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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,