back to article 'Don't hate on me for my job!' Googlers caught up in SF rent protest ruckus

One of Google's gilded buses that shuttles staff from San Francisco to its Mountain View HQ was this morning waylaid by anti-gentrification protestors. Activists stopped the bus at 24th Street and Valencia in an attempt to raise awareness of the widening inequality in San Francisco, brought about by an influx of tech-generated …

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Only...

In San Francisco!

Probably hired by some silly people in a rent-a-protest scheme.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Only...

So that's £50K in real money. Not so good these days.

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Re: Only... (@AC)

But that's the starting salary. So you get that straight out of university.

If you've at least a year or two's experience, you're pretty much guaranteed six American figures. There aren't enough employees to fill the vacancies and only a very limited number can be imported every year. That's why you always see the big tech firms with any lobby group in favour of immigration reform.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Only...

I'd say that even in your silly British money, £50K is considered good money for a noob. The problem of course is that in England, you had work houses up until recently and the people there are already pre-tuned to accept that a person's superiority is clearly defined by which vagina they were once ejected from.

In countries where people are expected to define themselves based on their own merits, those lacking merit have yet to learn their places. Life in America would be much better if these people learned at some point that unless they were shoved out of the right crotch, their value to the world is meaningless.... like in the U.K.

Never mind me... I'm just pissed that the Brits consider it a crime for me to dub myself Lord... as if me doing it has any greater or less impact than if a crotchety old lady does.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Only...

"you had work houses up until recently"

We shipped the contents of those and our prisons / mental asylums over to the colonies quite a while ago. Probably explains quite a lot about your (distinct lack of) culture over there...

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Re: Only...

"In countries where people are expected to define themselves based on their own merits, "

This from the country that gave us Paris Hilton and the Kardashians?

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FAIL

'...Google's mantra is "don't be evil"...'

Ya gotta love this kind of Corporate PR sloganeering. </sarc>

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Complaining about gentrification, what would they prefer slumification?

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Anonymous Coward

I think you miss the point that a gentrified neighbourhood results in landlords hiking rents and kicking out the poor, so that the rich can live there instead - pushing the poor into increasingly rare affordable housing and by affordable, we really mean slum. So they'd probably prefer their neighbourhood fixed, made nicer, but not gentrified.

I've also lived where rich people have moved in to my neighbourhood and what's resulted is a lot of people living in the houses, no actual neighbourhood any more.

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Anonymous Coward

"I think you miss the point that a gentrified neighbourhood results in landlords hiking rents and kicking out the poor, so that the rich can live there instead - pushing the poor into increasingly rare affordable housing and by affordable, we really mean slum. "

Sounds great. What are they complaining for? Are they poor?

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Anonymous Coward

@bigtimewanker - Do you think they are the only two options ?

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San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

... where all the diversity has been driven out by smug tech people with way too much money.

The irony of this is the reason why everyone wants to live in SF is because it's 'funky & diverse' and their decision to pay $1200/month for a room has pushed out all the people that made the city 'funky & diverse'. Oakland is where it's at, although a lot of people have move away from the SF Bay Area altogether to places like Portland or LA.

The only thing that's standing between SF's traditional communities and complete gentrification is rent control. But there is at least one person on the Board of Supervisors who's hell bent on destroying rent control: Scott Weiner (what's in a name...). Even more ironically, he represents the Castro, which was a canonical SF community and has now been dismantled in favor of gentrification.

Oh well, SF, it's been nice knowing you when your were actually interesting.... Now you're just another version of a white suburb.

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

BTW, I love your thumbs down, you're just proving my point.

P.S. I live in SF, I'm in tech ;-P

(yes, I'm part of the problem, but I only commute 1/2 mile to work)

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Given that this is what always happens, yes they are the only two options. Do you think people are going to spend vasts sums of money making an area nice and then renting or selling it on cheaply? No of course they won't. Ultimately the only way to get better areas in the real world we live in is through this method, over time it evens out because they rich people move on and areas even out in how nice they are, bringing the rent down in the very long term for better types of housing.

