SF supervisors reject challenge of Google bus pilot program

The google bus pilot program project director speaks to Sup. David Campos at the hearing.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

An appeal of the Google bus pilot program's exemption from environmental review was denied at a contentious Board of Supervisors hearing Tuesday night that went on for six and a half hours straight. The vote was 8-2 to move forward with the 18-month pilot program without environmental review, with only Supervisors David Campos and John Avalos voting nay.

“You can’t say that you support the shuttles but don’t support their ability to pick people up and drop people off,” Sup. Scott Wiener said at the end of the hearing. “I disagree with the appellants.” 

Sup. David Campos, who voted in favor of the environmental review, criticized the lack of public input in shaping the flawed program and said the city would likely lose in a future lawsuit on the issue: “If this is denied, there may be a legal victory for the appellants in court.”

The decision followed a heated, hours long public hearing on the environmental impacts of the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency's commuter shuttle pilot program at City Hall, called for after an environmental appeal was filed in February by the SEIU Local 1021, The League of Pissed Off Voters, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. The pilot program will measure the impact of regional commuter shuttles at 200 bus stops around San Francisco, paid for by charging the shuttles $1 per stop, which the SFMTA said is the cost of administering the program.

The appellants had one goal: to call on the city of San Francisco to study how regional commuter shuttles affect San Franciscans. 

“These are pirate shuttles, they are illegal,” Richard Drury, the attorney for the appellants filing the CEQA review, told the supervisors. “We’re bussing wealthy, predominantly white adults into low-income neighborhoods, where they in turn displace low-income people. This is the reverse of affirmative action.”

Importantly, a distinction was made between intra-city shuttles, like those for hospitals and colleges, and intra-city or regional shuttles, which are largely run by tech companies located outside San Francisco. 

Those present were there to discuss the impact of the regional shuttles, whose larger size (measured in tons) more greatly impacts road wear and tear, uses diesel fuel in lieu of gasoline, and, the appellants say, displaces communities wherever they regularly stop. 

Pictured above, a journalist tweets an artist rendering of the pirate shuttles.

An Anti-Eviction Mapping Project study found 69 percent of no-fault evictions occurred within a four-block radius of the shuttle stops. CEQA recognizes displacement of people as an environmental impact, and the debate that night centered around whether or not to study if shuttle stops caused displacement of middle to low income residents. Some of the supervisors defended the tech companies to the nines, especially Wiener. 

Wiener most ardently argued against the CEQA review, and he stuck it to the appellants’ attorney, Drury. 

“It’s not a CEQA issue,” Wiener said. “There’s a certain set of assumptions that technology workers are not real San Franciscans. That they’re part of some invading force that is not part of the city, and aren’t one of us. Isn’t it part of your contention that people on these shuttles aren’t San Franciscans? That’s how [the environmental appeal] reads.”

Drury said it’s not about hating tech workers, or some sort of cultural rift. What this is about, he said, is tech companies paying for the impact they have on communities.

“Let me clarify: CEQA doesn’t mean stop the project,” Drury told Wiener. “It means study the project before you take action, and when you take action impose mitigation measures with eyes wide open.”

Sup. Jane Kim said the SFMTA could have used the pilot program as an opportunity to ask for smaller shuttles, use of white zones (as opposed to Muni stops), or any number of changes to the shuttle program. “There’s a lot more,” she said, “that the pilot could have done.”

Video of a Google protest the morning before the hearing shot by Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe.

Alysabeth Alexander of the SEIU 1021 said that overlooking the displacement the buses are causing in San Francisco is downright insulting.

“A handful of wealthy companies should not be able to come into our city and make a private infrastructure and ask San Franciscans to step aside,” she told the room.

Activists, city workers, and San Franciscans of all stripes aired their concern for skyrocketing rents in the areas immediately around regional commuter shuttle stops -- the stops of the tech buses. 

The supervisors also used the hearing as an opportunity to stick it to the concept that the buses would only cost $1 per stop. 

Ultimately some 50 or so supporters of the environmental review came out, who all had gripes about the Google buses, as they’ve come to be called. Later in the night past about 8pm the tech workers finally got to have their say.

