Bus riding tech workers respond to national spotlight on evictions

Google bus riders watch a protest blocking their bus.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Evictions are rippling through San Francisco. Tensions are high. Tech workers with gobs of cash are driving up the rental market in what may be the newest tech bubble -- or the city’s new reality. Protesters took to the street earlier this week, blocking a Google bus to draw attention to gentrification, and our video of a union organizer posing as a Google employee shouting down those protesters lit up the Internet

In the wake of that national spotlight on San Francisco’s outrage, the Bay Guardian decided to talk to the bus-riding techies themselves and ask how they felt about the new tech revolution. Are they at fault for displacing long time San Franciscans? What did they make of Monday’s outrage?

We returned to the scene of the protest, 24th and Valencia streets, where workers from Yahoo, Genentech, Google, and others line up at Muni stops to be whisked away in mammoth private buses. Most had hands in their pockets, turning away when asked questions. Others decided to talk, but none would go on the record with their names.

“We’re very aware of the sentiment in the city against us,” one tech worker with grey hair and glasses told us. “But hopefully this (protest) leads to a positive conversation.”

He said that the envy was understandable. Public transit in the city “isn’t the best,” he said, but pointing to any one company to be at fault isn’t productive. 

“Our economy lacks upward mobility, and the haves and have-nots are divided all over the country,” he said, not just in San Francisco. 

But some of the techies themselves are “have nots,” as one tech worker, a middle-aged Java programmer sitting in Muddy Waters cafe, could attest to. As we watched the tech buses ride by, he told the Guardian he’s been out of work for a few months now. He used to work for a computer sketch software company called Balsamiq. 

He’s lived in the city for 22 years. When he first moved into town, he lucked into renting a room for $175 a month. Now his rent is much, much higher, though he wouldn’t say by how much.

This is not the viral video of the staged argument, but from the same day. A protester enters the Google bus, and a bus rider shouts her out.

“I’m sympathetic,” he said, of the discord on rising rents. “But getting rid of tech isn’t the solution.” He pointed to a need for more affordable housing.

A blonde haired Apple employee told us that although he makes more money than the average San Franciscan, he can’t afford to buy a home here. He’s lived in the city three years, and worked at Apple for four. He took a balanced view of the protest, saying the stunt started a national look at inequality.

“It’s keeping (the conversation) at the front and center. You could argue it’s not fair to target one company, but I see both sides,” he said. 

Tech should do its part to pay its fair share, the 19-year cafe owner of Muddy Waters said. Hisham Massarweh said he likes the tech folk, who are great for business. But the transit issue needs to be worked out, he said. He once got a $250 ticket for parking in the same bus stop outside his store that the tech buses park in every day -- ticket and permit free. 

Across the street, Jordan Reznick, a PhD student and teacher at California College of the Arts, said she’s seen many of her friends displaced. “I feel a lot of animosity towards Google and Google workers,” she said, as we sat just behind a line of Google employees waiting for their bus.

“I live in a small place with a family of four,” she told us, as it’s the best she could find in this market.

As she ran off to catch her ride to work, the Guardian approached a man who sat waiting for the same Google bus that was protested earlier in the week. 

“San Francisco doesn’t have its shit together,” he said. The protest was about housing, but San Francisco needs to address that fast. And as for the Google buses, there’s no framework for Google to pay the city, yet. “If they could (pay) they would, going forward I’m sure they will.”

We asked him point blank if he felt guilty watching longtime San Franciscans lose their homes. 

He took a drag of his cigarette, looked me in the eye, and said, “Every day. I love San Francisco with all my heart, and I feel tremendously guilty. Every day.”

As the bus pulled up he hopped on and headed to Mountain View.


Perhaps it is, but envy is unattractive and not constructive.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

Calling it envy is unattractive and not constructive. People don't want to get tech money, that would be envy. They don't want to get thrown out of their houses. That's rational

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

If you don't work in tech and cannot afford a SF home, but someone who does work in tech can afford that same home, then you are expressing resentment that someone else can afford what you cannot afford.

It's unfair to pick on just tech workers, as you are just as likely to be outbid for a home by a hedge fund manager, lawyer or doctor.

And that is envy. (Or jealousy if it is more personal).

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

something, and you respond to that by hating the person who outbid you, then you are guilty of envy. Instead of accepting reality and finding a more sustainable alternative, you declare war on the winner.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 17, 2013 @ 9:59 am

Gotta love the argument, we have the money, you are not constructive.

Those who are forced out of their homes oughta pop the little techie dweebs. Doesn't the 2nd amendment give you the right to shoot anybody who's screwing you over?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 17, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

It's simply that some people are getting outbid for housing, along with other stuff.

