Rebecca Solnit apparently says that the “techno riche” are really seriously for honest ruining San Francisco. And boy, does she have some dumb evidence to support her conclusion.
Second of all, it’s privatizing public transit. In another era, the captains of industry would have said, “OK, our workers live here, our factory is there; let’s encourage, enforce, and subsidize the improvement of public transit.” Caltrain does run down there. We could have beefed up that system and had a tremendously efficient train system, with trains leaving every 15 minutes or so for the peninsula—and it would be so much more environmental, too.
Well, that’s disconnected from reality. Let’s take it piece by piece.
First: Here’s the Caltrain weekday timetable. And here are the departure times from San Francisco during weekday mornings: 6:11, 6:24, 6:44, 6:57, 7:14, 7:19, 7:24, 7:44, 7:57, 8:14, 8:19, 8:24, 8:44, 8:57, 9:07, 9:37. What’s that you say? That’s five departures an hour, averaging once every 12 minutes? Yes. Yes it is.
Second: We could have “beefed up” the system? Really? How? We could double the number of trains leaving San Francisco (at enormous cost — trains aren’t cheap), but only if they were all locals. And the problem is, locals are slow — so slow that people don’t want to ride them. And the other problem is that for the vast majority of the line, there are only two tracks down the Caltrain right-of-way, meaning that there are no sidings, meaning that trains can’t pass each other except at certain specific points. Meaning that we can not, in fact, add more trains unless they’re all locals.
Third: The basic problem with Caltrain is not that it’s not frequent enough, it’s that it’s a single narrow corridor that doesn’t serve many areas, including most notably it doesn’t serve any terribly useful part of San Francisco. The three San Francisco stations (including the laughable Bayshore station, which is served by like three trains per day and isn’t so much a station as “a moderately flat piece of concrete”) are all pushed over into the easternmost 10% of the city, and the northernmost of those stations is deeply, deeply south of Mission. And to change any of that would involve enormously expensive right-of-way acquisition in areas of extremely high real estate. And it would of course ruin neighborhoods, which, correct me if I’m wrong here, that’s what all this is supposed to avoid, right? Pop quiz: you’re a low-income person in SF. Which do you prefer, having your apartment building seized by eminent domain, forcing you to move somewhere else, or getting rich neighbors who may eventually make it hard for you to move somewhere else? Wrong, sorry, the answer was option C, you get both of those, because a right-of-way expansion for Caltrain is inevitably a ten-year project, so what happens is that you get booted out of your apartment and Google runs its busses which are apparently destroying the entire fabric of society.
Fourth: Ah, yes, this massive expansion would be “environmental.” Except, you know, how it totally wouldn’t be. Ignore the fact that even the most moderate expansion (buy new trains, no new tracks, and magical fairies handle the sidings) would probably involve up-front manufacturing carbon costs that would pay for ten years of bus operation. Guys, Google has maybe 20,000 employees in Mountain View. A small fraction of those use the busses. Running gigantic trains many times an hour to serve a few thousand people is the exact opposite of environmental.
I know all this because I ride Caltrain daily. I feel fairly confident in saying that Solnit does not.
I met a guy who lives at 24th and Valencia [Street]. He says the Wi-Fi signal on the buses is so powerful that when the Google bus pulls up in front of his house, it uses all the broadband and his Wi-Fi signal crashes. And that’s like a tiny thing that happens to one guy, but it signifies, “We are so mighty, we are crushing your reality.”
Or maybe what it signifies is “there are a limited number of bands available for wi-fi.”
But if you work 60 hours a week, you don’t have a lot of time for civic engagement. That’s part of what I object to with Silicon Valley. The people who work there have lots of money, but no time. On the one hand, they’re kind of lords of the earth economically because they’re paid better overall than any other industry. On the other hand, they’re working like field hands or coal miners. It’s like the bus comes to take the miners to the pit every day, and they do work these horrendous hours. Part of why they’re always sweetening the pill with all the gyms and saunas and gourmet food and ping-pong tables is you’re essentially living there. That’s your life. Meanwhile, there’s an old San Francisco of people who didn’t have lots of money, but who had lots of time to devote to activism and social services. People who worked a little on the side to make a living, and then devoted themselves to idealistic jobs. In an economy where everyone has to pay $4,000 a month minimum for housing, that doesn’t exist.
As a point of order, I just bought a house in San Francisco. My mortgage is way less than $4,000 a month. She’s just making up numbers.
As a second point of order, she’s also making up pretty much everything else. There are companies in the Silicon Valley which try to get people to put in very long hours. Tesla is a good example, and while Google is now too big to really enforce ultra-long hours, they’ve definitely tried. But tons of companies don’t do any such thing. I worked for NetSuite for years — most people there worked forty hour weeks. I came out of working alongside Pivotal Labs — that place was open 9am to 6pm and absolutely abandoned before and after those times. There are tons of jobs in the Silicon Valley that involve 40 hour work weeks, and if anything the culture is moving more and more away from long hours.
And it’s not like prior to Silicon Valley San Francisco was home to the 30 hour work-week. There’s an “old San Francisco” of people who “work a little on the side”? Oh yeah? Find me one.
We’re losing bars. Beloved bars are gentrifying.
I have no words.
Seriously, the whole article is like this. San Francisco is running out of bars, guys! What we need to do is nationalize Google! THAT WILL PROBABLY WORK.