Moral Low Ground

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“Not Everyone at Google is a Billionaire,” Says Google Manager Crystal Sholts (Who Just Bought a $1.2 Million SF Home) at Tech Company Shuttle Hearing

Sholts

(Image: Dark and Difficult)

A Google manager has incurred the wrath of San Francisco anti-gentrification activists after it was revealed that she gave misleading testimony during a hearing about a controversial private shuttle bus service for the tech giant’s employees.

Crystal Sholts, a 34-year-old program manager in engineering at Google, testified at a January 21 hearing at San Francisco City Hall at which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) voted unanimously to approve a controversial pilot program that will open up 200 public bus stops for use by private shuttles ferrying tech workers living in the city to and from their Silicon Valley jobs.

“I’ve lived in San Francisco since 2005 and moved here from Minnesota like many people for hundreds of years moving to San Francisco to seek a better life,” Sholts said during her lengthy testimony.

“I just wanted to say that not everyone at Google is a billionaire. Like many people, 10 years after the fact I’m still paying off my student loans,” Sholts continued. “I moved to the Mission (district) because I am a pedestrian, I don’t own a car, and I moved to the Mission because there are two BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations. I walk everywhere on the weekend and I have relied on the shuttle since I moved to San Francisco.

“This is a choice, I know, to live in San Francisco and commute to Mountain View, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she added.

What Sholts did not disclose during her testimony is that not only did she move to the Mission, she also purchased an expensive home there. Sources with access to real estate transaction documents informed Moral Low Ground that Sholts and her husband, Adam Lauridsen, a partner at the prestigious Keker & Van Nest law firm, bought an 1,860-square foot, two-story restored Victorian home on a rapidly gentrifying block for $1,201,000 last April 17.

Inside Crystal Sholts' $1.2 million Mission home.

Inside Crystal Sholts’ $1.2 million Mission home. (Zillow)

“As someone who has recently purchased a $1.2 million home in the Mission, and someone whose combined family income most likely vastly exceeds the income of those who suffer the consequences of the private corporation shuttle buses, she is not presenting a totally honest image of her position in the context of the SFMTA’s hearing’s agenda,” asserted Dark and Difficult, the blog which brought Sholts’ home purchase to our attention (Moral Low Ground verified the site’s information with a search of her public records). “The content of her statement paired with the reality of her situation just breeds more mistrust of the entire tech community.”

Indeed, Sholts testifying that “not everyone at Google is a billionaire” seems a awful lot like an attempt to obfuscate the fact that she (when combined with her husband) is likely a millionaire, or well on her way to becoming one, who, when the truth of her financial situation is disclosed, comes off as an entitled elitist utterly unaware of the real suffering caused by her attitudes and actions.

Like Sholts said, living in San Francisco is a choice. But it’s a choice with profound consequences for those displaced or priced out of a market in which the average home price has now topped $1 million and the average 1-bedroom apartment rents for more than $3,000 a month. Researcher Alexandra Goldman found that rental prices within walking distance of Google bus pickup sites have risen faster than elsewhere in the area. Two-bedroom apartments within half a mile of the Google bus stop at Valencia and 24th– very likely where Sholts boards each day– have risen 27 percent.

“We’re seeing rents have gone up 20 percent in the last year along tech bus routes, because [tech company workers] move to units along those stops,” Erin McElroy of Eviction Free San Francisco, the activist group responsible for organizing a series of recent bus-blocking proteststold Grist. “Eviction rates also go up along tech bus routes because of (landlord) speculation.”

Protesters block a Google bus in San Francisco's Mission district. (Flickr Creative Commons)

Protesters block a Google bus in San Francisco’s Mission district. (Flickr Creative Commons)

The results of an SFMTA study suggest that nearly a third of those who use tech company buses would choose to live closer to work in Silicon Valley if the shuttles did not exist. While I’ve got nothing against most of those who use them (my upstairs neighbor is a socially-conscious, non-billionaire Google employee who I see getting on and off the shuttle as I walk my dog, and I am friends with numerous other Google workers), and it’s not my place to tell people where to live, perhaps some of the thousands of tech workers who use the shuttles really should consider living closer to work?

How dare I! It’s the poor who should get the hell out of the way, at least according to a handful of very vocal tech millionaires. Rising star Greg Gopman, founder of tech startup AngelHack, recently took to Facebook to rail against the “crazy, the homeless, the drug dealers, the dropouts and the trash” who he says are polluting San Francisco by their very “grotesque” presence. Gopman slammed the “degenerates” who “gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs and get rowdy” on city streets. He waxes wistful about cities where “the lower part of society keep to themselves [and] sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet and generally stay out of your way.” Based on the number of supportive comments Gopman’s Facebook rant received, his is far from an isolated opinion.

