Look back: Google’s San Jose project endured rocky road in 2020
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. File photo.

    This past year has been stressful for everyone, even Google.

    As the tech giant’s real estate development team tried to push forward plans for its 80-acre megacampus near downtown San Jose, it was hit with bureaucratic snags and opposition from many quarters, including the Bay Area’s beloved hockey team. Still, the project passed some significant milestones, with more in sight next year.

    Here’s a summary of how the project progressed in 2020, along with other Google-related developments:

    Aug. 28: Draft EIR delayed

    San Jose’s Planning, Building and Code Enforcement department failed to submit the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for the Google project to the City Council by the council’s Aug. 25 deadline. Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey said city staff and their consultants were working on the draft, but the work was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Oct. 3: Google settles shareholder suit with help from local lawyer

    Google agreed to invest $310 million in diversity and inclusion efforts to settle a shareholder lawsuit that accused the company of failing to adequately investigate sexual harassment claims. The lawsuit had been triggered in part by revelations the company gave a massive severance package to a former top executive who had been accused of sexual misconduct.

    The settlement was brokered by a legal team led by Ann Ravel, a South Bay lawyer who the following month was defeated in her run for a state Senate seat.

    Oct. 7: Google megacampus vision is unveiled

    City officials unveiled a detailed new look at Google’s development, which includes plans for 7.3 million square feet of office space and 4,000 housing units near downtown. The project, which will spread across more than 80 acres, includes 10 parks and connecting trails for bikes and pedestrians. San Jose released the plans along with the draft EIR — which came to 1,350 pages.

    Nov. 12: The Sharks speak out about development near the arena

    The San Jose Sharks hockey team took its concerns about proposed developments near SAP Center to the public, publishing an open letter warning the team might be forced to leave San Jose and appealing to fans for support. Redevelopment in the area, including the Google project, the revamping of Diridon Station and the new BART stop, threaten to make it difficult for fans to park near the arena or attend games, the team said.

    “For the past several years, we have been sharing those same concerns with city of San Jose officials and Google,” the team said in its letter. “Unfortunately, those discussions have yielded limited results and the planners of these projects appear intent on moving forward in a manner that could force the Sharks out of San Jose.”

    Nov. 16: City leaders tout benefits of development plan

    With opposition mounting from the Sharks and nearby residents, the City Council held a special session focused on Google’s development and the broader area-wide redevelopment and touting their potential benefits. The projects will bring affordable housing, better transit access and new parks to the area, city leaders said.

    City leaders and residents expressed interest in getting the community on board with the plans and making sure the projects offered as many benefits as possible. The city should focus on building low-income housing in all areas of the city, East San Jose resident Olivia Ortiz said.

    “Let’s focus on the underserved communities that will be most impacted by all this development,” Ortiz said.

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    Dec. 10: Planning Commission has disappointing news about the Google project

    The San Jose Planning Commissioner revealed some bad news about the Google project — it would do little to improve the city’s notoriously low ratio of jobs to housing. Even if the project eventually added 20,000 jobs, those positions would represent less than 5% of jobs citywide, making little dent in the ratio, commission staff reported. Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio voiced his disappointment at the news.

    Dec. 17: Airport Land Use Commission gives the says Google campus a thumbs down

    In a stunning end-of-the-year turn, San Jose’s Airport Land Use Commission declined to support San Jose’s Diridon Station Area Plan and Google’s downtown megacampus, citing noise and height concerns. The height of proposed buildings in the development exceed recommendations and could endanger planes flying overhead, commissioners warned. They chided city planning officials for not being able to address their concerns and for giving the green light for taller buildings.

    “The city’s rules are inconsistent with ours and misguided,” said Paul Donahue, the commission’s chairman.

    Looking ahead in 2021

    The project has more boxes to check in the coming year before moving forward. The city still needs to finalize a development agreement, which will include a community benefits plan.That plan should offer details about how the city and company will combat displacement and provide jobs and housing to the community.

    The development agreement is expected to be finished before the next Diridon Station Area Advisory Group meeting. Additionally, the planning commission and the City Council are set to hold public hearings on both the Diridon and Google projects in spring. For more information on both plans, go to the city’s website.

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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