SF supervisors reject challenge of Google bus pilot program

The google bus pilot program project director speaks to Sup. David Campos at the hearing.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

An appeal of the Google bus pilot program's exemption from environmental review was denied at a contentious Board of Supervisors hearing Tuesday night that went on for six and a half hours straight. The vote was 8-2 to move forward with the 18-month pilot program without environmental review, with only Supervisors David Campos and John Avalos voting nay.

“You can’t say that you support the shuttles but don’t support their ability to pick people up and drop people off,” Sup. Scott Wiener said at the end of the hearing. “I disagree with the appellants.” 

Sup. David Campos, who voted in favor of the environmental review, criticized the lack of public input in shaping the flawed program and said the city would likely lose in a future lawsuit on the issue: “If this is denied, there may be a legal victory for the appellants in court.”

The decision followed a heated, hours long public hearing on the environmental impacts of the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency's commuter shuttle pilot program at City Hall, called for after an environmental appeal was filed in February by the SEIU Local 1021, The League of Pissed Off Voters, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. The pilot program will measure the impact of regional commuter shuttles at 200 bus stops around San Francisco, paid for by charging the shuttles $1 per stop, which the SFMTA said is the cost of administering the program.

The appellants had one goal: to call on the city of San Francisco to study how regional commuter shuttles affect San Franciscans. 

“These are pirate shuttles, they are illegal,” Richard Drury, the attorney for the appellants filing the CEQA review, told the supervisors. “We’re bussing wealthy, predominantly white adults into low-income neighborhoods, where they in turn displace low-income people. This is the reverse of affirmative action.”

Importantly, a distinction was made between intra-city shuttles, like those for hospitals and colleges, and intra-city or regional shuttles, which are largely run by tech companies located outside San Francisco. 

Those present were there to discuss the impact of the regional shuttles, whose larger size (measured in tons) more greatly impacts road wear and tear, uses diesel fuel in lieu of gasoline, and, the appellants say, displaces communities wherever they regularly stop. 

Pictured above, a journalist tweets an artist rendering of the pirate shuttles.

An Anti-Eviction Mapping Project study found 69 percent of no-fault evictions occurred within a four-block radius of the shuttle stops. CEQA recognizes displacement of people as an environmental impact, and the debate that night centered around whether or not to study if shuttle stops caused displacement of middle to low income residents. Some of the supervisors defended the tech companies to the nines, especially Wiener. 

Wiener most ardently argued against the CEQA review, and he stuck it to the appellants’ attorney, Drury. 

“It’s not a CEQA issue,” Wiener said. “There’s a certain set of assumptions that technology workers are not real San Franciscans. That they’re part of some invading force that is not part of the city, and aren’t one of us. Isn’t it part of your contention that people on these shuttles aren’t San Franciscans? That’s how [the environmental appeal] reads.”

Drury said it’s not about hating tech workers, or some sort of cultural rift. What this is about, he said, is tech companies paying for the impact they have on communities.

“Let me clarify: CEQA doesn’t mean stop the project,” Drury told Wiener. “It means study the project before you take action, and when you take action impose mitigation measures with eyes wide open.”

Sup. Jane Kim said the SFMTA could have used the pilot program as an opportunity to ask for smaller shuttles, use of white zones (as opposed to Muni stops), or any number of changes to the shuttle program. “There’s a lot more,” she said, “that the pilot could have done.”

Video of a Google protest the morning before the hearing shot by Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe.

Alysabeth Alexander of the SEIU 1021 said that overlooking the displacement the buses are causing in San Francisco is downright insulting.

“A handful of wealthy companies should not be able to come into our city and make a private infrastructure and ask San Franciscans to step aside,” she told the room.

Activists, city workers, and San Franciscans of all stripes aired their concern for skyrocketing rents in the areas immediately around regional commuter shuttle stops -- the stops of the tech buses. 

The supervisors also used the hearing as an opportunity to stick it to the concept that the buses would only cost $1 per stop. 

