming that everyone who’s displaced moves to Tracy or Manteca and drives into the city.

  59. I LOVE that map, the one that draws circles around the shuttle bus stops to show that they cause no fault evictions.

    It literally has circles covering every inch of the city from Glen Park to the Marina.

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