Kevin Rose, partner at the venture capital arm of Google and co-founder of news aggregator Digg, had a surprise on Sunday at his home in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco. As he posted on Instagram, he was the subject of a protest and called a "parasite." People claiming to represent service workers said the investment money that went into start-ups in the city was "destroying San Francisco."
"With each new tech corporation comes a wave of fresh techies, who on average earn four times more than a normal service worker," the poster claimed.
San Francisco has long been home to popular protests about labor issues as well as development issues around Silicon Valley. At some point in the last couple of years, the two identities fused. Successful, growing corporations and venture-backed start-ups have driven up demand and prices for real estate. That increased financial pressure on long-term, less affluent residents.
The protests have been building since last fall when protesters blocked shuttle buses that brought employees from San Francisco and Oakland to Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) headquarters. The buses became a symbol of gentrification.
Apartment evictions are at a 14-year high, according to the San Francisco Examiner. In addition, evictions under a law called the Ellis Act, which allows a landlord to evict all tenants to pull a building off the rental market, have doubled for the third year in a row. According to city officials and tenant advocates, the Ellis evictions are the work of real estate speculators who buy rent-controlled buildings and take them off the market to resell at a significant profit. The result is fewer rental units on the market, further driving up prices. Two local state lawmakers are pushing a bill that would make such activity illegal.
Some residents also came to dislike the commuter buses because of their size and intrusiveness. "There's something disconcerting about having your street turn into a major artery in the transportation infrastructure of a company 45 miles away, without so much as a mailer ('Hi! We're Apple. We'll be using your street for a while')," wrote Kevin Poulsen in Wired.
In February, protesters gathered outside an annual start-up awards ceremony. Last week, protesters blockaded and vomited on a shuttle bus in Oakland.
There has also been a wave of Smart car tipping, in which groups of people turn over one the two-seater, eco-friendly vehicles. The practice started in Amsterdam in 2011 and moved to Canada, but it is unknown whether the San Francisco outbreak is related to the anti-tech protests or just a not-so-harmless prank.
One irony is that the protesters are ready to use the tools built by the tech companies in their actions. "They recorded video on an Android phone and said that they were going to post it to YouTube, which I thought odd," Rose posted on Twitter. Google owns both the Android phone operating system and YouTube.