Ultimately some 50 or so supporters of the environmental review came out, who all had gripes about the Google buses, as they’ve come to be called. Later in the night past about 8pm the tech workers finally got to have their say.

There weren’t many of them, but those who spoke were impassioned. 

Andrew Textor, a tech worker who did not want his employer named, said “I’ve lived in the city for 10 years, I’ve been riding the shuttles four and a half. Please let this program go forward. I’m not a new arrival, i don’t like being called ‘techie.’ I’m still a San Franciscan.”

But Textor was one of only a few tech workers in attendance by the time the counter argument to the review was heard (hours later), most remaining were paid public relations persons. Sup. Malia Cohen called out the tech companies for not showing up to the meeting and participating in their community.

“I think it's worth pointing out how absent the tech companies are,” she said, differentiating this hearing from when Twitter was seeking tax breaks three years ago. “The tech executives were swarming City Hall when they wanted something.”

When asked why the SFMTA did not ticket commuter shuttles when in red zones in violation of state law, SFMTA Diretor Ed Reiskin said "I don't know."

That’s a point that tech worker Martin MacKerel touched on while speaking during public comment earlier. 

“I’m here to talk to my fellow tech workers here, I’m asking you to reconsider this,” he said, speaking of opposing an environmental review. “We’ve got to consider that we’re displacing people into Antioch, San Pablo, the East Bay. If they have to drive in to San Francisco, we need to know that. We need a real study.”

But that’s not the way the night went. The supervisors voted against the environmental review. Campos’ remarks before the vote sounded like a eulogy. 

“This is about a small group of people going to the city behind closed doors,” Campos said. “As long as we keep doing that, we’re only going to exacerbate the tension that’s out there. Working with the tech industry does not mean you roll over and give them everything they ask for.” 

The 18-month pilot program will move forward and launch July 1, barring intervention by the courts. 


Tweets from the night, some from the Bay Guardian, some not:


they can do now, apparently, is throw up on a bus and wear clown outfits.

The fat cats are smiling.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:49 am

The old school progressives would have none of that nonsense, and yet were more effective.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

Progressives in San Francisco actually have more in common with the tea party than they do with progressives in the rest of the country.
Hate science
hate reasoning
hate government
Motivated by anger

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:56 am

They hate success and prosperity.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

The housing supply crisis in San Francisco has prevented Progressives from refreshing their ranks. It's now just a shrinking group of tired and ineffective reactionaries. Such a pity.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:27 am

the housing situation of the poor. What they really worry about is how the changing demographics of SF will bury Supes like Avalos and Campos, leaving them with no voice in what happens.

When your biggest fear is a liberal Democrat who categorizes himself as a moderate, you are in real trouble.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:43 am

Did people somehow miss the $6.8 million that Google paid to fund the Youth passes program for 2 years was... wait for... A BACKDOOR PAYMENT FOR USE OF THE STOPS that got around the state law (that's 6 million the city was going to pay)? Why do people keep insisting that they're only paying $1 per stop? Take money, add $6.8 million to it, and you have the amount they are paying.

Of course that only covers Google and not Apple, Facebook, Netflix, Genentech, and the rest.

Posted by Da-Met on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:30 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:44 am

So it looks like the pilot is going to go forward. Pushing this battle in court would be futile and cost a lot of money. It's time to move beyond the symbol (shuttles) and to substance.

So SF progressives, I would suggest taking a page from my old 'hood, Seattle. Work on raising the minimum wage. They're shooting for $15/hour. Putting more money in the hands of working folks - seems like a better use of time and resources to me.

Posted by robco on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

destroy jobs in that way. And a small town outside of Seattle.

An excessive minimum wage merely kills jobs and leads to higher unemployment - that will solve nothing.

We need to stop the idea of most voters that we are insane whack jobs who want to destroy America through our envy of success.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

Actually the idea of raising the minimum wage is gaining support. The new mayor supports it. There are some ideas about having it be $15/hour in total compensation instead, or a compromise to raise it to $12.50. In any case, the issue is being discussed and actually debated intelligently.

