Not an actual picture of the Google bus protests.
What do the Google Bus protestors want? One billion dollar fines on tech companies for using public bus stops. A moratorium on evictions in San Francisco. An end to gentrification in the Mission. And while those demands—and their window smashing tactics—might be excessive, there's no question that the protestors have grabbed the attention of the city's political insiders. Though we doubt that Google is going to "Fuck Off" any time soon, the protests already have had a pretty substantial impact.
Since the first Google bus blockade on December 9th, there's been a noticeable uptick in both talk and action from city and industry leaders. While there may not be a direct correlation between the demonstrations and the responses below, it's hard to deny that the protestors have been driving the city's conversation:
Increasing Middle Income Housing: As the Examiner reported today, housing advocates have floated plans to change the way that the city calculates development concessions for low-income housing. They want developers to have the option of building larger numbers of middle-income housing rather than concentrating on the lowest income levels. That would be a step towards addressing what many see as the root of the housing crisis: a lack of affordability for the middle and working classes, not just the very poor.
Forcing Tech Firms to Play Ball: Ron Conway's sf.citi, the tech industry's Chamber of Commerce, announced a three-pronged plan to give back to the city, focusing on housing, jobs, and non-profit foundation support. "More than ever, the industry as a whole is ready to roll up its sleeves and work together on issues impacting all San Franciscans and to make sure our city's economic success reaches all of our residents and neighborhoods," Conway was quoted as saying.
Raising the Minimum Wage: Mayor Lee announced his support for a ballot initiative raising the minimum wage to as high as $15 an hour, which would make it among the highest in the country.
Getting the Buses to Pay: The MTA has pressed harder for a pilot program to be put in place by this summer to charge private buses—like Google and Apple's—for the use of Muni stops.
Easing the Housing Crisis: The Board of Supervisors passed three measures intended to ease the housing crisis, by extending more benefits to Ellis Act evictees and to encourage property owners to keep rental units on the market. Days later, Mayor Lee announced an executive action to speed up the process for constructing affordable housing already in the development pipeline.
Shaming the Billionaires into Philanthropy: To list just the latest examples, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg just announced he would be donating $1 billion in stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Meanwhile, Airbnb is expanding its charitable activities. Salesforce's Mark Benioff said he would match any employee donations to homelessness charities, without limit, to go along with his own giving.
Add it all up, and San Francisco does seem to be listening to the protestors' demands. That's not to say that we're moving towards a Rebecca Solnit-style archipelago of artists and activists that many of the protests seem to want. No matter how hard the agitators try, they are not going to summon the ghost of labor legend Harry Bridges to drive the techies into the breakers. Four dollar toast, 200-square-foot micro-apartments, and Glass-wearing babies are here to stay. But, given their successes thus far, so are the protestors.