Thursday, April 03, 2014

Google buses are only a symbolic issue

The Cute Movement stops a shuttle bus


Instead of addressing the city's housing crisis directly, city progressives are focusing on the Google bus phenomenon. It's much easier to attack a highly visible symbol of the accelerating gentrification of San Francisco than deal with a difficult problem like affordable housing. It will have no effect on policy, but the street theater protests give the exhibitionists in the Cute Movement a chance to do their thing.

The kind of demo pictured above reminds me of how city progressives were dealing with homelessness back in 2002, before then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom took possession of the issue with Care Not Cash and got himself elected mayor. Before that the city's left offered no serious policy proposals on homelessness, only street theater by Food Not Bombs and the Biotic Baking Brigade, the pie-throwers.

There seems to be some confusion about what CEQA can do on the shuttle bus issue. Now that the Board of Supervisors has rejected the appeal of the Planning Department's approach, the appellants have to pee or get off the pot: either take the city to court or give up on the issue.

The appellants might convince a judge to order an environmental review of the shuttle policy, but without an injunction that won't stop anything, and the review is likely to find that, since shuttle buses take cars off the streets, the city can continue the present policy. According to the MTA's Commuter Shuttle Policy and Pilot Program, shuttles benefit the environment:

Nearly half of all regional shuttle riders and 27 percent of all intra-city shuttle riders surveyed reported that they would drive alone for their commute if they did not have access to the shuttle service...59 percent of regional riders reported selling or forgoing purchase of a personal vehicle because of availability of the shuttle service, decreasing evening and weekend parking demand in San Francisco neighborhoods...annual reductions of at least 45 million vehicle miles and 11,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Getting an injunction to stop the city from implementing this pilot program will be a hard sell, since you have to convince the judge that you're likely to prevail when the hearing on the merits is held. The city will argue that shuttle buses have been in operation for some time now, and that this pilot program is all about getting information on their impact. The city is claiming a statutory exemption from environmental review under CEQA (see page 242, section 15306, under Information Collection).

In short, all the street theater and the emotional rhetoric before the Board of Supervisors on the Google bus issue is nothing but that. This approach is a legacy of the 1960s, that public demonstrations and rhetoric can somehow substitute for serious policy debate, political support and litigation. The Civil Rights movement often used public demonstrations and even civil disobedience, but it also had a serious long-term litigation strategy and, at a crucial point in 1965, political support from President Johnson and the Democratic Party.

Tim Redmond laments that the supervisors' rejection of the appeal 

defied pretty much the entire progressive community last night and gave a green light to a program that allows tech shuttles to use Muni stops for $1...The real issue led to hours of testimony: Is it okay for shuttles that serve mostly upper-income people to use public bus stops, delaying the Muni buses that serve a lower-income clientele---and shouldn’t the city look first at the impacts on residents and what could be done to mitigate the damage?

But that's exactly what the pilot program will try to do. Redmond quotes one of the speakers at the hearing:

Tom Temprano, co-president of the Milk Club (and a columnist for 48hills) noted during public comment that “When it comes to building desperate affordable housing, the city says it takes time, we need to do an EIR. When it comes to adding bike lanes, or improving Muni, the city says it takes time, we need an EIR. But this project we’re told that there isn’t an EIR and time suddenly isn’t an issue.”

In fact the city also resisted doing any environmental review of the Bicycle Plan---until Judge Busch ordered them to do so after we took the city to court.

But affordable housing, gentrification, and evictions are really what Redmond and his progressive allies are concerned about---and rightly so. They should focus on that larger, much more difficult issue instead of the Google buses, which is really a secondary issue---and an essentially symbolic issue.

The Legislative Analyst's report.

A recent public opinion poll shows public support for the shuttle buses.

A 2012 MTA report on shuttles.

A UC study: Impacts of Silicon Valley Shuttles on Commute & Residential Location Choice

My January post on the issue.

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10 Comments:

At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of addressing the city's housing crisis directly, city progressives are focusing on the Google bus phenomenon.

Instead of addressing the city's housing crisis directly, a bunch of goofballs are focusing on the Google bus phenomenon.

Fixed. The concept of progressivism should not be hijacked by a "bunch of goofballs". There are a lot of good progressive ideas, including from Saint Obama, that should not be diluted by the fact that some who espouse those good ideas also happen to be a "bunch of goofballs"

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob -

I told someone yesterday - "Even though in the end Rob Anderson accomplished nothing of substance by demanding the city do an EIR on the bike plan, the exemption of the EIR was flimsy, so he had a point. The Pissed off Voters have no point. There is no reason under CEQA that the Google Bus deal needs an EIR".

You contradict your whole mantra by saying this. "the review is likely to find that, since shuttle buses take cars off the streets, the city can continue the present policy".

You claim that the EIR for the bike plan showed that bikes are bad for the environment - yet the City went ahead anyway. You know full well, the review could find that Google Buses are horrible but still implement the new policy (it's not present policy yet, the pilor has not started).

The protestors are trying to use CEQA not because they think there is an environmental impact, but because they don't like the shuttles. It would have been more intellectually honest for them to just debate the merits of the policy, instead of trying to do an end around. Same could be said for you, except you had not chance arguing the merits of bike lanes, because as we saw once it came down to a vote - you lost 11-0

 
At 8:30 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

It's a lot harder to protest in front of the multiple big dollar developers that are truly funding the bike, ped, and dense growth movements. Most people don't make that connection anyways.