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@nicho - Seeing as you have resorted to name calling in your response, thats all the required information I need about your intellect and the likely intelligence of any views you may hold. Thank you for making it so obvious before I wasted too much time explaining anything to you.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

SF is:

40% non-hispanic white

33% Asian

15% hispanic (all races)

6% black.

It has a poverty rate above 10%, and 10,000+ homeless.

Don't you think 'a city of rich white people' is a little overblown?

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

Yup, rich white people are such a problem for cities, what with them being responsible for all those meth labs, burgeoning crime rates, violence, destruction of neighbourhoods, union corruption and such. They should be kicked out of the cities. That would teach them. After all, it worked so well for Detroit, didn't it?

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

As opposed to coke-snorting financial chancers who inexplicably never get busted even if they're caught, purveyors of uber-destructive banking armaggedon who can only survive on hand-outs and special pleading, imposers of fake 'austerity', poisoners of useful science by faked up rent-a-research, financial destroyers of neighbourhoods and entire countries, corporate psychopaths, and all those other marvellous social paragons we can find among the extremely rich[1]?

Or do you think anyone who owns a suit and earns eight figures or more a year is inherently a better person than those nasty, dirty, smelly non-whites?

[1] Who don't travel by bus, mostly. But I guess the private hangars at the airport are more difficult to boycott.

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

Holy crap that's Hilarious! White people run all the unions I've seen, the meth producers I've seen in reality or tv have been white and oddly in their 50's, the destruction of neighborhoods is generally by white developers... crime rates and violence are skewed to non-white for many reasons. From personal experience I believe a white person, especially female, can often get off or reduced to misdemeanor where I suspect a person of a different hue or gender may have issues.

This is america we love Mandela but can't recall what he was about (wasn't it Morgan Freeman helping that white guy win a football game).

Also, Detroit didn't "kick out the whites" like you suggest, they left. Everybody that could left. Detroit is now America again, you've no one but yourself and friends (or community), no work but what you can make, it's pure freedom. Detroit is true American Freedom.

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What are the other options to making an area more / less desirable.

I don't think it's possible to address decay to keep an area's desirability constant.

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

"Detroit is now America again, you've no one but yourself and friends (or community), no work but what you can make, it's pure freedom. Detroit is true American Freedom."

Freedom to starve or die of curable diseases, freedom to be exactly as safe and secure as your neighbour allows you to be, freedom to screw people over if you want to. God bless American Freedom - but most of the rest of us don't want to live in a Heinlein novel, thanks.

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I've also lived where rich people have moved in to my neighbourhood and what's resulted is a lot of people living in the houses, no actual neighbourhood any more.

You are describing what the English did to Wales.

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

And you know that Google employs whites only?

How?

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

The apercu that "Oakland is where it's at" might be read as smug by some.

The cycle of neighborhoods (dangerous/funky/trendy/boring) goes on everywhere at some rate---tech money speeds it up in SF no doubt. You will find it mentioned somewhere early on in the novel The Apes of God, which (says Wikipedia) appeared in 1930.

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@ bigtimehustler

"Given that this is what always happens, yes they are the only two options. Do you think people are going to spend vasts sums of money making an area nice and then renting or selling it on cheaply? No of course they won't. Ultimately the only way to get better areas in the real world we live in is through this method, over time it evens out because they rich people move on and areas even out in how nice they are, bringing the rent down in the very long term for better types of housing."

Never worked that way where I am from.

The problem with the model that everyone is using here for reference is "rich" and "poor". In reality there is the center, "middle class", and this is where the pain of gentrification truly impacts.

The rich never move into poor areas - why?! WHY would a "rich" person move into a (truly) "poor" area, one with diminished infrastructure and no one on their 'level' to relate to? It makes no sense. So, TRUE gentrification occurs in the middle class areas - these areas were pulled up from "poor" to "middle class" by the true pioneers - the immigrants struggling to move up, the social outcasts of gays and hipsters (where "hipster" isn't "wealthy banker playing weekend warrior"), etc. After the pioneers turn a neighbourhood into "middle class", THEN the wealthy move into turn it "gentrified".

