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google buses in san francisco: it’s class warfare up in here

Politically, I’d say I’m Liberal, and being a good Liberal, I don’t always like members of my own tribe. Say what you will, but Conservatives seem to circle their wagons better than we on the Left do. Some people say this is because Lefties are less ideological than Conservatives, so we are less prone to associate with others just because they call themselves Liberal. I don’t know about that. I can say, however, that one thing that bothers me from my Lefty-comrades is the use of the blanket-indictment of the “system” or the “man”. I dislike these terms because they seem like lazy thinking or lazy writing, as the case may be. What part of the system are you speaking about? Who is the “man” (male or female) of which you speak? Let’s not be so general. Let’s be specific.

OK. Let’s talk Google buses in San Francisco.

Rebecca Solnit, no fan of Google buses in San Francisco

Rebecca Solnit. (Photograph
by Jude Mooney.)

Recently, I read an article by Rebecca Solnit, a San Francisco-based poet/wrtiter, and a member of the tribe, and I think it’s one that you should read, too (click here.) It points to a growing trend in many of our cities: that trend being that the only people who can afford to live here are all wealthy. Soecifically, it discusses some recent protests of the Google buses that take ever-richer tech people from SF to Silicon Valley.

I have lived in SF for almost 6 years now. I came here with my wife from NYC because she had family here and because I wanted to be closer to my family in Los Angeles. My wife liked the fact that compared to Manhattan, it seemed like we could start anew here, remake ourselves. She left academia and went into baking. I left university admin work to go into the classroom.

Cool. Yes. But only for a while.

In 2008, when we first moved here, the economy tanked, and it was a little scary for us because we didn’t have jobs. No one seemed to be hiring, and the city seemed to be cutting programs left and right. I got lucky, and I found work teaching. My wife got into a great culinary program at the community college in town. We were ok. But then, ironically, as the city and state economy turned around, we started seeing some changes around town–changes that have started to put pressure on us, financially-speaking. Older homes were suddenly being renovated, some were being stripped from the inside, out. This was happening because the tech money was starting to pour into the city BIG-TIME.

As Ms. Solnit describes the plight of middle-class families like mine, “San Francisco has been their home for decades or all their life, but they see no future here.” The have been tech booms in the past, but during those other tech booms, the people who ran those companies were happy to live close, to live in the suburbia of Palo Alto or Menlo Park. But it seems that the new crop of tech execs are young and hip and they want to live in the City. I don’t blame them. It’s cooler here than in the Valley–literally and figuratively. But here’s the rub: when you live in a city that is on the tip of a peninsula, there’s only so much space. So, you either get rich or you get swimming.

 For many… San Francisco has been their home for decades or all their life, but they see no future here.

When I lived in New York, I’d hear how poorer families get pushed out of Manhattan further and further out in the Boroughs. And I hear a lot of rumblings from community workers here in SF bemoaning the “new people” and the Google buses. And now, as a father of 1 and of another on the way, I can tell you that I have started to feel the same negativity. For a couple years now, I have told myself that my wife and I would figure it out. I didn’t want to think that I couldn’t hang with the big boys. (I know, male ego is a bitch.) But I also didn’t want to think that a city, an urban space (I love urban spaces so) could become exclusive for the well-off. That seems…to put it in Conservative terms…un-American. I work hard. I’m not dumb. I don’t need a mansion, but I do need an affordable home, a decent school to send my little boy to.

I know there are people who will make it–people who make less than I do. But I’m just getting tired of the ever-tightening of my belt here. I just don’t love SF that much. If I’m going to white-knuckle it, give me NYC any day. But the truth is, I don’t want to white-knuckle so much. So where to?

Well, my people, I have some ideas, and that will be part of what is coming to this blog over the next few months. The exodus begins, or at least, the plan for one does. The destination? That’s coming.

As for San Fran, I’ll leave the fight to Ms. Solnit, and to the protesters who are starting to bristle against the techies.  It’s not that I don’t agree with them, but there is a part of me that also feels like it’s not my place to protest someone’s success. There’s a part of me that feels that yelling at people for being rich and moving to this city is like yelling at the Pacific.

Is it the system that’s broken? I think it might be, and yes, I know, that makes me sound like the kind of Liberal I derided above. But when I say this, I know that though there’s something deeper here, I’m not going to indite “the whole system” or the “man” unless I can figure out how to help make a change and where that change should start. Call me crazy, but I think yelling at buses IS crazy; and it gives Liberals the bad reputation of being overly idealistic and effete in the face of real social problems. 

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