Counterintuitively, progressivism in the Bay Area often manifests as conservatism. The people who inveigh against new money, and economic drivers, and skyrocketing real estate prices see themselves as preserving history. Many of them are quick to cite the Haight Ashbury hippies and the Panthers as a more authentic version of San Francisco than the tech industry that's overtaken it today. Some pine for a bygone Valencia Street that was home to artists, Holy Rollers, and working-class immigrant families, rather than expensive boutiques, acclaimed restaurants, and charter buses that glide by like alien spacecraft.

Some organizers have more personal reasons for joining the fight. Erin McElroy, who facilitated the meeting, later tells me she's been a radical for most of her adult life. Fifteen years ago, she traveled to Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization, and in 2009 she went to Romania to curb displacement of ethnic Romani communities. McElroy says she sees eerie parallels between Romania and the Mission District, near where she lives. She works for the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a group that tracks eviction data for San Francisco on digital maps. During off-hours she helps coordinate the bus blockades with an underground resistance group called Heart of the City.

"I think it's the sentiment of a lot of people that there's an equation of 'displacement' and 'replacement,' McElroy says, noting that a new tech bus or wine bar seems to pop up with every three-day eviction notice. "And," she adds, "it's been very natural to bring tech into that vision."

She has a point. It's natural to bring tech into any vision of the Bay Area's future, given that nothing else has changed the region so irrevocably. But to fixate on "displacement" and "replacement" as a zero-sum game might be stripping away the nuance, since you can't always predict what "replacement" will look like. Sometimes, it's an immigrant family getting pushed out of the Mission District. But sometimes, it's an immigrant moving in.

Vladimir Levitansky is one such immigrant, trying to set up roots in West Oakland and bumping against its pervasive fear of interlopers.

Before opening a café in the historical "Lower Bottoms" neighborhood, Levitansky, who's 39 years old, had an illustrious career in the circus. He's broken every toe, almost every rib, his fingers, and his nose. He's pulled bones out of sockets, displaced ribs, buoyed himself on rubbery joints. A few years ago he got squashed by one of his props — a Porta Potty — at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival, and broke his tailbone. "I can't say I'm retired forever," Levitansky says. "I'm on sabbatical."

Two and a half years ago, Levitansky settled permanently in Oakland with designs on launching a small restaurant. He wound up buying a gutted fish and burger shack at 10th and Wood streets. It had a run-down kitchen, a large counter encased in bulletproof glass, and enough space in the foyer for two long, cafeteria-style tables.

Levitansky and his wife opened 10th & Wood cafe in July and devised a menu that seemed expensive by neighborhood standards. A grilled chicken sandwich with aioli and Granny Smith apples costs $8.50; drip coffee cost $2 a cup. Levitansky says he sticks to "non-gentrification prices" — just enough to buy the artisanal buns for his hamburgers and pay his kitchen staff a fair wage; no Niman Ranch beef or hoity-toity fixings. He struggles to foist culinary concepts on the local kids who would prefer a fried fish sandwich with cheese, and "none of the other stuff you put on there."

Above all, Levitansky is self-conscious about personifying a tide of change that's come to the Lower Bottoms — where fancy food seems to coincide with mushrooming real estate prices.

"A year and a half ago, you could buy that duplex across the street for a hundred fifty grand," he says, nodding toward a row of crumbling Victorians just outside the window. "And now they've tripled the price." He noted that a sparse three-bedroom can go for up to $2,600 in the Lower Bottoms. Most of the lofts at Holliday's nearby Pacific Cannery development go for around $325,000 — still far less than the equivalent in most parts of San Francisco — but Levitansky believes that as more housing-bubble refugees move in, they'll fetch what the market will bear. Not for nothing is Holliday's sales pitch "Closer to San Francisco than San Francisco." That's Brown's Tech 1.0 promise, finally delivered, but still facing stout opposition.

In February, Oakland administrators invited the public to comment on a new strategic plan for West Oakland, to rehabilitate industrial properties and make use of a $2 million federal grant the city received in 2010. Housing activists like Rio Scharf, an organizer with the East Bay Solidarity Network, worry that the fever dreams of developers and city boosters might yield ugly consequences. Scharf, who's watched West Oakland rents rise precipitously — even faster than the rest of the city — fears the tenants he works with might be displaced to Antioch.

"My sense is there's finally going to be a successful push to redevelop the landscape," he says, "and that it might leave historic residents in the dust." Other activists worry that West Oakland might come to resemble the Mission in more ways than just having parallel tech bus protests.

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Ms. Swan, seems to think all housing is inherently good, and opposition to it is “conservative.” But burdening community after community with nothing but high-end housing and condos that price out ordinary workers is not a benefit. The fix will be simple to see, just hard to enact in a system designed to benefit developers, who have no incentive to build the housing we need, i.e. honestly affordable housing for low-paid working people, unless politicians force them to by hooking rents to the minimum wage, rent control, etc. Housing should not be a “whatever the market can bear” system unless people really enjoy seeing their neighbors living under the overpass. Sincerely, Carol Denney


