Levitansky is caught right in the middle. Born in Moscow, raised in Los Angeles, he identifies as solidly working class. He says the cafeteria-style tables at 10th & Wood are of a piece with his dream that small-time hustlers should be able sit together with City Council members, eat the same fish sandwiches, and talk about the future of Oakland. And that's actually happened, the restaurateur says.

Yet because "change" has become synonymous with "doom," he's had trouble staving off conceptions that he's some kind of carpetbagger.

But ironically, it's not the mostly African-American, long-time neighborhood residents who object to the new café, he says. It's the young white counter-culturals. When he first opened, a group of anarchist white kids tagged the side of the building. "Thnx 4 gentri-frying us," they wrote. Levitansky also had to fight one particularly obstreperous customer — a scruffy white guy in his early 30s — who was fulminating over the price of coffee. The customer vowed to give 10th & Wood a bad Yelp review. He has yet to make good on the threat.

Anxiety over change — or even the appearance of change — is what's made the tech bus protests such a potent signifier. Oakland residents are as fearful of new money as their counterparts in San Francisco, and many people see the invaders from Silicon Valley — the ones who can conveniently live in the Mission, because a tech bus squires them to work everyday — as the evil catalyst of a whole series of displacements.

Alper, who makes a living organizing unions for casino workers and hotel concierges and airport food service workers, says that many of them have been uprooted multiple times, with the changing economy.

"The harder people get pushed in San Francisco, the harder they get pushed in the East Bay," Alper says. "Many of the workers I organize with tell me they grew up in San Francisco," he continues. "But then they had to move to Oakland. And now they're in Pittsburg-Bay Point." And, he adds, the people who get priced out of Pittsburg-Bay Point eventually have to migrate to rural exurbs like Stockton and Tracy and Fresno.

Rootedness is a form of street cred in the Bay Area — so much, in fact, that speakers at a recent tenant convention in the Tenderloin often emphasized how long they'd lived at a certain address, or in a certain neighborhood. Speaker Blanca Reyes told the crowd she'd lived in the Mission 24 years, and wouldn't accept a $25,000 buyout from her landlord. Gum Gee Lee, whose eviction notice had become a cause celebre in September, addressed the room in Cantonese. She'd lived in her apartment at 1508 Jackson St. for 34 years.

Another tenant convention speaker, Chandra Redack, said that a predatory landlord is trying to demolish her apartment at 1049 Market St. — a hotly-contested, 75-unit building populated by artists and old-school San Franciscans who pay less then $900 a month.

"I personally want to thank the Google bus blockade," Redack announced, standing at a lectern in a crowded Tenderloin elementary school cafeteria. The crowd erupted.

But it's difficult to disrupt the course of progress when that progress is by its own nature disruptive. When Google saw protesters on its roads, its reaction was to not use roads anymore. In January, the company began contracting with a private ferry service to shuttle employees from San Francisco and the East Bay. It also hired security guards to patrol its stop in the Mission District and shepherd employees aboard their coach to Mountain View.

The more noise that protesters create for tech companies, the more tech companies just tack the other way. The cultural divide seems only to deepen; an already thin layer of trust between tech employees and embittered Bay Area residents erodes even more. And San Francisco and Oakland keep gentrifying in spite of themselves.

Back at his café, watching for-sale signs pop up outside the old, colonnaded Victorians, Levitansky is just riding another wave. As an immigrant kid-turned-circus performer, he spent much of his life roaming from one place to another, trying to set up roots in new cities or neighborhoods. He's a little flummoxed by the idea that change and economic development are by definition evil. He agrees with the activists' idea that the people who shaped this city have a right to stay here. But he's not sure if standing in front of a bus is a way to solve these problems.

"The people who are pissed off about City Hall not taking care of their needs — those are legitimate concerns," he says. "But I think they're maybe misplaced onto Google."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help

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 taxes....so 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

San Francisco Concert Tickets
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.