There weren’t many of them, but those who spoke were impassioned. 

Andrew Textor, a tech worker who did not want his employer named, said “I’ve lived in the city for 10 years, I’ve been riding the shuttles four and a half. Please let this program go forward. I’m not a new arrival, i don’t like being called ‘techie.’ I’m still a San Franciscan.”

But Textor was one of only a few tech workers in attendance by the time the counter argument to the review was heard (hours later), most remaining were paid public relations persons. Sup. Malia Cohen called out the tech companies for not showing up to the meeting and participating in their community.

“I think it's worth pointing out how absent the tech companies are,” she said, differentiating this hearing from when Twitter was seeking tax breaks three years ago. “The tech executives were swarming City Hall when they wanted something.”

When asked why the SFMTA did not ticket commuter shuttles when in red zones in violation of state law, SFMTA Diretor Ed Reiskin said "I don't know."

That’s a point that tech worker Martin MacKerel touched on while speaking during public comment earlier. 

“I’m here to talk to my fellow tech workers here, I’m asking you to reconsider this,” he said, speaking of opposing an environmental review. “We’ve got to consider that we’re displacing people into Antioch, San Pablo, the East Bay. If they have to drive in to San Francisco, we need to know that. We need a real study.”

But that’s not the way the night went. The supervisors voted against the environmental review. Campos’ remarks before the vote sounded like a eulogy. 

“This is about a small group of people going to the city behind closed doors,” Campos said. “As long as we keep doing that, we’re only going to exacerbate the tension that’s out there. Working with the tech industry does not mean you roll over and give them everything they ask for.” 

The 18-month pilot program will move forward and launch July 1, barring intervention by the courts. 


Tweets from the night, some from the Bay Guardian, some not:


Unless you're Ohlone, if you live in San Francisco, you've "displaced" someone and contributed to gentrification.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 12:27 am

That happened near the beginning of the debate and settled the matter for me. The Supes did the right thing - let's have a trial and then decide what to do.

When the results are in, we can see how to best finesse the arrangement.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 5:44 am

Wiener got his ass kicked by Drury, Campos and several members of the public. Wiener threw spaghetti and was humiliated as any arrogant, self-righteous money sycophant should be.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

because he made Drudy look like a nervous schoolkid.

Oh and in case you missed it, Wiener won 8 to 2. So obviously he won the debate.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

The true sign of a progressive in San Francisco is making up sh1t to suit your narrative.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

It's like how SFBG claimed that Avalos had won the last mayoral race even though Lee got 50% more votes than Avalos.

In SFBG's mind, but for this, that and a thousand other things, the people really elected Avalos.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

been a part of a CEQA review? any other projects in CA study displacement under CEQA? Ever? A sincere question here...

Posted by GuestD on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 6:26 am

statute. But you are correct that it was never intended to be a major driver of the analysis.

As Wiener persuasively argued last night, it implies that we can never improve transit or the way people get around the Bay Area if we had to factor in the fact that rents and home values go up along major commuting corridors.

Even if displacement could be considered, that is a hard thing to casually connect to the shuttles. Correlation alone doesn't prove anything.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 6:44 am

And it would seem to make more sense in the context of removing housing units (supply). It does not make sense with respect to changing demand for existing housing units.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 12:29 pm

The question about displacement of people or housing is part of CEQA Guidelines Appendix G under the Population/Housing section.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

given that the link to displacement almost definitely cannot be proven, I believe that is moot. CEQA has only been interpreted that way when something like a new freeway actually physically displaces people by knocking down homes.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

I'll have to read up on it

Posted by guestD on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

Gee, I wonder which side the comrades at the SFBG (all 4 of them) fall on.

Its particularly disgusting and provincial that the basis for opposition to all of this seems to be that these tech people are not real san franciscans. As if someone who grows up in a economically depressed area could NEVER be an engineer at google or apple.
Why oh why cant we be Detroit!

Posted by Becky Backside on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 6:50 am

He said this appeal is predicated on picking on just one group of workers, while ignoring shuttles for other kinds of workers (which are 80% of the shuttles).

He said it was blind prejudice and a stereotype.

