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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