On Monday, December 9, the gilded symbol of the gentrification process currently overtaking San Francisco, the notorious “Google Bus,” was stopped by a majority-queer group of activists in the Mission, a historically Latino neighborhood with a strong queer community, which has suffered a rise in tenant evictions as affluent workers of the prosperous tech industry claim the city as their own.
Local residents of the Mission have witnessed the encroachment of the Google Buses for years, watching as more and more of the large luxury vehicles take over the narrow streets of the neighborhood every morning and evening, using public bus stops and sometimes slowing down the city’s own public transport system in order to deliver the best service to the city’s newest residents, the tech workers. It was famed San Franciscan author Rebecca Solnit that made the Google Bus the emblem of gentrification to the outside world, writing about the phenomenon in a blog post published by the London Review of Books.
“The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public,” she wrote in February. “Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.”
The buses have become a symbol for the plush amenities offered workers who face sixty- and seventy-hour work weeks; they have nap rooms, gym facilities, and high pay, and their private bus services come at the expense of San Francisco residents employed in other sectors who can no longer afford to live in what is now the most expensive metropolitan area in the country.
The executive director of think-tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, Gabriel Metcalf, told SF Gate that the city is facing a “crisis of affordability.”
“What happens when you let a city get this expensive, is that over time, only the wealthy can live there. You lose everyone else,” he continued.
It’s precisely the loss of the local community and its residents that activists, who circled a Google bus illegally parked at the 48-Quintara/SF Muni Public Transportation stop at 24th and Valencia Streets, are calling attention to.
“We were there ostensibly as the San Francisco Displacement and Neighborhood Impact Agency, and the paperwork we handed out was [regarding]the current fight for the illegal use of a public bus stop,” local activist and performer Annie Danger told 429Magazine.
“Two years of that usage is over a billion dollars in fines,” she continued.
According to the group’s website, the tech industry uses over 200 public transportation stops without permits, which is a fine of $271 per each illegal stop. For usage over the last two years, the fines total more than $1 billion, which the group is demanding be paid to the city in order to fund Affordable Housing Initiatives, eviction defense for local tenants, public transit service improvements, and legislation to prevent the abuse of local tenant laws in order to enable mass evictions in the neighborhood.
“We are asking the city and the companies who are displacing the people of the city to take responsibility for that,” Danger said about the protest.
The local community that is paying the price for the encroachment of tech workers—the Latino families, artists, queers, and cultural makers that have historically made up and contributed to the vibrancy of the Mission neighborhood—is being pushed out, and with it, the culture that made the area a target of the gentrification process.
“You can put these bus stops anywhere,” said Danger. “Google is targeting cultural capital, while also destroying the groups that make that cultural capital—and they need to be responsible.”
Of the people involved in the protest, there was a “strong majority” of queer activists, who see fighting for the rights of marginalized communities as a vital part of their own commitment to equal rights for all minority groups. While LGBT politics are largely consumed with the fight for marriage equality and inclusion in the military, some point out the community’s complicity in the gentrification process and the responsibility to other marginalized groups.
“As a queer person I have a responsibility to understand the oppression that exists near to me—an interest in inclusion,” said Danger.
“All we are asking is everything. If you are asking for anything less than everything that you need, and justice for everyone, then you are leaving people behind.”