I guess that's why people like money, right? Because it gets you bigger, better stuff.

And that's news to anyone?.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 17, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

It's nice that the smoking guy waiting for the Google bus professes his love for San Francisco and his guilt about what's happening. But, Jack, guilty feelings and $3 will buy you a nice cup of coffee. How about pushing Google from the inside to get the company to pay their fair share?

Posted by Peter on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

Using a Muni bus stop ten times a week?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

Whether its 10 times or 2 times. They should pay their share.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

And who gets to decide what is "fair"?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

by the City, SFMTA, and the tech companies.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 14, 2013 @ 9:05 am

As with the Twitter tax break, the questions can boil down to whether the city needs these corporations more than they need the city.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 14, 2013 @ 9:16 am

The city. If the companies disagree, they can pick up their riders in Oakland. That's the so-called free market.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 17, 2013 @ 4:00 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 17, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

They do pick up riders in Oakland. The same issues apply there. And there was protest at MacArthur BART just this morning.

Posted by Harry on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 8:52 am

Protesting people trying to get to work is one of the stupider ideas the left has come up with.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 10:09 am

Formal and informal carpools use bus stops all the time. How is this any different except that the buses are larger than cars? This reduces congestion and is more fuel efficient. How about stop the buses and then those "wealthy" workers can all drive their Teslas in stop and go traffic? This is a first world problem at its finest.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

because it is often the only space on a block where there are not parked cars. And 95% of the time there is no bus there anyway.

Delivery trucks routinely use them as well. As well as cabs, airport shuttles etc.

The key factor, however, is that the driver should either stay in the vehicle or be immediately in the vicinity.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

put a note on your windshield with your cell number.

He said he doesn't ticket folks who are considerate like that.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

Google buses pick up employees from the bus stop more than 8 times a day. The first that I know of is at 6:50 a.m. The bus stop in front of Muddies is used by Apple, Genetech, Yahoo, and EA Sports and possibly more. Between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. the intersection is like a transit terminal with buses lining up behind each other to get into the bus stop.

I think they, the private transit companies, should pay for using a public resource.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

They will be paying into the system. Now that your concern has been addressed will you please STFU or is there something else you want to bitch about? I'm guessing it's going to be the latter.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

They "will be" paying into the system? These are private buses using public bus stops, and they **park** at the one stop on Haight and Divisadero, thereby preventing the 71 Haight and the 6 Parnassus from servicing their own stop. If it was anyone else, they'd get a hefty ticket.

They also use and block the traffic island on Market and Van Ness, which serves several MUNI lines. Further, they run more often than MUNI and Genentech. There are too many of them!

The regulations are awaiting review because we have brought them to light, so perhaps you should STFU.

Posted by Renee on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 10:58 am

else isn't as bitter about someone getting something for free as you evidently are?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 11:25 am

You sound as if the people getting on the bus aren't part of the public and they don't pay taxes, whether it be sales taxes, california income taxes, federal income taxes, etc.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 14, 2013 @ 9:51 am

We all pay taxes, and we cannot park in a PUBLIC bus stop without getting a $255 ticket. The G bus is not public, so your point is MOOT.

Posted by Renee on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Why are you so sure a bus stop should be any different?

And why haven't you been objecting to all the other buses and shuttles that have been using these stops for years?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 11:26 am

commenters proved this to you over on Mission Local. The DMV prohibits the use of public bus stops by private buses or cars.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

With that said, I'd expect SFMTA to try and reach an explicit agreement with the shuttles rather than the informal agreement which clearly exists at the moment, and has sufficed up to now.

To my knowledge SFPD are instructed not to ticket these shuttles, and do not do so.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

She thinks they are self-absorbed greed merchants who will be taken out into the street and shot when the great revolution happens.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 11:27 am

I like how everyone blasting Renee doesn't even have the guts to put their name out there for all to see. She does have a valid point, and she's not the one who resorted to profanity; she was responding to a post that told someone else to "STFU". The private shuttles are a problem, and they do need to pay to use the stops. They cause the public buses to be late, and it's not fair that they are not held to the same standards that private taxpayers are regarding stopping in the bus stops. If we get hefty parking tickets, so should they. Hopefully this gets resolved soon.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

signing in as "Guest"? Really?

And how do you know that "Renee" is her real name?

STFU isn't a helpful comment.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

The public stops may already be at capacity; and especially so during the hours that the private corporations want to use them.

And who pays for the shelters -- such as they are?

I think there is a model for private bus companies and that is the Greyhound/Trailways model wherein the private outfits have their own land and their own stations.

*lillipublicans, real or imp'ed?

Posted by lillipublicans* on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

clearly there is room for negotiation.

