S.F. Housing Crisis Bubbles over in Protests of Tech Employee Buses

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Protesters block Apple employees in San Francisco (photo: Beck Diefenbach, Reuters)

They’re mad as hell, but apparently protesters of escalating gentrification in San Francisco are going to have to take it, at least for the foreseeable future.

Demonstrators blocked Google and Apple buses last week that were shuttling high-tech employees to work and home around the Bay Area, amping up public protests of soaring evictions and rental prices that are remaking the face of the city. Dual demonstrations in S.F. and Oakland attracted dozens of people, hoisting signs, chanting slogans and, in one exuberant expression of frustration, smashing a bus window.

The protests seemed to observers to be more organized and intense than a similar action earlier in the month. Demonstrators delayed an Apple bus in San Francisco’s Mission District 30 minutes before it apparently headed off to the Cupertino area to the south. Reuters quoted one protester with a loudspeaker: “We want the ruling class, which is becoming the tech class, to listen to our voices and listen to the voices of folks that are being displaced.”

The ruling class is probably listening, but there is no indication that their reaction will go much beyond that. San Francisco rents are soaring, up 11.9% in the third quarter, as they tend to do when the tech sector is doing well. And along with soaring rents are soaring evictions under the state Ellis Act. The number of Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco has surged 170% in the past three years.

The Act, which was passed by the state Legislature in 1985, allows landlords to evict tenants and sell the apartments as tenant-in-common units, on the way to becoming condos. It frees up a competitive marketplace at the expense of those who can’t compete.  The law was passed a decade after inflation of the 1970s helped inspire ordinances to stabilize the rental market, often helping lower-income residents. The Ellis Act undoes that.

San Francisco politicians say they are talking with Sacramento politicians about amending the Act to give cities more power to take action when evictions escalate dramatically. But Democratic state Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, who has failed and succeeded to amend the law in the past, told the San Francisco Chronicle that other cities aren’t having the same housing crisis, and was skeptical about statewide action. “It could be more about local control, recognizing that one size may not fit all,” he said.

Joining in the chorus of local politicians responding to public outcries is Mayor Ed Lee, a former tenant lawyer who many blame for exacerbating the situation by focusing on job growth and the needs of tech companies. He is said to favor action that would make it more expensive for landlords to pursue Ellis Act evictions. Supervisor David Campos wants a city moratorium or, failing that, legislation that makes it far less lucrative for landlords to convert their properties.

Chronicle reporters said, after talking to local politicians and surveying the legislative scene, that “their ideas aren't advanced enough to set out a specific plan.”

No specific goal, no political plan, no movement leader rallying a large outpouring of support and no widespread public outcry. Just a lot of long-time residents being pushed out of a city they recognize less and less, and a few people who care enough about them to gather in public and express their support.

There were no follow-up protests on Monday.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Protesters Attack Google Bus in West Oakland, Smashing Windows (by Carmel Deamicis, Pando Daily)

More Protests over Tech Employees' Buses (by Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle)

Protesters Block Apple, Google Buses in San Francisco Area (by Alexei Oreskovic, Reuters)

In San Francisco and Oakland, Residents Fight Back Against Tech Giants (by Chris Longenecker, Truthout)

S.F. Politicians: Restrict Ellis Act Evictions (by John Coté and Marisa Lagos, San Francisco Chronicle)

Evictions Soar as State’s Ellis Act Empowers San Francisco Gentrification (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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