But what happens to the middle class individuals, those who put their personal lives into making the neighbourhood? Lived there for 20 years while the area struggled up by its bootstraps to become an interesting place? Priced right out of their own homes, that's what. Either rents get hiked or property taxes get hiked because of all the overpriced construction in the surrounding area. So the people who gave the most...end up getting the short end of the stick.

Happened to me - after 40 years of some brownland in the area sitting fallow they FINALLY decide to redevelop it...at a rate about 20% more than surrounding values. Marketed it to the city dwellers, they did, as a "hip, up and coming town on the edge of sophisticated country living". What happened to me? My ("new") landlord (son of my landlord of 20 years, dad gave him the building) raised my rent 50 PER CENT because all the city folk were coming up and paying $1200 for a 1 bedroom when just 5 years ago the same apartment was $800. "Gentrified", they call it.

Hope one day to buy my own home. AWAY FROM THE MORONS OF CITY LIFE. Yes, I now live in the Big City, and living here is not *too* bad, considering. They are "gentrifying" a (historically) industrial area in the city; one street contains a gay bar (there 12 years) and a gentlemen's high-end sports bar (6 years). 2 years ago they built a high priced condo between them and what happened? The new condo complained about the gay bar and its yearly block party - "not family friendly". The block party even predates the bar's move to that district, but since the condo is now there HOW DARE THEY DO IT AROUND CHILDREN!!?

Damn idiots. THAT'S what gentrification does - it destroys the neighborhood for everyone who is NOT like these fools who are willing to overpay for their housing...because they've been told "This is the NEW place to be!!"

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Re: San Francisco is a city of rich white people...

and they left because of decades of municipal corruption, high crime and general stupidity on the part of the Democrats who ran the city steadily into the ground for decades - that's as close to kicking out the geese that lay the golden eggs as you're ever going to get. Pure freedom? You are seriously delusional.

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WTF?

I think you miss the point that a gentrified neighbourhood results in landlords hiking rents and kicking out the poor

[sarcasm=on]

But this is San Francisco - land of the uber-liberals, territory of Nancy Pelosi. Liberals are always so kind and generous to the poor. Surely this is all just a misunderstanding?

[sarcasm=off]

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RAMMING SPEED!!

Too bad US traffic laws don't include the fact that people are responsible for their actions. When I was in Germany, I was told that if a child runs out in the street and gets hit by a car, it's the parent's fault for not training the child to stay out of the street. But one story sticks with me: protestors had "blocked" the road to a facility (nuke? I can't remember.) by lying down in the road. Then somebody, upon seeing this, jumped in their car, and drove down the road, full bore. Only seven or so protestors got their legs run over, and the rest had the sense to get out of the way. I was told that no charges were applied to the driver.

In Washington state, for a while it was fashionable to have protests on the freeway, until the legislature finally passed a law effectively banning the practice. Perhaps SF needs to do something similar.

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Re: RAMMING SPEED!!

"When I was in Germany, I was told that if a child runs out in the street and gets hit by a car, it's the parent's fault for not training the child to stay out of the street. But one story sticks with me: protestors had "blocked" the road to a facility (nuke? I can't remember.) by lying down in the road. Then somebody, upon seeing this, jumped in their car, and drove down the road, full bore. Only seven or so protestors got their legs run over, and the rest had the sense to get out of the way. I was told that no charges were applied to the driver."

I'm unclear, do you think this is a good thing, a funny thing, somehow desirable, or are you just commenting?

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Re: RAMMING SPEED!!

