by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
They’re symbols of the new class system in San Francisco: the haves vs. the barely getting by, those who can afford the insane rents without blinking their eyes and those who live in dread of losing their rent-controlled apartments because they have nowhere else to go.
It’s beyond a tale of two cities.
Anyone who rides MUNI regularly, as I do, has to resent them, they’re huge and shiny and have shaded windows to protect riders from the sun. Their passengers have WiFi and other luxuries as they ride to and from work, while those of us who take the 22 or the underground stand or sit packed tighter than sardines, barely able to move an arm or a leg.
We pay $2 for a ride that isn’t worth a dime. They ride for free.
That’s why demonstrators in San Francisco are blocking Google and other tech company buses. There’s a class war raging in the city and those of us who don’t make six figure salaries are on the losing end of it.
Rents are so over the top that San Francisco beat out New York for highest in the country. Speculators and investors, never ones to stand idle while there’s a little old lady to toss out onto the streets, are flipping properties faster than you can say “greedy mother fuckers.” And state law (the Ellis Act) allows them to do it with impunity.
When they’re not invoking Ellis, they’re threatening tenants with everything from “you’ll never rent in this town again if you don’t leave” to “I’m gonna report you to la migra (immigration)” in flagrant violation of our sanctuary law. Or offering them ridiculously low buyouts.
Instead of prioritizing low-income housing, the city continues to build market-rate condos that rent for as much as $8,000 a month. While the mayor calls for 30,000 new units of affordable housing, he courts the tech companies with tax breaks to move into a neighborhood such as mid-Market where a whole building of artists in live/work lofts who pay below market rents are now fighting eviction. Their building is two blocks from Twitter’s new home.
It’s a no-brainer. The presence of Twitter and other tech companies has caused commercial rents to skyrocket, attracting speculators and investors wanting a piece of the kill. There’s not much satisfaction in saying, “we told you so.”
Even as politicians are beginning to acknowledge the loss of so much of our city’s ethnic and cultural diversity (the African American population, for instance, is down to about 6%; the Castro is becoming more and more straight; the Mission less and less Latino), they fail to protect what remains of that diversity. Talk is cheap, and real-estate interests have deep pockets come election time.
I wouldn’t feel so much resentment toward those big shiny luxurious buses if the tech companies were paying their fair share, but they're not. The community benefits agreements are a joke. Ditto for the current city proposal to charge companies $1 a stop for their buses to disrupt MUNI. That’s about $50,000 to $100,000 a year. Chump change. It costs $350,000 and sometimes more to build a single unit of affordable housing.
If the city were serious about making them pay, it would charge these companies millions a year and use the money to make MUNI free. Let us all enjoy the benefits of the tech boom.
Meanwhile, keep your damn buses out of my way when I’m trying to get somewhere.