[News] Where No Google Buses Go

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sun Dec 22 19:03:49 EST 2013

  Where No Google Buses Go

Dec 21, 2013 

For every word written about the gentrification and displacement that is 
tearing San Francisco apart, there should be ten words written about the 
the poverty, environmental racism, and financial predation battering the 
smaller industrial cities of Contra Costa and Alameda counties. In 
suburban hinterlands north and east of Silicon Valley and San Francisco 
are the bankrupted municipalities of the Sacramento Delta and Carquinez 
Straight. We're talking Stockton and Vallejo. Even closer are other 
cities devastated by the economic crisis, places like San Pablo, or 
Richmond from where you can see the rising skyline of San Francisco 
across the Bay, growing with towers of luxury apartments as it is.

Black and Latino residents have already been pushed to the fringes of 
San Francisco, both geographically and in the employment ranks of the 
new tech-centric economy. Fleets of Silicon Valley company buses that 
clog San Francisco's streets picking up and dropping off the gentrifiers 
---mostly affluent white and Asian newcomers to the Bay Area--- give the 
ruthless socioeconomic order a sense of literal arrival each morning and 

It's impossible to ignore, and the region's media, fixated as they have 
always been upon San Francisco's wealth and velocity, give the city's 
problems frequent coverage. But San Francisco's problems are really just 
a small part of the region's destruction and reconstruction around new 
and even more severe class and race inequalities. In San Francisco the 
have-it-alls are now as busy purging the middle class as they are the 
remaining working class communities of color. Beyond San Francisco, in 
its sunset shadow, are entire cities of the dispossessed, largely 
forgotten in the boiling public debate around housing, jobs, and community.

There is no Google bus that arrives in San Pablo, a small city across 
the Bay from San Francisco that for decades has been known as the Bay 
Area's poorest municipality. What did arrive at least twice in the last 
two years were orders for the San Pablo's 30,000 residents to shelter in 
place from toxic chemical clouds. San Pablo is less than two miles 
downwind from Chevron's giant Richmond oil refinery, and another couple 
miles southwest of the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo. If Twitter and 
Salesforce and cleantech and biotech symbolize the "green" and 
"postindustrial" corporate community of San Francisco today, it's 
noxious oil and chemical giants like Shell and Valero that dominate the 
landscape of Contra Costa.

The landscape is relatively level where San Pablo's 30,000 residents are 
concentrated. Most of San Pablo's homes, schools, and businesses are 
built on the Bay's flatlands bracketed between the Interstate-80 Highway 
to the east and the BNSF's congested train tracks on the west side. BNSF 
is the rail road of the world's fourth wealthiest man, Warren Buffet. 
Through San Pablo it pulls thousands and thousands of tanker cars filled 
with hazardous crude petroleum and refined petrochemical products. 
Warren' Buffet's net worth of $53.5 billion is 45 times greater than the 
total assessed value of all the land and buildings in the city of San 
Pablo. In 2013 Warren Buffett's wealth grew by $37 million a day. In 
contrast, the average worker living in San Pablo earned $106 a day.

Up against the BNSF railway tracks are neighborhoods comprised of 
trailer parks and aging houses. The little wood-frame homes, many built 
in the 1960s and 1970s, are inhabited mostly by Latino immigrants and 
African Americans. San Pablo is 88 percent non-white. Children attend an 
elementary school just 200 feet from where oil trains race by around the 

Back in 2007, before the economic crash, the median household income in 
San Pablo was $46,000. This was already a community enduring serious 
poverty and higher than average rates of unemployment---6 percent even 
at the height of the mid-2000s boom. Of course the Financial Crisis hit 
San Pablo hard, and the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 
December 2007 to June 2009 caused unemployment, poverty, and 
foreclosures to spike in the community. Incomes dropped drastically.

With an unemployment rate now at 12 percent, double its pre-Great 
Recession rate, and with median household incomes having actually 
declined by $7,000, to $39,000 in 2012, San Pablo's residents have only 
fallen further behind in a region where there are corporations and 
individuals worth billions.

There has been no recovery so to speak of. Far removed as it is from the 
playground of San Francisco, and in the path of a polluting industrial 
facility, waves of techies aren't clamoring to move into San Pablo, but 
the oil trains still stream through. For decades the community has been 
afflicted by property crime and violence bred from poverty and 
alienation. The city's politicians now allocate 45 percent of their 
total budget toward police repression. Ironically about 19 percent of 
San Pablo's city revenue is now gotten from a casino that was allowed to 
open in 2002---sin funds the city, even while it arguably fuels social 
problems like gambling addictions, drunk driving, and assault.