Maybe the Board of Supervisors should charge Google and all the other private bus lines (Genentech et al) for using city owned bus stops... I have actually seen a Genentech bus picking up passengers at an SF MUNI bus stop on a city street, staying there for several minutes, and completely blocking a MUNI bus from picking up other passengers not going to Genentech... (MUNI is the short form of San Francisco Municipal Railway)

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Re: RAMMING SPEED!!

Funny, you actually believe that "Germany" story?

So if there's any road accident in front of you, and you go out of your way to run over any survivors, no charges will be applied? Truly, a most believable yarn.

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Re: RAMMING SPEED!!

> When I was in Germany, I was told that if a child runs out in the street and gets hit by a car, it's the

> parent's fault for not training the child to stay out of the street.

Well, then somebody misinformed you. Traffic law is one of the rare areas where German law applies strict liability. You are required to carry insurance and it will cover any costs alloted to you if you did not act negligently. The negligence of the other party will determine how much they get, but as a rule of thumb, traffic is seen as a dangerous activity. Therefore usually the insurance has to pay something. In your example, any child under the age of 8 probably is going to receive full health costs. Please note that these are general remarks and you may not rely on them.

> Then somebody, upon seeing this, jumped in their car, and drove down the road, full bore. Only seven

> or so protestors got their legs run over, and the rest had the sense to get out of the way. I was told that

> no charges were applied to the driver.

Usually charges of attempted manslauter or aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon will apply in your example. Your driving license will be revoked as you are seen to be not fit to drive. You will not be able to claim self defence as access to the road is not a personal right in Germany but you may be able to claim damages (depends on whether the demonstration was legitimately formed). Again, you may not rely on this.

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Meh

A couple of root issues

The availability of corporate shuttles, of which the Google bus is one of the most prominent is down to terrible public transit infrastructure, congested freeways, and ridiculous commute distances. To get from San Francisco to Mountain View by way of public transit, one has to use an infrequent and unreliable commuter rail system which is serviced by an unreliable bus/tram system or by BART, which is generally reliable, but whose connection with the rail system is so tight that even a two-minute disruption significantly delays commute times. Driving to any connection point is also pretty awful, and driving to Mountain View is thoroughly wretched. While the ideal solution would be to improve public transit infrastructure by means of taxing the big corporate employers, I'm sure the big corporate employers have managed to avoid most taxation, and the public transit agencies themselves are often woefully mismanaged, leading to the current unsatisfactory situation.

On the other side of the coin, people like living in San Francisco because it has amenities like restaurants, museums, bars, and nightlife, unlike the South Bay/Peninsula, which is largely a godawful expanse of bland suburbia, so there's not much appeal for the young, affluent tech worker. Unfortunately, San Francisco is so awash in NIMBYs that actually getting new housing or infrastructure put in to offset the growth in demand is a nightmarish process of permitting and hearings which usually takes several years to resolve and which can easily be blocked by anyone who cares to raise a ruckus. The result is huge demand for an artificially-limited housing supply, leading to gross price inflation. It's also worth noting that the entirety of San Francisco fits inside seven square miles, so the available space to build upon is much more limited than many other urban environments.

The solutions are clear: build more housing, improve public transit, and have people live closer to their jobs, all of which would yield benefits to the public at large, not just employees of the big corporations. Unfortunately, those solutions are so challenging that the short-term symptoms are pretty much inescapable. Equally unfortunately, I have yet to hear a grown-up debate about the underlying issues, just name-calling and hand-wringing. Until there's a meeting of the minds between Bay Area politicians and the corporate executives of Google and the other big tech companies, no real solution is likely to be forthcoming.

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Re: A couple of root issues

San Francisco is a world-class city. I would quibble about the "artificial" limit as it is a peninsula in a seismically active zone that has been a major commerce center and port for over 150 years.

Google can pay people nicely and are down the road.

I don't think the buses are making the rents go up. The latter was pre-destined.

Now many of us think there's a bubble in the Bay Area and it's based on VC funding. If we're right, rents go down. Problem solved. If not, I've heard whispers that Oakland—across the Bay—will be Developers' Paradise.

