Friday, May 02, 2014

The muddle about the Google bus litigation

Photo by Mike Kepka, SF Chronicle

From the Chronicle's story (S.F. tech bus program targeted in lawsuiton the suit against the shuttle bus pilot program:

The lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court seeks to end the pilot program, which was approved by city leaders this year and upheld by the Board of Supervisors last month. The 18-month pilot, scheduled to begin in July, allows shuttles with permits to stop in certain red zones for a charge of about $1 per stop per day and will net the city $1.5 million over that time.

Under state law, the city can only charge the buses enough to cover the administrative costs of the pilot program, which is designed to get enough information to regulate the buses and mitigate their impact on the city.

From the Examiner's story on the litigation (SF group seeks to halt tech bus pilot program):

The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court, asks a judge to prevent the commuter shuttle program from going forward as conceived. It argues California Vehicle Code only allows public buses to pull into red zones or Muni bus stops. The lawsuit also alleges that an environmental review must take place to address impacts ranging from displacement of tenants to pollution.

The court might order the city to do an EIR on the program before it begins in July, but that won't stop the shuttles from continuing to operate. All that will likely do is delay whatever mitigation of the shuttles' impact the city finds plausible after they've completed an EIR.

And it's extremely unlikely that the court would issue an injunction to stop the shuttles as they're operating now---carrying 6,500 commuters to jobs outside the city. What the city sees as the benefits to the city's environment of the shuttles now:

39% of regional riders[of the shuttles] have forgone purchasing a car, and 20% have gotten rid of a car because they are able to use the shuttle...San Francisco-serving shuttles displace over 45 million vehicle miles traveled per year. San Francisco-serving shuttles reduce over 11,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year (this is the equivalent of the emissions from burning 25,581 barrels of oil).

No judge is going to issue an injunction that in effect eliminates those ongoing benefits while the EIR is being done, forcing thousands of commuters to switch to Caltrain or to cars to get to work.

From the Chronicle's story:

"What the buses do is facilitate the ability for highly paid tech employees to live in our city who otherwise would not, and when we have an extremely limited pool of housing stock available, what that does is push folks at the lower income levels out of the city," said Sara Shortt, head of the Housing Rights Committee, a tenant advocacy organization and a party to the suit. "We have observed with our own eyes, and looked at numerous research studies that show the shuttle buses are impacting our communities and our neighborhoods by increasing the cost of housing, and causing rising rents and, in fact, even heightened eviction activity in areas adjacent to shuttle stops," she said.

Assuming all that is true, is a shortage of affordable housing a CEQA issue? Seems like the shuttle bus is really more of a symbolic issue and not what the litigants really want to address: the critical shortage of affordable housing in San Francisco.

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At 10:51 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

I don't think affordable housing will naturally surface as long as there is such a huge demand, so they key can only be to reduce demand. Increasing supply has a massive ripple effect on public services, infrastructure, etc. It would be nice if we could densify (made up word) the city and magically undergrounded rail appears to support it, but the connection just isn't there, and wishing doesn't make it so.

Similar to we'll never find a cost efficient way to take care of our homeless population because there is so much demand to be in SF. We must reduce demand.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

How could we possibly reduce "demand" for housing and deter homeless people from coming here?

We can't really build our way out of the housing crunch without in effect throwing out the baby with the bathwater: degrading the quality of life for everyone in San Francisco, which why cities have zoning regulations to control population density in neighborhoods in the first place.

The advocates Smart[sic]Growth like to ignore that reality. After all, according to that doctrine, all we have to do is build a bunch of residential highrises and all the new residents will ride bikes instead of driving those wicked cars.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Nor, by the way, can we stop homeless people---or potentially homeless people from coming here. This is not a new issue. San Francisco is not only magnet for those in the high-tech industry, but it also attracts the homeless and the potentially homeless.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

How about charging a lot more than $1 a day to Google to use city busstops? If you charge something obviously cost prohibitive to Google, don't they stop providing busses? If they stop providing busses, don't Googlers start living in Mountain View or elsewhere? If they live elsewhere, doesn't demand for high priced real estate go down?

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

State law says that the city can't charge any more than administrative costs on the shuttles. Besides, forcing all the tech workers off those buses means that many of them will start driving to work, which is hardly a desirable outcome.

Read this article about the complexities on housing and the shuttle bus issue. This one, too.

Here's the legal complaint filed by the anti-shuttle litigants.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Where was that state law with regard to limiting the amount our bridge tolls can rise (gov't can use those funds for anything) and how high our parking meter rates can go (gov't can use those funds for anything too). Seems to me that law needs a refresh if it's being applied disproportionately.

Since the law likely was in place before the agreement with Google, et al was in place, what is overall intent of said law?

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

I'm also of the mind as long as we are bending all of the will of the city policies to building housing, then we ought to be restricting the ability of foreign investors to scoop up homes, also driving up prices and making regular folks here unable to compete (either to live or to invest themselves). Especially when those foreign persons (I'm looking at you, China) misrepresent that they will actually live in the home.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, rich people from the US and around the world are scooping up housing here as pieds-a-terre for themselves and their children.


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