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"You claim that the EIR for the bike plan showed that bikes are bad for the environment---yet the City went ahead anyway. You know full well, the review could find that Google Buses are horrible but still implement the new policy..."

The EIR on the Bicycle Plan did in fact show that implementing it will make traffic worse in the city, which the report called "significant unavoidable impacts." Those impacts---making traffic congestion worse---are avoidable if the city didn't implement the Bicycle Plan. It isn't "bikes" that are bad for the environment; it's taking away more than 50 traffic lanes and more than 2,000 street parking spaces to make bike lanes on busy city streets that increases traffic congestion and, among other things, increases air pollution.

The city has admitted that the Bicycle Plan will primarily benefit cyclists, and that its policy is based on nothing but the "mode shift theory"---install a lot of bike lanes and a lot more people will ride bikes in the city, thus reducing traffic congestion. They presenting no evidence in support of their "mode shift" theory.

The Examiner story I linked---which you apparently didn't read---claimed that the CEQA appeal process itself would prevent the city from implementing the pilot program until the appeal process is over. The reality is that, now that the appeal process is over, the opponents of the pilot program have no options other than giving up or litigating.

Litigation might result in a court order to do an EIR on the shuttle system, but that outcome is less certain than our litigation on the Bicycle Plan. And, as I point out, an EIR is likely to conclude that, yes, shuttles have an impact on the environment and that the city needs to mitigate that impact.

But that's what the city is already starting to do with its pilot program.

"Same could be said for you, except you had not chance arguing the merits of bike lanes, because as we saw once it came down to a vote---you lost 11-0."

You're muddled about the sequence of events. That 11-0 vote was by the Board of Supervisors on our appeal of the Planning Commission's approval of the Bicycle Plan. There was no real debate on the plan by the supervisors before that vote. We then took the city to court, got an injunction stopping the city from implementing the plan until it did the environmental review subsequently ordered by Judge Busch.

Here, I don't think the opponents of the pilot program could get an injunction, but they might get the court to order an EIR. The city isn't denying that shuttles have an environmental impact, and it seems to be trying to deal with that impact in a responsible way. An EIR on the shuttles and the pilot program would likely shed little additional light on the issue.

With the Bicycle Plan, the city did in fact claim that it couldn't possibly have any impact on the environment, which was absurd. It wasn't a hard decision for Judge Busch to make when he ordered the city to conduct an environmental review of the plan.

 
At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob - the EIR of the bike plan did in fact show that implementing it will make traffic worse in the city, which the report called "significant unavoidable impacts."

Then Planning approved it and the BoS upheld your appeal. In other words it really doesn't matter what an EIR says.

 
At 5:07 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, that's right. The EIR said what we thought it would say, but City Hall made a political decision to implement the Bicycle Plan anyhow. Not the usual pay-to-play type of corruption, just pure stupidity and ideology combined to give us the latest progressive version of good government.

 
At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Instead of more traffic, the reason the streets may seem more crowded is that they're busier. But not with cars. With transit ridership up and more people walking, the sidewalks and crosswalks are full. The city's boom in bicycling has put more bike riders, and bike lanes, on the streets. And a surge in construction downtown - from the Central Subway and Transbay Transit Center to high-rise residences and office towers - has made closed or narrowed lanes common.

"It's a combination of stuff: construction, an overwhelming number of people, more pedestrians and bikes," said a bike-riding traffic control officer at Second and Market streets.."

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Downtown-traffic-seems-worse-but-studies-show-it-5379797.php#page-1

The EIR predicted our present nightmare of pedestrians and bicyclists congesting and polluting the city, and that's exactly what's happened.

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Typically stupid comment by a bike moron. Which EIR are you referring to? The Bicycle Plan's EIR said that the Plan will have "significant unavoidable impacts," which it surely will when it's implemented. The Masonic Avenue bike project will have the biggest impact, since Masonic is a busy street of regional importance, not just a neighborhood or city street.

The numbers this Chronicle writer cites don't even support the story's theme---that traffic downtown is getting better. He of course talks to someone from the MTA and the head of the SFCTA to get the party line, because he's been embedded in City Hall's transportation system for years.

And he repeats the Big Lie about a dramatic increase in cycling that I've deconstructed a number of times over the years.

Here's how the percentage lie works: In 2000 2.1% of commuters in SF rode bikes to work. In 2012 3.6% of commuters in SF rode bikes. That's a 58% gain!

The reality: that increase is insignificant after more than ten years of anti-car, pro-bike propaganda from City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition.

 
At 9:08 PM, Anonymous sebra leaaves said...

The Google buses are no longer a symbolic issues now that we have complaints of a Google bus rider who is evicting tenants. There is a clear connection between the Google buses and the evictions of San Francisco citizens that brings the CEQA claims into clear focus.
If you feel it is time for a change of pace and want to start with the MTA, sign our petition to FixtheMTA:
http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/fix-the-mta

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, that changes nothing. The housing issue still has to be dealt with regardless of how the Google buses are regulated.

 

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