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Re: A couple of root issues

There are 15,000 - 18,000 new housing units coming to the market in 2014. What restrictions are you talking about? On upper market alone there are 5 new buildings going up with ~300 units each. Never mind all the new construction in SOMA in the last 7 years or all the new buildings going up in Mission Bay.

The other poster is right, most of the restrictions have less to do with NIMBYs and much more to do with earthquakes and the lack of appropriate sub-soil for large buildings (I suggest you look at a map of SF creeks to just how difficult the terrain is...). The other restrictions are building heights in historic neighborhoods, the need to pay compensation for taking away people's views when you build above a certain height and a percent of a buildings units reserved for affordable housing (something which, BTW is regularly ignored).

Nothing unusual in those restrictions and most neighborhoods don't give two shits about new construction and have even less power to stop it - as evidenced by the amount of new buildings even in the Upper Market area which has the strongest neighborhood associations, notable DTNA.

I do agree that the real solution is for people to live near their work - the city should make corporate buses pay exorbitant fees to use city streets to discourage their use. But this will never happen as city officials love high housing prices - it pushes out needy residents that cost money and increases property taxes, a win-win for them. Plus, since most of the techies don't have kids, no increase in services, more win.

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Windows

Re: A couple of root issues

To continue on the theme:

I agree that the buses are not making rents go up, but they are a contributing factor: if workers can be whisked to work by comfortable, air-conditioned, Wifi-equipped bus, the long commute becomes much less onerous, especially if one's employer counts transit time as work time.

I also agree that there are opportunities for people to live elsewhere in the Bay Area, but commuting from the Berkeley/Oakland area to the South Bay is even more hideous than commuting from SF proper, so East Bay development is not a panacea.

Finally, there are definitely artificial limits on growth in SF. First, there's a legal limit on how many square feet can be built in San Francisco in a given year. Second, there are soft limits on growth in the form of the aforementioned permit processes, etc. Also, San Francisco's sewer and power infrastructure need an overhaul to support increased population densities; without significant investment in these things, there's a very hard limit to additional construction, and it's precisely this kind of improvement which is opposed by "old school" San Franciscans. It's clearly possible to achieve that kind of density (see Hong Kong, Singapore, Manhattan), and it's the only way to keep prices from skyrocketing, but as mentioned above, there's significant opposition. Actually, there's one other way to reduce demand, which is to make San Francisco unliveable, which the army of homeless people is working on, facilitated by a lack of desire to anything substantial about that issue, even by so-called progressives, but I digress.

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Re: A couple of root issues

The infrastructure is fine and being massively upgraded as we speak. The city has been replacing all the major sewer lines in the last few years, it's part of a multi-billion dollar 20 year plan - http://sfwater.org/index.aspx?page=116 Also, SF pretty much delivers all of the water for the Bay Area - http://www.sfwater.org/index.aspx?page=554 - I can't speak to the power issues, IRC those are more statewide problems that SF specific as last time I checked there was a 40% buffer on existing power lines. Finally, the square footage limit basically doesn't count as any unused amount can be 'banked' and the city has enough 'banked' square footage approve almost anything.

That said, I'm pretty sure there is a significant segment of the city's population that's opposed to becoming another Manhattan and that's a good thing.

I would note that there are two things that are actually causing prices in SF to skyrocket: 1. Chinese (mostly but also other foreign) money 2. Retirees. It's probably not the techies pushing up housing prices (since they usually can't afford to buy) but it doesn't help when they are willing to pay 2 years up front for a $1200/month room.

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Re: A couple of root issues

@Tom Maddox... "Unfortunately, San Francisco is so awash in NIMBYs that actually getting new housing or infrastructure put in to offset the growth in demand is a nightmarish process of permitting and hearings which usually takes several years to resolve and which can easily be blocked by anyone who cares to raise a ruckus."

