Government is not always the solution

Published on Monday, 17 March 2014 21:24 - Written by

Sometimes there’s simply no government fix for a problem. San Francisco is learning that now, as some longtime residents protest the “Google bus” phenomenon — the practice of high tech companies of sending buses into the city to reduce driving for their many workers.

“Dubbed ‘Google buses,’ the shuttles remove thousands of cars from San Francisco’s madcap streets and allow coders to continue building the enterprises that help to keep the city’s jobless rate at 4.8 percent,” writes Joseph Malchow in the Wall Street Journal. “But leftists in San Francisco see daggers in Google buses, which they insist are symbols of growing inequality. In December, Oakland protesters broke the windows on a Google bus, and last spring a few dozen street demonstrators in San Francisco’s Mission District smacked piñata buses.”

The buses allow tech workers to live where they wish — and mostly, that’s hip San Francisco, instead of boring Silicon Valley. But their relatively high salaries are driving up home prices, and some areas of the city are becoming positively gentrified.

“San Francisco’s private bus drivers are at the center of a swelling debate about income inequality and the role of technology’s nouveau rich in turning the city into a place that’s becoming unaffordable for everyone else,” the Bloomberg news service reports. “With the highest rents in the country and rental evictions at a seven-year peak, the rising presence of company-funded buses in densely populated neighborhoods has led to protests and occasional violence in a city known for tolerance.”

The result, San Francisco Chronicle business columnist Thomas Lee said, is that now “tensions run high between the tech workers and people who don’t ride Google buses (i.e., the rest of the us).”

Many of those residents are demanding action — such as banning the buses from the streets or limiting the number of tech workers who can move into a neighborhood, or even an outright ban on evictions of longtime residents.

But think about those things.

Do we really want the government setting rules about who can live where — based on who they are or what they do for a living?

And do we want government telling property owners they can’t improve or sell what belongs to them?

There’s really no government solution to this problem.

But that’s not to say there’s no solution at all. Google and other high tech companies are working with San Franciscans to ease tensions. Most companies (Google included) require their workers to volunteer in their community.

Meghan Casserly, a Google spokeswoman, notes that “Since 2011 we have volunteered thousands of hours with local organizations and gave $60 million to Bay Area nonprofits. We look forward to doing more.”

Google also has made a substantial gift to the city’s transit department.

“Google is donating nearly $7 million to allow San Francisco to continue providing free bus and other transportation services to low-income city kids,” the Associated Press reported last month.

The point here is that solutions don’t always have to spring from government.

Sometimes, there’s no government fix that would be acceptable.