No plans yet for first Google-San Jose funds
A rendering of Google's Downtown West project. Image courtesy of SITELAB Urban Studio.

    Google recently paid San Jose its first installment of funds as part of the tech giant’s deal to flood city coffers in exchange for a downtown campus.

    The tech giant agreed to pay $3 million for “immediate community stabilization” within 30 days of the City Council’s May 25 approval of its Downtown West project. Payment went through on June 24.

    Google is building an 80-acre campus near Diridon Station, which will feature 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. It also boasts 500,000 square feet for retail, cultural, education and arts uses. A quarter of housing units in the area—approximately 1,000—will be affordable.

    San Jose now has extra money for eviction protection services, tenant education and land trust pre-development. But recommendations for how to use the funds won’t come back to council until September, and there is no timeline for when the money will actually be disbursed.

    Department of Economic Development spokesperson Elisabeth Handler said residents provided extensive input on where to invest the early funds. A community advisory group was created to provide feedback on how to spend Google’s total community investment—$155 million—though the $3 million paid in June is not part of that fund.

    Jeffrey Buchanan, director of public policy for Working Partnerships USA, helped residents provide that input. Since 2017, he’s advocated on behalf of community-based organizations to get more transparency from Google and the city about their negotiations.

    “The city is looking at a whole host of decisions around programs, grants related to eviction protection—particularly in light of the kind of changing landscape around the eviction moratorium,” he said.

    Buchanan, a member of the labor equity organization Silicon Valley Rising, and other community leaders also advised Google and San Jose on how the funds could best serve low-income residents.

    Beefing up support for legal assistance to protect tenants from eviction was high on his list.

    “Definitely there’s an immediacy for the need to staff up legal assistance, and helping tenants understand their rights,” Buchanan said. “Improving our systems for outreach means more residents in San Jose are going to be pulling down rental assistance from these various sources.”

    While the state rent moratorium will continue through September, the city has about two months to disperse funds before residents who are behind on rent face eviction.

    Santa Clara County runs its own COVID-19 rent relief program, the Homelessness Prevention System, while the state also has a program funded by the latest trillion-dollar federal stimulus package.

    Google is expected to pay San Jose another $4.5 million by the end of September—though the recommendations for how to use these funds will be made by city workers without the presence of a community advisory committee.

    The city agreed to establish the advisory group to oversee the millions of dollars Google will pay out over the next decade. But the agreement made no mention of the committee’s involvement beyond the $155 million Community Stabilization and Opportunity Pathways fund. The $3 million Google gave the city in June is not part of this fund.

    Convening the 13-member advisory group, five of whom must have experienced work or housing displacement in their lives, will be a two- to three-year process, according to Handler—keeping pace with the completion of the project’s first office building for Downtown West.

    People Acting in Community Together (PACT) member Susan Price said the advisory committee will take time to recruit leaders who understand the city. She added that the funds should be used as soon as possible.

    “How fast can you get an advisory group up and running? How fast can they come to a decision? That’s probably part of the challenge,” she told San José Spotlight. “Housing is one of those things where it’s got a long lead time, you’re not gonna see immediate impact.”

    PACT was one of many nonprofit community groups pushing for Google to create the community benefits package and an advisory committee to oversee it.

    Not speaking for her organization, Price said access to legal assistance and education for renters is a priority for her as well.

    “This gentrification is a really big problem and displacement of people… that’s a real big problem and we need to figure out how to not allow that to happen,” she said. “A big part of preventing destabilization is ensuring there’s money for tenants to have lawyers and take their cases to court when the landlord tries to evade the law.”

    San Jose will consider recommendations for how to use the $3 million from Google in September, but the city has not provided a timeline for when the money will be dispersed.

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

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