Google unfurls more details, draws big crowd at San Jose meeting
Alexa Arenas, Google’s director of real estate development, presents the tech giant's plans for redevelopment in downtown San Jose Dec. 5, 2019 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose. Image courtesy of Janice Bitters

New details are emerging around the design of Google’s massive San Jose development as community meetings officially kicked off this week and the tech titan races toward a 2020 vote on its mixed-use proposal.

On Thursday night, San Jose officials hosted hundreds of residents at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown to present the details of the development and then split into small groups to answer questions and take community feedback.

Some residents came to protest quietly with signs urging Google not to build anything in the South Bay city. After the presentations, several stuck around to share their concerns, not only with planners, but with other residents.

Residents protested quietly at the city of San Jose’s community meeting on Dec. 5. Image courtesy of Janice Bitters

“This is just a ploy to get these tech workers, who already have so much, just another paycheck or another campus to work on,” Sophia Smith, a San Jose resident, said in an interview Thursday. “At the end of the day, a lot of folks that don’t have as much — this is where they live, this is where they work, this is where they’re trying to raise their children, and there’s just insane amounts of homelessness.”

Smith, who was among the protesters Thursday night, said she doesn’t want Google to build in San Jose, and wishes the tech titan would return publicly-owned land city officials sold to the company last year.

Other residents said Google’s proposal includes amenities they are excited to see come to fruition, and they felt “optimistic” the tech giant would listen to what the community wants.

“I think they’re listening, but I think it’s early enough in the process that we haven’t really seen what they’re doing,” said Bert Weaver, a resident of the nearby Delmas Park neighborhood. “They’re talking about having lots of public space, community use areas and things … we’ve said we want, but I think it’s still to be seen.”

Weaver said he was especially excited about a newly proposed market hall which could feature fresh produce and eateries.

“To have an active market over there for shops, produce sellers, a farmer’s market, sit-down cafes, that would be really, really cool,” he said.

Mountain View-based Google’s high-level vision hasn’t changed significantly since August, when the company unveiled its framework: 6.5 million square feet of office space and between 3,000 to 5,000 new homes alongside new retail, up to 300 hotel rooms and park space.

But the company, along with its San Francisco-based design team, SITELAB urban studio, offered some new details Thursday as Google starts to add new partnerships and adjust designs for the project site, slated to stretch across about 80 acres of the west side of San Jose’s downtown.

“Google is going to be a tenant in the project and here for the long haul,” Alexa Arenas, Google’s director of real estate development, told residents Thursday. “I think there’s some anxiety around that, but it’s a great opportunity as well.”

A drawing of Google’s proposed “Downtown West” development, which would span more than 60 acres of land around San Jose’s Diridon Station. Photo courtesy of SITELAB Urban Studio | Google

The project, as currently proposed, includes small parks scattered throughout the core of the campus at major intersections. The company plans to keep a slew of low-slung industrial buildings near the Los Gatos Creek, turning some into places for the arts and nonprofits — an initiative Woody Hanson, an associate at SITELAB, said has already begun.

Adjacent to the SAP Arena, where a large parking lot currently sits, would be a new events plaza, perhaps with a bandstand or space for pre-game activities for the Sharks, Hanson said. Further north would be an area filled with “maker space” for artists and creators surrounded by a new green area.

An expanded plaza would greet transit riders directly outside the doors of a future redeveloped Diridon Station. On one end of the plaza would sit a new “learning hub” for children and families. On the opposite side, where the Kearney Pattern Works and Foundry once sat, would be the new market hall.

San Jose resident Sarah Springer hopes the tech giant reconsiders its vision for two large office buildings planned for outside the entrance of the transit station.

“I think it might be a little bit better to move those to the sides and make that a very, very grandiose, wonderful space of some other sort, like retail, or open space,” she said.

Google is also currently in talks with a “potential partner” to create in the district “a place for a new type of programming in San Jose, a place where we would welcome San Jose residents to innovate,” according to Hanson, though he didn’t elaborate on what that might look like.

“This can’t be a singular place,” he said Thursday to the crowd. “We want to work with you to understand if we got this right, if we heard you right and what the additional pieces that you would want to see here might be.”

Google will host another community meeting Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to noon in Gardner Community Center at 520 W Virginia St. in San Jose. That meeting will also be a feedback session for the future Diridon Station Area Plan, a revamped city vision, known as a specific plan, for the 240 acres around the busy transit station, of which Google’s development is one portion.

In 2020, community meetings will kick off on Jan. 16 during the Station Area Advisory Group meeting at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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