I disagree that Muni stops are well utilized though. Maybe routes like the 14 and 38, but many bus services run just 3 or 4 times an hour even at rush hour. Plenty of spare capacity there.

Anything that gets cars off the road should be encouraged.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

There are plenty of well paying software jobs in San Francisco, taking a company bus to work 40 miles away is a choice, the consequences of which are borne by others.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

you take it, at least if you are ambitious in any way.

Sure, you could say the same thing about Twitter here in SF.

But ambitious folks generally do not take a job purely on the basis of how far away it is. Ageing coders who are gradually losing their skills might, of course.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

Of course, older, experienced people have less skills than those who are younger and have less experience. Thanks for the revelation. So that must be what's inspiring our contemporary culture's amazing grasp of history and politics.

Posted by Spindolio on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 10:27 am

and all these people driving cars down there instead is much worse for the environment, traffic, parking, etc etc.

40 miles is a pretty average commute when you look at national numbers. I'm sure that there are a ton of people stuck in traffic in Jersey and LA who'd be thrilled if more people could jump on a safe, clean reliable bus.

MissionLocal had a much more balanced piece on just this topic yesterday. Typical of the SFBG to barely being able to bite down on their contempt for "techies" in this article.

sofa king lame, per usual

and don't be a douche Marcos, if Google or Apple opened a campus in SF, you'd be bitching about all the people from the southbay coming in to SF for work

Posted by guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

If I am willing to do it, it is none of marcos's business.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

it affects society as a whole you libertard

Posted by russell on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

Good grief, grown adults (I assume) using lame terms like "libertard." Though, I would think the person you responded to is more likely a "conservatard" (at least by the standards of SFBG's editors).

In any event, let's rise up from kindergarten make-believe words.

As for the specific issue, what affects "society as a whole" even more is driving a private car and polluting the air and clogging up the already congested freeways.

Posted by Chris on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

Not at all.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

How is that? The AMA says that 100,000 people die earlier due to polluted air from automobile exhaust, maybe I will be one of them.

Being dead doesn't affect me?

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Dec. 14, 2013 @ 12:45 am

not create any measurable or verifiable affect on you, for either health or any other reasons.

Now, if your argument is that IN THE AGGREGATE cars damage the environment, then you might have a point. But that is a macro issue and not about my personal choice on any given day.

And of course these private shuttles reduce the number of cars on the road, so i'd assume that you support them given your great sensitivity to such things.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 14, 2013 @ 7:35 am

He already said he liked the shuttles, couple posts back.

Course he's in Glen Park and I doubt those big old buses get back in there on some of those narrow, twisty streets like Laidly or Sussex.

Posted by Nevada Cortland on Dec. 14, 2013 @ 7:44 am
Posted by Guest on Dec. 14, 2013 @ 8:17 am

I see Genentech, Google, Apple and Yahoo! all stopping at the Glen Park BART station. Plus many others. It is not a problem because they use the white zone at the curb, which is for loading and unloading. The City could solve this problem very easily by painting more curbs white, but the car drivers would scream bloody murder.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Dec. 15, 2013 @ 9:31 am

Where the google bus stops near me, it is at a muni stop where there is a bus only every 15 minutes even at rudh hour. The stop is unutilized for 90% of the time and utilization could therefore easily be increased.

People always say "just take out some parking" but that is a real hardship for those of us who don't have a luxury shuttle on our doorstep and need a car for work, school runs etc.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 11:30 am

Yes, it's a choice, and it's a choice people have a right to make.

I choose to work in downtown SF because the salary, benefits, and work atmosphere are the best for the type of job that matches my skills and experience. People have a right to make the same choice I did, and to choose to take the best job for them that happens to be outside of SF. And, taking a bus, private or public, is better for "others" since it reduces pollution and road congestion compared to driving to work each day.

If the argument is that Google should pay something for stopping a few minutes at a public stop, then take that argument to the Board of Supervisors and set up a permitting system for private buses. Just don't expect to get a windfall since the fees have to be reasonably tied to the usuage, so the City is not going to see any significant amount of money from Google or any other company that runs private buses.

If MUNI is underfunded, which is a bit hard to imagine with an SFMTA budget of approximately $860 million that primarily goes to MUNI, then signficiant resources for making improvements will only come from either raising taxes or raising fares. So, the Board of Supervisors need to take time out from the general nonsense they spend their time on, and vote to approve either increased taxes or increased fares.

And, yes, I ride MUNI, everyday. No private bus or car for my morning commute. But, I understand, that Google is not going to "rescue" MUNI, nor does it have an obligation to do so.

Posted by Chris on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

The SFBG is going to beat this drum 'till kingdom come but in the end the machine will grind on - it always does.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

I fear that Steven doth protesteth too much.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

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