Blaming Google for San Francisco's housing shortage is absurd

Google's corporate mantra may be to do no evil, but to a determined band of activists in San Francisco the company could just be the devil incarnate.

Corporate buses that Google and other tech companies lay on to ferry their workers from the city to Silicon Valley, 30 or 40 miles to the south, are being targeted by an increasingly assertive guerrilla campaign of disruption. Over the last two months, a groundswell of discontent over the privatisation of the Bay Area's transport system has erupted into open revolt.

Well organised protesters have blocked buses, unfurled banners and distributed flyers to tech commuters who have seemed either nonplussed, embarrassed or downright terrified. And this could be just the beginning.

"We're in the planning process for the next protest," one of the organisers, Erin McElroy, told the Observer. "We're trying to stay creative with each one, not just repeat over and over."

Just before Christmas, a window was smashed on a Google bus in Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay. Last week, protesters doorstepped a Google engineer who they claimed was involved in working with the government to develop eavesdropping techniques and "war robots" for the military. "Anthony Levandowski is building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation," they wrote on flyers left near his house. "He is also your neighbour."

Corporate security guards have started to make a discreet appearance as the protests escalate. The core grievance is one keenly felt by almost everyone in San Francisco: the way the tech sector has pushed up housing prices in the city and made it all but unaffordable for anyone without a six-figure salary. Almost no San Francisco police officers live in the city any more, and neither do most restaurant workers or healthcare workers. The funky, family-owned shops that once defined the city are closing because owners cannot afford the business rent, never mind the rent on their housing.
If the city and state would lift their onerous building restrictions there would be more than adequate reasonably priced homes in the area.  Just look at Houston which is a much larger city and some of the most reasonably priced homes in the country.  This is what happens when you have no zoning laws which allows neighborhoods to turnover and open space is bought and developed for homes at a rapid pace.

The problem is not Google employees driving up prices, it is restrictive housing policies which artificial shrinks the supply of housing and that causes prices to rise.  San Francisco is like the city that thinks it can repeal the laws of supply and demand.


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