The gentrification debate could very well wind up in a San Francisco courtroom soon. This afternoon, a legion of San Francisco activists (housing, labor, gay rights, etc.) filed an appeal, attempting to challenge the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority's decision to charge tech buses a $1 per-stop fee..
Richard Drury, an attorney representing a group of activists, released a statement saying the appeal is based on "significant environmental impacts that the City has failed to analyze and mitigate," including the displacement of housing, low-income communities,and people of color as well as air quality concerns.
"The Commuter Shuttle Program is like the opposite of school busing. Rather than busing low-income children of color to neighborhoods with good schools, this program buses wealthy white adults into the mission where they displace low income residents of color," he says. "This is an environmental justice issue and an environmental impact under" the California Environmental Quality Act.
The phrase "Google buses" have become the catchall for "evil" tech shuttles that haul high-tech workers to-and-from Silicon Valley. They've also become the latest symbol of a city that seemingly no longer welcomes those earning moderate wages. Housing activists have pinpointed these tech buses and their occupants as the force behind the latest wave of gentrification.
Partially in an attempt to mitigate those claims, the MTA recently approved a new pilot plan that would charge the tech shuttles a $1 fee for using Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off their employees. That fee would bring in some $1.5 million annually, which is only enough to cover the cost to administer the program (enforcement, route maps). Collecting any more, per state law, would not be legal.
But anti-gentrification warriors will tell you that the $1 fee is a "joke."
Tom Temprano co-president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, says, once again, the big corporations are getting their needs met at the expense of the community at large.
"This program opens up our bus stops to billion-dollar corporations for little more than pennies, as we deprioritize access to transportation for young, elderly and disabled San Franciscans," he says. "This is a problem that's bigger than the delays they are causing Muni. Our City is losing its diversity and its character."
The Board of Supervisors must hear the appeal no sooner than 21 days from now and no later than 45 days from when it was filed (today). Supervisor Scott Wiener, a public supporter of MTA's tech bus program, told SF Weekly he couldn't comment on the appeal, but did elaborate on the policy aspect of the issue.
"These shuttles provide a very important service for a lot of San Francisco residents -- these are our neighbors and this allows them to get to work," Wiener says. "And it gets a ton of cars off the road."
As for the $1 fee, Wiener stated the MTA was clear: The agency could only charge enough to cover the cost of the program. Anything more than that would be considered a tax and would have to go to voters for approval (and, even then, face myriad legal challenges).
Stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out our coverage of the less controversial Google ferries.