The battle over tech buses is the latest front in an ongoing struggle between those who want San Francisco to retain its famous diversity and progressive character and those who see no problem with the city evolving into a haven for the wealthy. As the second tech boom continues apace, working- and middle-class familiesracial minorities, artists, activists and others have found themselves increasingly priced out of a city where many of them were born and raised. Oakland, suburban counties, often-overlooked cities like Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno and Modesto, and even states like Oregon, Texas, Nevada, Arizona and others have also experienced an influx of former San Franciscans looking for more affordable places to live now that the City by the Bay is the nation’s most expensive.

Miguel Rivera, an attorney and native of San Francisco’s Mission district, lamented what his city is becoming.

“I hate self-entitled people,” Rivera told Moral Low Ground after hearing about Sholts’ testimony. “I am surrounded by them everywhere.”

Others point to the positive economic impact tech workers living in San Francisco have on the city.

“They drink in bars that cost $10 a drink. They eat in restaurants that charge $24 per dinner. They shop in stores that have clothes that cost more than the average American makes per day,” Google bus supporter Allen Beck told NPR.

Beck may be lowballing it a bit– some of the city’s swankier watering holes, staffed by bowtied, mustachioed mixologists, charge upwards of $14 for drinks, and there are plenty of relatively unremarkable eateries where dinner for two could easily cost $100. But San Francisco doesn’t need more Batteries or NOPAs. It needs more affordable housing. More access to reliable public transportation. And less self-entitled, disingenuous millionaires, or those well on the way to that status, crying poverty.

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15 Comments

  1. John MurphyJanuary 31, 2014 at 4:24 pmReply

    This is a bit harsh without more information. They bought a house, but there is no indication that they bought the house with *CASH*. More likely, they took out a substantial mortgage.

    Let’s say they were rolling in it and had cobbled together 200,000 to put down. A $1,000,000 mortgage carrying a 4.25% interest rate will run ~ 5k/month. Given they are both employed they probably qualify for the loan – but that doesn’t mean they are millionaires, it only means they could borrow a million dollars. 5k/month, throw in another 1k/month for taxes and insurance, 6k/month is a big nut. But they’ll get a tax deduction that brings their out of pocket back down to $4500, which is basically a pricey rental, and they are accruing equity.

    They could have instead taken their down payment and paid off her loans, and been in a rental paying the same or more, accruing no equity, and be subject to the whims of a landlord. Easy decision.

    They are on their way to being Millionaires! In 30 years when their mortgage is paid off. Give or take.

    AND SHE STILL HAS TO PAY BACK THE STUDENT LOAN.

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 31, 2014 at 5:07 pmReplyAuthor

      Nothing against Mrs. Scholts personally, and as a fellow San Francisco homeowner (along with another young Google employee in our building) I understand that $1.2 million is just above median, but if she puts herself out there on the public stage advocating for something that is harming many vulnerable SF residents, and tells some quasi-sob story implying she’s struggling to make it in this expensive city, I felt compelled to point out that Scholts is certainly more than capable of adjusting comfortably to any changes the city might decide to make in the best interest of its most vulnerable citizens.

  2. Lee MarkosianJanuary 31, 2014 at 5:18 pmReply

    So a couple in their 30’s bought an average-priced house. How awful of them! But when NIMBYs worried about finding easy street parking stop a development that includes below-market rate apartments, that’s fine. After all, you gotta park, right?

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 31, 2014 at 5:32 pmReplyAuthor

      We are a couple in our 30s who also bought a home, less than 2 miles from Sholts. What I didn’t do is stand up before City Hall and advocate for policies and actions that harm those less fortunate than myself. Especially not while misrepresenting the relative impact changes in those policies and actions enacted to help our most vulnerable residents would have on me.

  3. LearyJanuary 31, 2014 at 5:23 pmReply

    “Nothing against Mrs. Scholts personally”

    LOL. Of course not! Your effort to intimidate a private citizen for speaking at a city hall meeting is nothing _personal_.

    Oh, and please point to where she said she was poor – only that she was “not a billionaire” and still paying off student loans. No evidence of being “misleading” here.

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 31, 2014 at 5:29 pmReplyAuthor

      Intimidate? How about setting the record straight?

  4. John MurphyJanuary 31, 2014 at 7:13 pmReply

    So I see Brett – it’s OK to harm those less fortunate than yourself, as you have done by buying your house, as long as you don’t advocate for it?

    Or are you saying that your purchase is not harming those less fortunate, the only thing that harms people is the buses? So perhaps if she were to quit her job, sit on the couch and eat bon-bons, she would be A-OK, because her husband’s filthy lucre comes from a non-tech job located inside San Francisco, working for a company without a private shuttle. Speaking of which, it’s amusing the vitriol against people who should just move closer to work – apparently this young woman should leave her husband and move to Mountain View while he stays near his own job?

    And Brett – when you say “along with another young googler in our building” – are you perhaps living in a TIC? Because the only thing the angry mob hates more than a google bus is a TIC.

