Shuttle Bus Protests in San Francisco and the Job-to-Housing Ratio Problem

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The Transit Coalition's Long Term Future Vision for the Inland Empire calls for a balanced job-to-housing ratio on top of improved multi-modal transportation options. That will help reduce the need for long distance commuting by keeping housing costs affordable for the workforce and their families. To keep it short, the Inland Empire certainly can use better high paying marketplace jobs. On the other front, existing high density employment hubs in Irvine, West LA, several beach communities and many areas in San Diego County could use a better supply of housing to make rentals and possibly property sales more competitive and affordable to meet demands. Similar situations are occurring in the Bay Area.

Silicon Valley Employee Shuttle Protests in San Francisco

Thousands of residents living in San Francisco staged a protest claiming that employees who work at major employers like eBay, Google, and Adobe in the Silicon Valley area and elect to live in San Francisco are driving up the cost of living. The demonstration became intense as protesters obstructed privately operated employee shuttles that picked up working residents at San Francisco public transit bus stops and ferried them to the large tech employment hubs.

The City responded by charging the shuttle operators a $1 fee each time it stopped at a public transit bus stop. In of itself and not factoring in job-to-housing ratio issue, the fee is debatable. San Francisco's public transportation system is massive with busy transit buses stopping to pick up passengers every few minutes. The city bus stops should not be obstructed or overwhelmed by private carriers. That's where the fee can be good. On the other side, over-taxing the employee shuttle operators could result in the unintended consequence of service reductions or cancellations even though the $1 bus stop usage fee is very modest. Perhaps a fair compromise to debate is to increase the capacity of the city bus stops through a public-private agreement with the employers so that the employee shuttles can once again freely pick up and discharge passengers at public transit stops without disrupting the public transit system.

Rising costs of living in San Francisco 

The protesters were correct that with higher demands comes higher rental prices. The city has prime real estate and the reasons are obvious. San Francisco is rich in urban activity which makes it a desirable place to call home. There is simply not enough properties to meet the high demands. Supply is short which drives up costs. And San Francisco has a long history of this trend. However, the protesters' reaction by blaming and obstructing the tech employees is unjustified. Some demonstrators went far enough to foolishly vandalize the buses and there were reports of some individuals even trespassing into the residential properties and blocking the driveways of the workers. Such envy is not going to solve this problem. Worse yet, if the Silicon Valley employees elected not to live in San Francisco, less private capital would be flowing into the local economy, thereby weakening it.

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The solution is complicated and should be debated publicly. Many argue a way to address the rising costs is simply construct more residential units until there is enough supply to meet the market demand. However, unlike the Inland Empire, San Francisco is already densely populated and the added growth cannot overwhelm the existing public works infrastructure nor go unchecked.

A way to address this issue is for the city to put together a master plan, find out how much more housing units are necessary, and designate blocks within each district for higher density infill housing while allocating developer fees toward infrastructure upgrades. This debatable solution certainly won't significantly lower the purchasing price of one those landmark single family home properties in the city, but would allow folks who desire an urban life in the Bay Area additional options and choices as rentals and multi-family units become more abundant, affordable and competitive. In addition, such a balance should keep housing in the surrounding suburbs and rural areas in check for those needing their extra space.

Finally, artificial market manipulation in the housing market needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. That is, the practice of purchasing massive amounts of property for the sole purpose of eating up supply and sitting idle on the them which causes prices to artificially go up. To be clear, we're not dissenting legit investments. Good and productive examples are investors purchasing run-down property, fixing them up, and then reselling. Another of course would be renting the property which also can address the supply problem and make rentals more competitive and affordable.

As mentioned, the job-to-housing imbalance for both Southern California and the Bay Area is complex and solutions that will need to be debated will involve more than just building more supply and curbing artificial speculation. However, officials need to begin acting on this matter now so that hard working Californians can choose to live in the city or community of their choice.