The other side never recovered.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 7:02 am

So you're an idiot right? I'm just coming to that conclusion because you're response is so ignorant that if the idiocy of your statement were willful, it would be embarrassing. The "other shuttles" are inter-city shuttles , that stay within the confines of the city for people who live and work here. The "google buses" are bigger, heavier, and are not for the benefit of those who live work and study within the city. Nobody forced the new residents who are tech employees to move to San Francisco, they chose to move here even though it was a long distance from their work, and now expect the city to step aside and make way for the buses they need because of this decision. Why does the city and it's residents whose whole lives are in SF, have to adapt to the small number of pre-existing residents and new transplants who don't support, but actually detract from the communities they live in? It's so infuriating to hear brain-dead morons with no concern for the city and no ability to see past their own noses get and join a argument that requires these qualities in order to contribute something meaningful to the discussion.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 01, 2014 @ 5:08 am

The Board of Supervisors is not just limited to adjudicating whether the City's conduct was permissible under CEQA.

As the City's policy making body, the Board of Supervisors is empowered to remand this product back to the agency to ensure that public policy is to study transit delay prior to authorizing illegal conduct.

The courts are constrained to determine whether the public action threaded the CEQA needle but not the Board of Supervisors.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 7:05 am

So when are we going to have the mandatory CEQA review of the UCSF shuttles?

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:02 am

The City cannot regulate UCSF shuttles, land use or otherwise because they are a state agency. Point moot.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:13 am

They make them use the white zones.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:46 am

Ellis Act evictions in defiance of state law.

Or presumably when it sanctioned gay marriages when the state did not.


But since an EIR would give more weights to cars being taken off the road by the shuttles, the point is moot anyway. The city should pay the shuttles not the other way about

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:57 am

There is a fair argument that the City abused its authority in concealing impacts by drawing a baseline that the case law does not appear to speak to. See youse in court.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:14 am

The impacts that matter for an EIR are not.

Court, shmort, that will take a long time and probably fail. By then the baseline really will be established.

You lost, like you always do.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:48 am

impact of these shuttles buses using muni bus stops.

The shuttles are perfectly entitled to use city streets, so their impact there doesn't count.

The impact can only be of the incremental impact of them using a muni bus stop as opposed to, say, using private lots.

That's the point that everyone is missing.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:51 am

impact of a bus that is on a street anyway briefly stopping at a Muni stop over some other place.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:31 am

Fair accompli legislation is only good when he is for it.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 7:14 am

he sounded very unconvinced that the shuttles were a bad thing. But he voted that way because he cannot betray his supporters (who, incidentally, came across like a bunch of whiney losers)

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:58 am

They did sound like whiny losers, although not as bad as I expected. Anyone can imagine the problems of an overcrowded bus stop, but the people who said that the shuttles actually prevented them from reaching their destinations did not help their cause at all.

Yup, they shouldn't have to spend an extra 90 seconds waiting for their bus to pull in, but does 90 seconds really make or break a Muni trip? So much so that the ride becomes unusable?

There was a lot more nonsensical complaining. All the time I was thinking that the people riding on the Google bus would solve any of those problems in a nano second instead of complaining.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:09 am

"But Textor was one of only a few tech workers in attendance, most were paid public relations persons."

Of course the number of people speaking in support of the shuttles were few since you have to wait for over 6 hours before being allowed to comment!

I got to City Hall at 2:30pm in order to speak in support of the private shuttle pilot program. They took comments from those opposed to the pilot program about 2 hours in, but they didn't take comment from those in support until over 6 hours in! I had to leave at 8pm, and so I was not able to comment.

Posted by Bryan on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 7:40 am

"Of course the number of people speaking in support of the shuttles were few since you have to wait for over 6 hours before being allowed to comment!"

It's the great political advantage progressives have - they have nothing better to do than attend interminable meetings.

Oscar Wilde: "The trouble with Socialism is that it takes too many evenings."

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:01 am

barometer of public opinion. If you believed the speakers, everyone hates the shuttles. Yet an opinion poll shows that very few likely voters dislike tham.

Luckily the supes see this all the time and discount the mob.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 9:00 am

Campos is one of the main drivers of the tension he's talking about.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:05 am

His concluding speech was a call to arms for more divisiveness.