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 31, 2014 at 10:05 pmReplyAuthor

      This reply is completely unrelated to Mrs. Sholts. Yes, I bought into a TIC. Yes, I am completely aware of the implications of this and have wrestled with them since before purchasing my unit. I made sure there were no evictions in my building, for what it’s worth. Yes, I realize that I am part of the problem as a San Francisco homeowner. I also have to deal with crap from protesters who see ANY homeowner as “the enemy.” It is discouraging when people you dedicate your life’s work toward turn against you because of something as discriminatory as one’s assets. No one, including Mrs. Sholts, should be discriminated against solely on the basis of their economic status. But the reason I wrote this piece because so many people– San Francisco residents, and some from the same socioeconomic cohort as Sholts– have expressed their shock and disgust that someone so clearly privileged would stand up in the public square and advocate for policies and actions which are harmful to others, where contrary policies and actions would merely inconvenience her. I really didn’t expect this post to generate so much heat, but sunlight is the best disinfectant and I believe we must hold people who wield public influence accountable for their words as well as their deeds.

  5. Mario TanevJanuary 31, 2014 at 8:11 pmReply

    I am actually not sure what the shuttle defenders were advocating. Were they advocating that their companies be charged $1 for something they are charged $0 right now? There was no vote for charging the shuttles 1B (which would have effectively banned them). The vote was to charge the companies for something for which they don’t pay now.

    They weren’t advocating anything other than the benefit of the shuttles. If you are implying somehow that equated to advocacy for hurting lower-income people, then you are implying that the solution is banning shuttles.

    Would you honestly expect a shuttle rider to advocate banning shuttles? Why would they do that? So that 70% of them buy a car and drive without any extra penalties?

    Seriously, do you prefer that this city attracts rich car drivers rather than upper-middle income transit riders? I am really not sure what you are accusing this person of. This doesn’t make any sense.

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 1, 2014 at 3:06 pmReplyAuthor

      San Francisco’s official ‘transit-first’ policy certainly discourages the use of cars, and rightfully so.

      I am not against the shuttles simply because of what they are, although I do find the privatization of public resources and elitist segregation of the tech buses distasteful, to put it lightly. If the tech companies– who ARE billionaires– agreed to substantially fund public transit infrastructure, I would have less of a problem with their shuttles exploiting public resources. But they’d have to pay much more than $1 per day per stop. Like Supervisor David Campos said.

  6. BillFebruary 2, 2014 at 12:40 amReply

    Damn Googlers should live where they work in Mountain View. We don’t need them nor Facebook richies renting our apartments in SF when they work on other cities. If they were forced to drive their cars they would not commute an would get the hell out of SF. Their companies (like Twitter) add nothing – no taxes nada to SF. I was born here and remember when SF was such a cool city. It just SUCKS now!

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 2, 2014 at 2:24 pmReplyAuthor

      I wrote that people have the right to live wherever they wish. At the end of the day, this is not so much about Sholts as it is about corporations maximizing efficiency and profits at the expense of people’s needs. Not people earning six-figure salaries but those who could have really benefited from the $55 million in lost tax revenue Twitter saved in its sweet tax deal with the corporatists who run San Francisco. It’s also about us– we get the leaders we deserve. Keep putting Republicrat corporatists like Obama and Ed Lee in office, keep getting egregiously unfair pro-corporate tax policies. This is not an exaggeration by any means– using shifty offshore income shifting strategies, Google recently cut its taxes by $3.1 billion over a 3-year-period. Think of all the bombs and bullets for wars of imperial aggression–or food, housing and education– that $3.1 billion could have bought. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-21/google-2-4-rate-shows-how-60-billion-u-s-revenue-lost-to-tax-loopholes.html

  7. wildFebruary 2, 2014 at 7:37 amReply

    Hummph, sound like this article is “just another hyped up media blitz” linked to various editions of Dilbert by Scott Adams. Personally I think the whole “shuttle to real-estate valuation” gimmick could be worth a Macmansion on every street corner…yanno if nothing else… so that Google engineers can shuttle by and see who is really at work and who is by the pool getting a tan and calling it work.

    I heard that the original Google engineer brainstorm expected shuttle service from Mtn. View to MSP, but nooooooo the top management proclaimed that wouldn’t make sense because we do have the internet for stuff like that.

    http://news.yahoo.com/photos/dilbert-slideshow/20140202-dt140202-jpg-photo-050109543.html

    wild;)

    • Brett WilkinsFebruary 2, 2014 at 2:26 pmReplyAuthor

      Thanks for the literal ‘comic relief,’ wild.

  8. Bob KoelleFebruary 6, 2014 at 10:29 pmReply

    If they’re double income no kids (dinks) professionals, and they got an increasingly popular 10/30 mortgage with a mid 3.X% rate, then I don’t see anything exceptional about their personal situation. This isn’t proof of anything. Then, combine her story with the truly obnoxious remarks of Greg Gopman, and this starts to seem like a hit job. More substance next time a buddy gives you a tip, please.

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