Segregating Silicon Valley tech workers is at the root of community conflicts

Segregating Silicon Valley tech workers is at the root of community conflicts

Summary: Tech companies go to great lengths to keep their workers separated from the local population.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Google has responded to protests about its large fleet of buses clogging city streets with plans to use a high speed ferry service for its employees in San Francisco. And city administrators hope to alleviate some complains about corporate shuttles by charging for the use of bus zones.

The fee is $1 per day per bus stop. About $1m a year will be generated but this will not provide extra city funds for anything other than enforcement and administration of the program. 

Jessica Kwong at the SF Examiner reports

Set to go before the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors Jan. 21, the proposal would allow the shuttles to use 200 of the more than 2,500 Muni stops for $1 per stop per day. Each commuter shuttle would be issued a unique identification placard and be expected to provide data for evaluation. An existing fine of $270 for using a Muni stop in violation would become easier to enforce under the pilot.

Google is hoping to improve its public image by using a high speed ferry reports Cole Chapman at SFChronicle:

Google has contracted a catamaran ferry to transport its workers from San Francisco to Redwood City, which is approximately 11 miles north of the Google headquarters in Mountain View, CBS’s KPIX 5 reports.

“We certainly don’t want to cause any inconvenience to SF residents and we’re trying alternative ways to get Googlers to work,” said Google in a statement provided to Re/code.

However, a comment on the ferry story by Ryan74 pointed out a bug in Google’s plans: ”How will the Google employees get to the water?”

Foremski’s Take: It’s Google’s all enveloping arms that are at the root of conflict in neighboring communities because local residents don’t know the Googlers living among them.

The massive white shuttle buses look sinister with their blacked-out windows and no identifiable markings (unlike Genentech buses). Workers are picked up early in the morning and dropped off late in the evening and during the day they are kept within the company’s campus.

Google has chosen to create a parallel world where there is very little contact between their workers and their neighbors.

And the tech companies compete with local small business by providing their engineers with everything they need: food, laundry, dentists, even apartment cleaning. 

For small businesses living in the shadow of the Googleplex it is daily struggle to stay afloat. And as the search giant expands into large office complexes in downtown Mountain View and Palo Alto, it will impact even greater numbers of small businesses. It’s an issue that will accelerate and worsen. 

Segregated and strange…

The more we know about each other the less strange we will seem to each other — and that reduces conflict. The thin veneer of interaction, between the inner world of Google and the real world outside, creates conditions for mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. 

It’s not a smart strategy for the tech companies. How are their workers going to come up with original ideas  if they have such minimal experience of a world that the majority experience daily?

Inspiration has many muses but they are rarely found within a work cubicle.

If I were in charge, I’d close the canteens and garage the shuttle buses for one day a week and force my workers to figure out how to feed themselves and make it into work on time.  

A giant consumer services company such as Google should ensure its engineers have a good understanding of the common experience. Strangely, it chooses to segregate them as much as possible.

The burden of tech

And what is the point of attracting tech companies to communities if they demand tax concessions and then seek to compete with local service businesses, threatening hundreds of jobs?

Through its hard won tax concessions, Twitter would rather be a burden on its neighbors than ease the burden of others. Its HQ is in one of the poorest urban districts in the entire nation.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley area cities suffer from the same issues as all other cities across the US. Our public schools have 50% drop-out rates.

Why aren’t our schools transformed into showcases of education? Why aren’t our communities thriving and healthy because of all the tech companies and visionaries in our midst? This is the reason there is a backlash against Silicon Valley.

If tech companies are unable to improve their own neighborhoods, then all of their hot air about creating a fabulous future is nothing more than a stinking halitosis of hypocrisy. 

Topic: Tech Industry

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4 comments
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  • It's not surprising that most of Google's tech is unpersonal

    their employees have little interaction with their neighbors, and the technology they create reflects that.

    For all the "social" in Google's technology, claiming they bring everyone "together", in the end it does so via the computer. And where there is interaction between people, they come out with a technology like Glasses which now throws a computer between you and the person physically in front of you.

    It seems that everyday Google tries to come up with new ideas, new ways to remove the physical world around you and replace it with a less personal cyber world.

    Given this is how their employees live, it's not surprising that this is how they think tech should behave.
    William.Farrel
  • Ah, so Google is responsible for failure of govt programs

    Keep on biting the hand that feeds you! Good thing you guys have nice weather that helps keep companies from moving.

    The peoples republic of Cali is one strange place!
    otaddy
  • Somehow...

    ...there has to be a downside of this for Google. The "no life outside of work" approach might work well for 20-somethings just starting their careers, but it gets old after a while; especially after people marry and start families.
    John L. Ries
  • Would not be a problem here...

    I live in West Michigan and commute via back roads and farm fields. I can literally see a grain elevator from my office yet we hit the Forbes best place to work top 100 every now and then.

    If our company were to just bus in all our employees everyday... no one in the community would care. Maybe we would have a few restaurants go under but if we made up the taxes, again, who cares? This area is mostly people staying out of other people's business as long as you do no harm to the land, traffic, etc.

    This is not just a city thing. I think even in Chicago no one would care if Google bused their people into their offices if their offices were there. As far as the employees, they can choose their own diversity if they like. Nothing is restricting them from going out into the city for lunch, driving into work, etc. This is just people getting all in other people's business, pointing fingers at other people because they do not conform to their notion of perfection or something.
    Rann Xeroxx