The ever-growing tech boom is quickly encroaching on San Francisco’s territory, and the city-dwellers are voicing their opinions, realizing that they have something to say about the future of their city. Activists are flocking the streets and protesting with signs in their hands displaying the words: “GET OUT” – Gentrification Eviction Technologies OUT. So, what is all this commotion really about?
Although used negatively for this particular disruption to San Francisco, gentrification is typically portrayed as a natural, benign process of people simply moving from one neighborhood to another. The complications from this issue, however, arise as landlords take advantage of rising market values and evict long-time tenants. It has become a product of trickle-down economics applied to urban development that perpetuates the suburbanization of Bay Area poverty.
This has become a “culture war” as the old San Francisco struggles to stay alive with the tech industry moving in at a rapid pace. The two sides of this conflict have become primarily concerned with property rights. While one side argues renters should have legal rights to renew leases under local ordinances, the other believes that landlords should have complete control over their establishments.
Shuttle Buses and Pollution
Another part of this controversy involves how tech companies are polluting the city. Activists are pursuing a new lawsuit against the city and Silicon Valley shuttle buses. These shuttles, also known as “Google Buses,” are private corporate vehicles that take tech industry workers from their homes in San Francisco down the peninsula to work in Silicon Valley. The activists are upset because the shuttles are in violation of the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), claiming that an environmental review of the tech shuttle’s impact on the city is necessary. Spewing greenhouse gases across the city, cyclists and pedestrians feel endangered by these harmful emissions. And if San Francisco workers are forced to move out to cheap suburbs without mass transit, they become urban drivers that also contribute to pollution.
Gentrification Causing Displacement
The controversy in San Francisco, however, goes beyond “Google Buses.” The influx of well-paid geeks is also causing tense competition for San Francisco apartments. The gentrification occurring in the city has forced a lot of residents out of their homes. Silicon Valley’s employment boom has driven up evictions by 115 percent in the past year as the average rent price continues to increase. A strong correlation exists between tech bus routes and rising housing costs, which is destabilizing neighborhoods and causing a lot of trouble for poor and middle-income earners.
This raises the question…where is this middle class supposed to live? Many are forced to move to East Bay suburbs like Vallejo, Antioch, and Fairfield. Not surprisingly, these areas have noticed a poverty increase of 16 percent, compared to 7 percent in urban areas.
Martina Ayala, a teacher, artist and consultant for San Francisco nonprofits working with low-income families, explains to Truthout, how landlords are trying to push residents out of their homes, “They’re trying to get us out without having to pay the eviction costs. And so they’re doing that by harassing us and calling us every day, sending us three-day notices to pay rent or quit without following through with service.”
Many are worried that this change will drive out the artists, intellectuals, and middle-class families. The city could, overall, lose its bohemian appeal with this new focus on finance, service, and technology. San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who represents the mission District, additionally comments on the activists’ growing movement, “Right now, the middle class in San Francisco is being pushed out. It’s becoming a city that only millionaires can afford.”
Silicon Valley’s Counterargument
Tech company enthusiasts are trying to remind people of all the good that the Valley’s boom has brought San Francisco. Between 2010 and 2012 more than 13,000 technology sector jobs were created in the Bay area. This caused unemployment to shrink to 4 percent. These tech executives envision San Francisco as being a successful center of innovation.
Susan MacTavish Best, an entrepreneur-turned PR professional who is well known in the technology field, also thinks that this change isn’t diminishing San Francisco’s cultural attraction at all. In fact, she told Rory Carroll from The Guardian that she believes technology can add to the city’s culture environment, “Our culture in the city is a culture of ideas and fascination with the future. Robots and 3D printed art installations are very much part of the San Francisco fabric just as our symphony and opera have been mainstays for years.”
The individuals who oppose the middle-class protesters say the whole controversy is, instead, a case of envy because of the high demand to live in San Francisco. They think that these protesters are trying to make a point and convince tech workers that they do not want to live by these frustrated residents. The protesters, however, believe that these changes are bringing down the city as a whole. They argue that the tech industry can destroy San Francisco’s entire standard of living, whether it’s increasing pollution or altering the city’s unique, bohemian culture. With all of this controversy stirring, the question on everyone’s mind remains: will San Francisco’s gentrification completely transform the city as we know it today?
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