This reminds me of how journalists covered Occupy. They had this really, overly literal refrain of, 'But what do you want!? ' that totally missed the point. Protests speak complex truths that can't be spoken. Occupy spoke the truth of Wall St sequestration of resources and all of the sudden we were talking about CEO salaries, tax breaks and income inequality. As such occupy gave Obama the platform to beat Romney. The tech bus protest and anti-eviction movement doesn't neatly distill down into a simple news story or review of activism that can be read in the time it takes to eat a burrito. Which is exactly the kind of snarky, nit picky reductionist degeneration into literalness this article represents. Protests, like earthquakes, are small surface expressions of much greater truths and forces in our society that often elude the perceptive capacities of  journalists, who then get their undies in a wad about 'well, what's this really about,'  when they themselves are just too simple and literal minded to understand. Protests give people hope and community both in the present, and in the future, as people look back on past actions. Patholigizing people who see the potential of protest, who refuse to bury their head in the sand, or dismiss the messiness of the mess we're in as 'anxiety over change' isn't worthy of the printed word, or the higher human reasoning. Corporate Shuttle Roadkill

Jean Jeanie
Jean Jeanie

James A. Hudkins where do the myriad protestors go who are born and raised in SF and the bay Area?

Tony Gallen
Tony Gallen

That man in the window on the bus needs a good assbeating.

mrericsir topcommenter

Only in San Francisco would people protest that local companies are paying their employees too well.

Andrea Cwynar
Andrea Cwynar

I'm so sick of hearing about the tech buses and all the problems they cause in regards to the cost of living. As a small business owner in Sf for 14 years, I would say the bigger problem is this city and its officials who make the policies in regards to how and who pays for what in this town. My business pays out the nose in taxes, and when those are paid, SF makes a new policy that causes me to pay more never able to get ahead. SF promotes itself as a small business town, but yet it starves us and gives no type of incentive what so ever. And then the city doesn't even charge the big corps to use the Muni stops? Who is the problem here in the cost of living? Protesters should think this over a little more.....They see a big shiny bus and start pointing fingers, but the cost of living has always been high in this town....yes its getting worse, but is it really the companies or the lack of smart infrastructure down at city hall?

John Davison
John Davison

@dallas isn't democracy the process of a larger group outvoting a smaller group... is that bad ?

James A. Hudkins
James A. Hudkins

The Tech buses could help their cause of they were nicer about it. I recently saw 2 of them, one on Market and another on Park Presidio just stop in traffic and block a lane. I had to drive around. It was rude. In each place there were frontage areas and supermarkets they could compensate to use their parking lot. I approve of the Tech people building the economy and improving neighborhoods by their presence, but they should not be rude about it. The protestors should examine their own lives and perhaps return to where they come from. They don't own San Francisco just because they moved here.


One wonders about people like Erin McElroy. they wonder around saving the locals from themselves.  An outsider that recently moved into the Mission that complains that outsiders are moving into the Mission.

There is just so much interesting about her savior status.  A while liberal Foucault and Derrida fan who takes part in street theater as a local with a fake Google bus union employee who lives in the East bay.

According to the Bay Guardian.


In the video, a union organizer who hopped off the bus shouts down Erin McElroy, staging an argument with a protester who also heads the eviction mapping project. "How long have you lived in this city?" McElroy asked him. He shouted back "Why don't you go to a city that can afford it? This is a city for the right people who can afford it. You can't afford it? You can leave. I'm sorry, get a better job."


I guess that avant-garde, cutting edge, postmodern protest is the art here, the art of being OK to be a gentrifier while complaining about gentrification.  Their own gentrification of the area is OK because they took the right classes and spout the right platitudes.  People like Erin are here to help the masses because the masses don't have your sophistication to know the only wrong answer is not agreeing with the opinions of the person at the front of the class, now the Erin's are at the front of the class.  The properly educated leading the charge for the dumb masses, the middle class vanguard socialists directing from above the peasant revolution.

This is the new protest it seems.

I look forward to her further career in SF, the short years we may have left of them anyways.

mblaircheney topcommenter

A major point is being missed here, just today... it was announced that WhatsApp, based in Mountain View, Ca…. sold to Facebook for $19,000,000,000.00

The company employs 55 people - that translates into $380,000,000.00 per person—$1.00 a day to use San Francisco's official bus stops for their silk lined carriages… to some that may seem fair… not!

This money... $380,000,000.00 a worker... in the hands of mostly a few young white guys, will be part of the engine that dismantles and displaces these largely minority neighborhoods.

85 people in the World own 50% of it's assets… take notice… see how it's done.

This transfer of wealth for rendering an arguably useless... as in "we can all live without it"... service. These people are not tending hospital emergency rooms, entering burning buildings to save lives or standing in the front lines of our military risking all for the endless war etc. etc. No cure for cancer is in the works, no Pulitzer Prize novel is being written… poverty and hunger remains, unless they decide to donate their booty… don't hold your breath. 

A false value has been placed on WhatsApp, funny, by another falsely valued company Facebook. Reminds me… many CEO's pay is determined by other CEO that oversee a board that determines the CEO's value… then they swap seats the next week to render the other fellows CEO pay based on the rising CEO pay average.

The game is rigged, the transfer of wealth is real, the distortion to our society... is not creeping in... it is 'All In!'

Dutifully announced by multi $1,000,000.00 News 'Talking Heads' reading a teleprompter while texting their money manager to get in on the next IPO.

This imbalance will not last, voters will finally wake up and take it all back… it has happened before.

Protestors have something that even the obscenely, undeserved rich have… one vote per person.


And don't forget Google is a member of  ALEC, code for American Legislative Exchange Council.   A stealth organization of conservative legislators (both sides of the aisle) and mega corporations that make-up rules/laws that favor their interest at the expense of Everyone Else!


Right people, i think the word is wealthy

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