I hope he is termed out and opens a bar.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 9:39 am

he and his posse are as hostile to private enterprise as anyone I have ever witnessed-small-medium or large- his goal is to destroy the private sector and impoverish everyone except tax payer funded employees and entities- we all must serve his version of noble selflessness.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:27 am

when Chui kicks his ass this year and then he is termed out.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 9:00 am

He was raised a pudgy gay little Socialist in a dirt-poor third-world hell hole and he's bound and determined to visit the same conditions on people in the United States. His family hated Honduras enough they came here illegally yet he never tires of reminding us what the duty of American citizens is to people like him and the other teeming masses he wants to give carte blanche to come to this country at-will.

That is the future of progressivism. And it ain't pretty.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 2:15 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

He's actually Guatemalan, not Honduran. But everything the other commenter wrote is true. He came here illegally, applied to Stanford as a Guatemalan international student (vs as an American) and got in on an affirmative action quota system, which is legal in private universities.

His belief in maximalist activist government makes total sense seeing as how he's used the system so advantageously to ratchet himself up in life.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

Everybody in the room wanted to get more than $1 a stop, but state law prohibits the city from collecting anything over their costs of the project,

So at one point Jane Kim asked why we weren't hiring people to monitor other bus stops, not used by the shuttles, to make sure that none showed up. And then charge the tech companies for their cost.

Because putting people on the city payroll with nothing to do is exactly what we need to help everyone all around..

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 8:58 am

purely legal grounds. Wiener killed him on the political issues. 1-2-KO.

Since the shuttles take cars off city streets, an EIR would presumably have the city pay the shuttles to [provide that benefit.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 9:07 am

If there are no shuttles, people will buy a car and drive to work. Perhaps the protesters haven't been on 101 during rush hour lately? If putting more cars on the road is somehow environmental, I want to know what definition of environmental this is. In my world, it is not having to own a car because you are carpooling as a group.

And the idea that "techies" are fake residents is a joke.

Posted by Ze Fenske on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 9:02 am

when he demolished the environmental arguments and noted instead that this was really about envy and the "war on tech".

The anti-transit appeal lost because it was anti-environment and anti-success.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 9:26 am

Why is it that whenever a wheelchair bound person speaks at a BOS public comment, they have 40 bags hanging off their wheelchair. Anyone else ever notice this. Its like every wheelchair commenter is a mobile episode of hoarders.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 9:47 am

I am loving this. they even wheeled the wheel chair girl into the debate. Nothing like adding some emotion to a superfluous. The new Left since 1989 is all about hysteria and no sense. See you guys in Oakland! Bye !

Posted by Dani on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:22 am

these circuses. You need

A cripple
A black
A hispanic
A child
A senior
An immigrant
A single mother
A nurse
A teacher

And so on, and on, and on

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:45 am


Posted by Dani on Apr. 03, 2014 @ 8:34 am

... everything cool. Everything people like. Like, the used to pick and choose based on some sort of social justice measure, but now it's just everything popular. It's quite possibly the shittiest outreach method ever.

- Uber/Lyft/Sidecar: Hate it
- Air BnB: Hate it
- Shuttle busses that take people to work: Hate it
- Domestic violence advocacy: Hate it
- Chipotle: Hate it
- Not having human poo on the street: Hate it
- Having 9th and Market not be quite as scary: Hate it
- Companies like Google paying for Free Muni for 2 years: Hate it

No idea what the mindset is here.

Posted by Scram on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 10:48 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:02 am

Simple: SF's brand of progressives actually hate progress.

Anything that resembles actual progress is something to block or make illegal. We've been operating like this for decades.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:07 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:25 am

Really. Like "Scram" said they would be on point with certain issues and utterly batshit on others. But the key difference is they were somewhat proactive on certain things (Example, the plastic bag ban).

Now, they are almost Tea Partyesque in how angry and most of all how REACTIVE they have become. If something seems remotely "tech" - regardless of its merit - they will staunchly oppose it. The don't even need to know the details, not even the clift notes. It's very weird indeed.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:37 am

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