In exchange for building a mega campus in downtown San Jose, Google promised to support the community. On March 8, the city will reveal exactly what that means when an agreement months in the making becomes public.
But will the agreement live up to its stated objectives—protecting residents, businesses and open space from the impact of 20,000 new Googlers working in the city?
“We want to make sure that the entire area is fabulous,” said Shiloh Ballard, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. The organization has advocated for construction and street renovation that allows pedestrians and bicyclists to more easily share the road with cars and trucks.
Ballard said that for the community to flourish from the project, “all the other pieces have to come together—affordable housing, deeply affordable housing, jobs, public spaces and more.”
The development agreement, to be discussed at the next Diridon Station Area Advisory Group meeting on March 15, includes plans for parks, utilities and transportation infrastructure partly or wholly funded by the tech giant. The agreement also includes the amount of affordable housing Google plans to build on its land, as well as how the city and Google plan to address traffic and parking concerns during construction.
The San Jose Sharks are currently in talks with the city and Google to determine whether the team will continue hosting games at SAP Center. The team, which declined to comment for this article, has raised concerns about how construction will impact fans’ ability to park at games.
Local activists’ top priority is establishing a community benefit fund, which could support small businesses and homeless prevention efforts. Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director for Silicon Valley Rising, said she is unaware of how large the fund would be or how it would be structured.
However, she said it’s equally important for the city to form a governing body representative of vulnerable groups—including Black, brown, indigenous, Asian and unhoused residents—to administer the fund, if it is established.
“It’s great that Google (may be) putting millions of dollars into a San Jose community fund,” Fernandez said. “But in order for it to be real and meaningful, our community has to have power over where this money goes.”
Fernandez said individuals governing the fund should have experienced the trials of displacement and racial injustice. She said people working for organizations that would receive the funds should also be excluded to prevent a conflict of interest.
Jason Su, executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, said he hopes the agreement will preserve and add to the city’s open space as much as possible—especially with the rise in demand from 20,000 new jobs and thousands of new homes.
“We would hope that some of that benefit in the development agreement would help us manage that demand,” Su said. “If you want to take a break from work or get out of your home because it’s a nice day, you still want to have the opportunity to be in nature.”
Su said while Google has proposed to build out portions of the city’s river trails and fund small parks, the Arena Green park just east of SAP Center will remain the largest swath of green space in the area.
“You can’t really kick a ball in a plaza,” Su said. “Especially with the plazas that they have planned—they are right next to a lot of their buildings.”
A public meeting will be held March 20 to gather feedback on the agreement. Following this meeting, city staff will amend the agreement before it’s presented for a vote by San Jose City Council, according to Economic Development Director Nanci Klein.
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Silicon Valley Rising is a campaign of Working Partnerships, USA. Derecka Mehrens, the organization’s executive director, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.