Ultimately, increasing wages has a much better impact on the economy. It would mean fewer people using government services. It would mean more disposable income in the hands of more people to spend elsewhere in the economy. It's much more feasible than tax hikes. I think most would want the 1% to pay more, I would argue however that we would be better off spreading the wealth through higher incomes than by raising taxes. It's pretty clear that the city and county of SF isn't very good at fiscal management.

In any case, Seattle's alternative weekly, The Stranger (http://www.thestranger.com) has actually been inviting guest editorials from both sides of the debate. Shockingly enough (well, to San Franciscans anyway), there has actually been productive dialog on the issue. It would be good PR move for progressives here as well, showing that they care about issues that affect a broader base.

Posted by robco on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

Actually there is growing support for increasing the minimum wage. There's talk of total compensation vs hourly wage, or a compromise to $12.50, but productive dialog is happening.

Overall, increasing wages is an effective way to boost the economy. It's better than simply taxing companies more. Workers who make more money rely less on public assistance. They have more disposable income to boost the local economy. If you want to be really effective, work with groups in Alameda, CoCo, San Mateo, etc. to make it regional.

Take a look at The Stranger (www.thestranger.com), which is inviting editorials from both sides of the issue - an archaic practice once known as journalism. The crazy lefties may not get entirely what they want, but they may get something. In any case, going after an issue that affects a broader base would be a good PR move for SF progressives. It would be substance over symbols. Instead of deriding "techies" for getting good wages, benefits, a chance to own part of the company, etc. we should be pushing for more workers to have those things. Instead of dragging others down, focus on bringing more people up.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

It kills jobs.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

You guys just got your asses handed to you

Posted by Snoozers on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

yet here they are whining and crying

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

Yeah, but it was more than that. Progressives really came across as petty and spiteful. Wiener's comments reminded me, in a way, of Joseph Welch's famous castigation of McCarthy. And vomiting on a bus? Really?

Posted by Snoozers on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

Yeah, but it was more than that. Progressives really came across as petty and spiteful. Wiener's comments reminded me, in a way, of Joseph Welch's famous castigation of McCarthy. And vomiting on a bus? Really?

Posted by Snoozers on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 4:50 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:56 pm

The most pressing concern raised by this article is that of the typo in the initial sentence. The content of this piece is truly significant, and I by no means intend to deride the substantive issues explored herein by fixating on some piece of grammatical triviality. On the contrary, I believe that until the excess 'hearing' is eliminated from the phrase "...Board of Supervisors hearing Tuesday night hearing that went on..." I will be forced to parse these consequential matters with a clouded judgement and distracted mind.

Posted by GlaringError on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 2:48 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 6:35 am

Guest: "It's like how SFBG claimed that Avalos had won the last mayoral race even though Lee got 50% more votes than Avalos."

13 ranked choice ballots in and only then did Ed Lee get the 51.1% he needed...

...do some homework and look up the tables for the 2011 Mayoral election and in the meantime, refrain from posting unsubstantiated (immaterial) gobbledygook on sfbg.com!


There's already enough strident, white male capitalist sock puppets infesting sfbg.com...

Posted by guestagainststatecapitalism on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 5:22 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

I can't give my name, but it is much worse than reported in any paper. I had my tech shuttle fired upon and a bus window shot out along 101 in San Bruno. It wasn't just mine either, a number of other shuttles, including from other companies, were shot at too that night.

How long before someone dies?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2014 @ 9:01 am

isn't indicative of a conspiracy.

While if there has happened several times, it is inconceivable that that has not been reported.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2014 @ 9:56 am

Several shuttles on the same night, at least three from my company that I can confirm for sure (since I exchanged text messages with other shuttle riders). Also at least one other shuttle bus from one other company according to my quizzing of company security the next day.

We have been asked to keep it hush hush which is why there has been no story. But there is a police report. I should email a reporter with the date so that they can look it up.

No incidents except that one night.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

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