Google just announced its annual I/O conference, which will bring thousands of people to the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., where a massive fleet of self-driving cars should be waiting to whisk them around the Bay Area.
Google’s choice of venue, avoiding more popular and more accessible auditoriums in San Francisco and San Jose, hints that the company is going to need a lot of outdoor space to show off whatever it’s doing at I/O, which is scheduled for May 18-20. The massive parking lot at Shoreline could be the launch pad for a slew of new cars or drones, Googling their way across the landscape. There’s no way Google could do that at San Francisco’s Moscone Center or San Jose’s California Theater. It’s also next door to Google’s own campus.
But choosing Shoreline also throws into relief how Bay Area tech companies and cities are contributing to the inequality and infrastructure problems wracking the San Francisco and San Jose metro areas.
There’s no public transportation anywhere near the Shoreline. The closest bus stop, with one bus every half an hour, is half a mile away. The closest rail station is 3 miles away. There are no hotels or restaurants within walking distance; nearby lodgings are already up to $300 per night.
This is par for the course on the Peninsula, though, where NIMBY forces have cautiously invited new corporate campuses while vigorously rejecting the housing and transit that would support the workers. Corporations bring negotiated financial and service kickbacks to existing homeowners, while new residents and transit systems are seen as bringing only crowding and costs.
This story in Next City and this excellent TechCrunch analysis go into the complex relationship between the big tech firms and the towns they reside in, which are vigorously trying to stay suburban residential towns with urban levels of employment density. This Slate column (by a Next City author) goes more into the suburban-housing issue.
I asked Google’s PR team what they’re doing to get people in and out of the venue, but they just directed me to Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s original post and didn’t answer my questions. I assume they’re going to be marshalling fleets of shuttle buses like the “Google buses” that were the subject of protests in 2013 and 2014.
The Google buses were the targets of San Franciscan rage in part since towns like Mountain View won’t build enough apartments for their workers. So housing demand from companies like Google has spilled into San Francisco, displacing lower-income residents.
For the duration of I/O, I’ll bet Uber surge pricing in the area is going to get factorial. Many of the attendees will probably rent cars, though, increasing congestion on the already choked 101 freeway and backing up along Shoreline Road, the single major access road to the venue.
One of my Bay Area friends also pointed out that the Shoreline is a bowl-shaped depression on the bayfront, which can be swamped by storms as it was in 1998. That was an El Niño year, and this one is too.
So there we have Google I/O, a perfect encapsulation of California in 2016: vulnerable to climate change, choking with traffic, and hoping that new transportation technologies will save it from having to change its basically 20th century infrastructure. Sounds like a time for a transformative vision, if you can get there.