There's an old saying in real-estate: Drive until you qualify. The idea is you're supposed to start looking for housing close to work, and drive away from the office until you can afford to buy housing. Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with that concept in San Francisco and Silicon Valley...or perhaps, it isn't so wrong: People are working in the tech companies in the Valley and choosing to live in San Francisco, 30+ miles away.
These well-paid employees are driving rents in San Francisco and even Oakland through the roof, and the companies are employing private shuttle service down the peninsula to the offices to make it more attractive. People are getting kicked out of their homes. A friend of mine shared this article about a bus that was held up by protesters today, and a window was smashed. It has links to other articles about similar incidents, and this is clearly escalating in a fashion that makes the Somerville Kill a Yuppie sentiment seem really minor. As far as I know, nobody has smashed windows on the private Alewife Shuttle that services my office park on 128 in suburban Boston.
So...you'll get no contest from me on the idea that it's not right that the shuttles use the MUNI stops for free. You'll get no arguments that gentrification doesn't almost always have a huge downside or that the companies that do move their offices into downtown San Francisco don't create massive dead zones if they don't play nice with their neighbors. You certainly won't get me complaining about the unwashed masses like this guy did.
However, it is what it is: Silicon Valley is the center of the tech industry, which is exceptionally big business right now. It follows that that puts a lot of pressure on housing costs. It follows from there that people will be priced out of places they'd like to live, and perhaps even have been living. The bigger question is what should be done?
It seems to me that too much of the focus has been on how to get rid of These People and keep them and their private yuppie buses out of the city instead of trying to figure out how to get it to work. At the end of the day, the 'techies' (the term I keep seeing in the media for those of us Who Are Those People) are citizens that are just trying to do their jobs, live their lives, and do both in the best way possible. I don't get why the employees, instead of the employers and the involved municipalities (or the landlords), are taking any of the blame. I never thought I'd see the day where a very liberal population is waging war on mass transit, but that's what's happening here. For decades, we've lamented the death of our inner cities, and now that money is pouring into (some of) them, we don't like that.
Sure, I don't live in San Francisco. I live on the opposite coast, but really...even if they are the self-centered autistic robots the detractors are saying they are, it shouldn't really matter: cities are dynamic places that should be able to adjust to and accommodate all types of people, as long as the city itelf can adjust and grow.
San Francisco was famously overrun by the counterculture in the 1960s, pushing out a lot of people. New development happened elsewhere; life went on. The story of changing demographics in cities and the winners and losers is as old as cities. The problem always seems to be the worst when there is nowhere for people to grow to, which can only happen--aside from lags as it takes a lot more time to build than for economies to change--when natural growth is repressed.
If the influx of these nerdy rich white and Asian men who aren't really that into granola OR family life is a problem, it seems to me that the only solution here is to begin allowing denser development in the region and investing more in transit so that the city can grow and adjust. Even if there was more land to build sprawl on, these new residents don't want it. San Francisco itself is physically tiny and already very dense. It's smaller and denser than Boston! You're not going to cool housing demand without increasing housing supply. Why isn't that the conversation? Perhaps if the Valley was more like San Francisco, more people would want to live there instead of the doing the 30 mile hump down the peninsula every day to work. However, then the entrenched interests in the cul-du-sacs of the Valley would be upset instead.
Huge side-track about why I think tech workers and the suburbs are not great partners after the jump.
I had written this as well, and it ended up not fitting what I wrote above, but it's so long I didn't want to just throw it away...
It's quite well known at this point that our younger generations (of which I am [thankfully] still a member) are more interested in urban living than those that immediately preceded us. At the same time, many companies are interested in affordable real-estate, private campuses, and free parking. Therefore, the jobs remain in the suburbs. There are only a few solutions to this problem: Make the suburbs more attractive to the workers, make the city more attractive to the companies, or get the workers to their jobs as easily as possible.
Aside from all of the talk about people wanting more interesting surroundings or whatever reasons are given for the push back to cities, I think there is another old saying that I think factors into this heavily: Time is money. The Gen X and Y'ers, and especially those who are well-paid (and according to the media, not only are all tech people selfish and boring, we're filthy rich), have put an interesting spin on this that I think explains at least part of why the suburbs are just not an attractive option: They are horribly, horribly time-inefficient. That's at least part of what people actually mean when they say suburbs are "boring". To live in the suburbs is to spend a lot of time doing chores like driving, or cooking, or mowing the lawn, instead of doing your job or--better yet--something that you might actually do just for fun. City life cuts down on a lot of supposed wasted time, and furthermore, as Richard Florida and all of his talk about the creative-economy gets at, the chance encounters we have with others when we encounter more people in our daily lives, further drives innovation.
Sure, the eternal college dorming way of life is often (and somewhat fairly) looked at as childish. There are a lot of genuine concerns about how long people are delaying marriage and children. There are a lot of fair complaints about health and expenses regarding the constant going out to eat and drink that city people do. At the same time, when your job is to be a professional thinker, time spent doing that is valuable to you and your employer. Time spent not doing that is lost revenue.
You don't even need to be at your desk. Some of my best ideas come out when I'm walking, or talking to friends over a drink. My worst days are when I'm at my desk and I can't think because I'm stressed over some personal side-issue. Even worse than worst is sitting in traffic, behind the wheel.
To this end, tech companies are going way out of their way buying all kinds of game rooms and lounge furniture and beer carts and stand-up desks with no cube walls to keep people collaborating, even when that's not what they're setting out to do. Doesn't hurt that it keeps them near their desks, where they turn the ideas into whatever reality a computer actually is for. Great work spaces also don't hurt in the arms race to provide the best environment to attract the best talent in a field where it is famously said that a good programmer is 10X better than an OK one. Of course, the work/life balance issues we have in the always-on world of tech have plenty of problems but that's beside the point here.
Until tech companies move more offices into cities, and can do so without this sort of thing happening, a shuttle bus that turns that horrible time sink known as the commute into an opportunity to get something useful done seems like a great idea to me and a win-win for employee and employer.