By Sarah McBride
Demonstrations against the grip on San Francisco held by wealthy technology workers took a personal turn with protesters taking aim at a Google lawyer they say personifies the tensions being stirred by abundant tech money. Jack Halprin, a landlord in the city's gentrifying Mission district, became the focus on Friday of the latest blockade of a tech company commuter bus, with protesters demanding Google ask Halprin to rescind eviction notices he has sent his tenants.
Protesters told Reuters that they will increasingly target individuals as part of a strategy to draw attention to the growing divide between rich and poor in San Francisco, a rift widened by a tech industry boom that is inflating rents and exacerbating social problems such as evictions. "When you put a face on it, it suddenly becomes more real," Erin McElroy, an organizer at Eviction-Free San Francisco, said of what she views as a technology-driven housing crunch. About two dozen protesters took part in Friday's action.
A Google spokeswoman and two lawyers for Halprin didn't immediately respond for requests for comment. Halprin didn't immediately respond to an email request for comment.
The prospect of facing protests on their own doorsteps may unnerve technology industry employees across the Bay Area, many of whom are becoming increasingly aware of the growing ill-will they face in a region where housing prices are skyrocketing and salary growth is anaemic outside the tech sector.
While many technology workers say protesters should blame landlords rather than their industry for rising rents and evictions, tenant advocates believe the two are tightly linked. In Halprin's case, court documents show he owns a Victorian-style house with several apartments occupied by teachers and others. Occupants say they received eviction notices at the end of February informing them that Halprin wanted them out within 120 days.
Commuter Buses: Under a city law known as the Ellis Act, landlords may evict tenants if they intend to take their units off the market, with plans to convert rental units to condominiums, for example.
The total number of Ellis Act evictions in the city jumped 25 percent to 1,716 in the year ended February 2013, according to a report by San Francisco's budget and legislative analyst. Late last year, protesters began to block the commuter buses that ferry employees from San Francisco to the offices of tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Yahoo, south of the city. The unmarked, WiFi-equipped buses use public stops and are viewed by many as a symbol of the industry's disconnect from a broader community left behind by the tech boom.
Earlier this month, protesters targeted a partner at Google Ventures, Kevin Rose, by passing out flyers in his neighborhood that included Rose's address and labeled him a "parasite". "As a partner venture capitalist at Google Ventures, Kevin directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco," the flyers read.
In January, the same group, known as Counterforce, targeted the suburban Berkeley home of a Google engineer. Flyers passed out in his neighborhood read "Anthony Levandowski is building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation. He is also your neighbor." The flyers said Levandowski owned the land where a mixed-use housing development was planned for downtown Berkeley.
By Sarah McBride