There are no tech buses to block in San Pablo. It and other cities east 
of San Francisco have been left behind in the tech boom. The new 
economy's billion dollar corporations and thousands of startups are 
concentrating themselves in downtown San Francisco all down the San 
Mateo Peninsula into northwest San Jose. Places like Palo Alto and 
Mountain View have become wealthier, whiter, and more connected to San 
Francisco through public and private transportation infrastructure 
investments, and through financial networks that link San Hill Road to 
the Embarcadero.

Across the Bay in San Pablo and further east there are no new tech 
campuses planned. Apple is building a multi-billion dollar campus in 
Cupertino. (No one actually knows how much it will cost.) In Contra 
Costa County the only multi-billion dollar investments planned are PG&E 
gas-fired power plants like the one to be built in the distant town of 

There are no techies pushing up rental prices in Contra Costa's working 
class cities. There is only the sinking feeling of further declining 
real incomes, a generation of lost wealth, deepening racial segregation, 
and cities that are tottering on weakened fiscal foundations.

San Pablo's neighborhoods were crushed by the foreclosure crisis. When 
the crash came it took what wealth many had saved up; the median home 
value in Contra Costa County dropped by 47 percent in 2008. It dropped 
another 24 percent in 2009. Prices haven't recovered in many corners of 
the county since, especially those areas populated by Latinos and 
Blacks. Over the past year there were 168 notices of default issued on 
mortgages in San Pablo out of a total 4,030 loans --- four percent, 
according to Foreclosure Radar. HUD's estimate of foreclosures at the 
outset of the Great Recession, from 2007 through the first half of 2008, 
showed that one in ten mortgages was foreclosed in San Pablo. At the 
same time San Francisco's rate of foreclosure was a mere 2 percent.

Remarking on how much more devastated Contra Costa County cities like 
San Pablo were by the Great Recession, Chris Schildt and Jake Wegmann 
wrote in June 2012 that, "we now face a new map of regional inequality, 
one for which the entire region bears some responsibility, not simply 
the residents and leaders of southern Solano and eastern Contra Costa 

How right that is. All the big banks that were responsible for the 
subprime boom ---and the frenzy of packaging these predatory loans into 
complex derivative investment products that ultimately crashed the 
economy--- have offices in San Francisco. Many of the bank architects 
that targeted African Americans and Latinos with subprime loans, 
financing their moves out of San Francisco and Oakland into Contra Costa 
County, are in downtown San Francisco. 
<http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/July/12-dag-869.html> A few, like 
banking giant Wells Fargo are headquartered there. Their executives live 
in mansions in tony neighborhoods like Pacific Heights, or down in San 
Mateo's wealthy enclaves like Hillsborough and Atherton. JP Morgan has a 
tower on Mission Street. Bank of America has a regional office in San 
Francisco, as do US Bank, Citibank, HSBC, and others. Tech, after all, 
isn't San Francisco's only industry. Finance is one of San Francisco's 
big employers and has been since the Gold Rush.

But the boom today really is in tech. There have been rumors lately that 
Google is eying real estate in San Francisco for a second campus there 
in addition to its Mountain View headquarters. Google more than any 
other tech company has been obsessively reshaping the political 
geography of the Bay Area. Its executives privatized part of San Jose's 
public airport. The company is building floating real estate in the Bay 
as part of its planned conquest of retail. It's buses are most prolific, 
and most blamed for blocking streets in San Francisco, and parts of 
Oakland, and of course each bus represents perhaps fifty employees whose 
relatively flush incomes are putting unprecedented pressures on rents in 
San Francisco, and also areas of Oakland like the "Temescal."

Google doesn't send its buses into Richmond, and they probably never 
will. Like San Pablo, but much larger, Richmond has become a refuge for 
many of the displaced families forced to leave San Francisco and 
downtown Oakland, but even so Richmond's housing stock is characterized 
by an unusually large number of empty and blighted homes, zombie houses 
from foreclosure. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, is wealthy enough 
to buy up every parcel of land and every building in the entire city of 
Richmond, and still have about $3 billion left over. Google's other 
founder, Sergey Brin, could do the same thing. To put the extreme wealth 
of Silicon Valley's elite in a similar perspective, consider this: 
Richmond's estimated 39,000 households earned a collective income of 
about $2 billion last year. If the Google co-founders Brin and Page 
wanted to, they could pay every household in the city twice their 
existing income for a total of eleven years.

Perhaps here I should conclude by adding that Google also claims a $130 
million California research and development tax credit 
which will carry-forward indefinitely and allows the company to whittle 
down the taxes it owes to Sacramento for many years to come. Tax 
policies that favor the wealthy and large corporations, after all, are 
part of the cause of growing inequality in America today.

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