It's not that San Francisco is so awash in NIMBYs as it is that there is almost no place to build a house or apartment building without tearing another one down. The number of vacant lots in San Francisco is on the order of 1/10 of 1%... In many neighborhoods, houses are literally cheek by jowl, with not even enough space between the houses to lay a coat of paint, IF there was room to get the paintbrush in between the houses... Many have no front yards, small back yards, and 3-4 stories. Of course, if you can afford a house in Pacific Heights, houses all have nice yards, with side yards, but price tags upwards of $1,000,000 for many of them.

Even so, it can still take 6-24 months to get the required permits and then finding a contractor who won't put you in the poorhouse just to give you an estimate... and take your two first born children as a down payment.

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Anonymous Coward

FashionistaLab?

Now there's a non job if there ever was one.

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Anonymous Coward

Attacked as part of the wealthy elite - for taking a bus? Damned if you do...

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This is not the bus you remember...

... it's a corporate bus with WiFi and often coffee/food. It's employer subsidized benefit at it's best, saving people from having to drive almost 100 miles/day and spending 2-2.5 hours in their car, or paying $20/day in public transport costs.

It's very much a luxury benefit that's only justifiable when your employees make, at the low end, double the median household income and at the high-end are given multi-million dollar cash bonuses plus valuable stock options.

Basically, it's the modern equivalent of a chauffeured car.

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Re: This is not the bus you remember...

Plus they're using public bus stops, causing additional congestion and some of the public buses are having to do things like let their passengers off in the middle of the street, causing even more problems.

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Paris Hilton

That bus is a luxury symbol

It provides actual, honest-to-God, proper transportation to Google employees. If it were not for those buses, Google employees would stay away from SF in order to avoid the hellish traffic along the peninsula.

In other words, public transportation is so bad, that the resulting deadlock at the entrance of SF has come to be seen as a feature which keeps rich people from living there.

If the buses are allowed to go on, it means that soon only rich people will be able to live in cool places!

PH icon representing how confused the whole situation is.

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Re: "...causing additional congestion"

Please explain exactly how congestion will decrease if you replace this bus full of working employees with the same lot sitting hurriedly/frustratedly/tiredly alone each in their car in this 50mile stretch of traffic jams, furtively checking their messages every few minutes.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This is not the bus you remember...

Yeah, I totally get the concern with them using public bus stops, particularly if they're actually *displacing public buses* - that ain't cool. I would presume they have some kind of agreement with the city, though, so wouldn't the protesters be better served taking up the issue with whatever quango handles that? Maybe Google ought to stump up to improve / expand the bus stops, or something; that's not unreasonable if their buses are making life difficult for the city ones. And it's not really in Google's interest to have bus fights going on either.

Seems like there's a reasonable way to go about this if everybody doesn't go nuts and turn it into a personal... oh, well, never mind. :P

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Re: This is not the bus you remember...

"so wouldn't the protesters be better served taking up the issue with whatever quango handles that?"

Perhaps, but who says they aren't also doing that. Would "People write strongly worded letters to local Government" make headline news around the world, or make Google even aware of the issue?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This is not the bus you remember...

" "People write strongly worded letters to local Government" make headline news around the world"

Fair enough - probably not. But based on the response here, the headlines this protest is generating seem unlikely to create an upsurge in support for their cause. They say that no publicity is bad publicity, but when they say that, they're not talking about politics - just ask a certain Toronto mayor...

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Public? Gimme! Gimme!

Though partially nonsense, the protest does bring up a good point about Google using public infrastructure for private use. The commuter busses, WiFi, TV whitespace, and Moffett Field are some examples. As much as I don't like excessive regulation, it's clear that these uses aren't scalable. Public WiFi is already clogged with commercial HotSpots (AT&T, Comcast, Google, etc.). Big tech companies borrowing public bus stops isn't going to work either.

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Re: Public? Gimme! Gimme!

> Big tech companies borrowing public bus stops isn't going to work either.

And I thought that 'public' meant that it could be used by the 'public' (ie everyone) as a place to stop buses. Do you think that they should be made 'private' ?

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