Facing displacement by Google, San Jose businesses seek financial help
Charles Vela, owner of C&C Architectural Glass in downtown San Jose, said Google's Downtown West development could force his business to move its entire operation. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    As Google begins the early stages of development for its 80-acre campus in downtown San Jose, businesses in the tech giant’s footprint face an uncertain future.

    More than a dozen small businesses that operated for years in the area have little choice but to move—or shut down.

    “We don’t have a plan as far as where we’re going to go because everything’s pretty expensive,” Charles Vela, owner of C&C Architectural Glass, told San José Spotlight.

    Just two blocks east of the Diridon Station, Vela said he’s operated out of the same location along South Autumn Street for the past 13 years. He told San José Spotlight his landlord was always pleasant, but when she died, new ownership decided to sell the property to Google.

    Google’s development, known as Downtown West, was first proposed in 2019 and covers 80 acres in the Diridon Station area, with 7.3 million square feet of office space, 4,000 housing units, 15 acres of parks and a 30,000-50,000-square-foot community center. Google will also develop 500,000 square feet for retail, cultural, education and arts uses.

    The search engine giant began picking up property in the area in early 2017.  Google paid $191.5 million for the land needed to construct the San Jose campus in 2019 through a developer buying property on the company’s behalf.

    It was around this time Vela said representatives of Google’s real estate developers paid a visit to his glass and mirror shop—the first and only visit.

    “They came in and said they were going to let us know what they’re going to do, but then COVID-19 hit a year later,” he said. “Now it seems like everything’s back on track. I’ve seen on the news — ‘Google’s back, they’re doing it’ — but we haven’t moved. We don’t know where we’re going to move and we haven’t had any contact with them (since).”

    Google spokesperson Michael Appel said the company will be working with tenants on a relocation strategy that aligns with the campus development schedule.

    At least nine downtown businesses are closing their doors or planning a move outside Google’s development footprint.

    Just a block away, the 88-year-old watering hole Patty’s Inn closed late last month to prepare for the Downtown West development. The nearby Poor House Bistro is also closing its current location, but owner Jay Meduri is moving operations to Little Italy on the outskirts of downtown. He says the company will support him financially in his move.

    Google pledged more than $155 million to the city for community stabilization and relief for displaced workers and residents, but it’s unclear which affected businesses qualify for funds. According to the city Office of Economic Development, the funds will be distributed over a 10-year period, and the first dollar could take two to three years to reach qualifying businesses.

    Appel said the company will not participate in the distribution of these funds. They will be under the control of the city and a not-yet existent community advisory group.

    “Google said that they’re going to help us move, so we don’t want to pay out of our own pocket books when they said they could help,” Vela said.

    The glass and mirror shop owner said he has yet to receive a follow-up from the tech company regarding financial assistance—nor did Google inform Vela that funds were available for people such as himself. Whether the company will offer financial assistance to business owners who leased their place of operations is unclear.

    “They haven’t (told us yet), and they probably don’t want to because then we’re going to want a piece of it,” he said. “I just hope it’s not all publicity and whatnot—it would be nice to just get some help.”

    San Jose Office of Economic Development spokesperson Elisabeth Handler said few businesses will be displaced by Google, and noted Poor House Bistro owned its building rather than leasing it from a landlord.

    “Google has given any other businesses a very long notice period—which is useful and not required,” Handler told San José Spotlight. “Other businesses sold their property to Google at market rate.”

    Vela said he plans to reach out and organize neighboring businesses to approach the tech company about financial support, and see what other benefits the longtime business leaders are entitled to.

    “We’re established. We have all of our equipment here. To move everything and set it all back up could take months, even years to get to the point we’re at now,” he said. “It’s so difficult to do that, especially if you have jobs lined up. Hopefully (Google) keeps their word on helping us out.”

    Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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