Suzanne St. John-Crane’s call for civil discourse is either remarkably naïve or else deliberately deceptive.
The idea that “we all want a thriving San Jose for all” is simply not supported by the facts. Silicon Valley is torn apart every day by cruel economic predators and competing special interests. Large tech companies lobby daily for the mammoth tax breaks that lead to draconian cuts to social services and affordable housing. They hold cash reserves of some $500 billion, while incredibly their political allies claim that Silicon Valley cannot afford to address its social problems.
Gentrification is not a win-win phenomenon. The victors make fortunes and the losers suffer horribly.
In Mountain View, a new project seems to come to City Council almost every week to demolish rental apartments, scatter their tenants to the winds, and build million dollar townhomes in their place. Unlike (apparently) St. John-Crane, most people recognize that Silicon Valley suffers from bitter class and racial divides.
The widening gulf between wealth and poverty explodes in our faces daily, with the uncontrollable growth of homeless encampments and RV dwellers everywhere across the Valley. These realities cannot be erased with editorials and cannot be cured by mere discourse, civil or otherwise.
You cannot have a discourse with people who are trying to banish you from your community, any more than you have a discourse with a president who wants to arrest you because of the color of your skin. You can only organize resistance.
Anyone who sat through even a fraction of the hundreds of hours of San Jose rent control hearings over the past few years understands that no dialogue and no deep listening could or did resolve the irreconcilable differences on this issue. Virtually all landlords advocated for unlimited power to evict tenants and the right to impose unlimited rent increases. Virtually all tenants fought for the right to keep a roof over their heads at a rent that they could afford.
There was no common ground. In fact, tenants viewed the extended task force discussions as a deliberate delaying tactic by landlords to prevent stronger rent controls for as long as possible.
Landlord-tenant disputes are only one aspect of Silicon Valley’s class struggle.
There is no common ground between San Jose’s thousands of homeless and the city policies designed to drive them out of the area. When police arrive to sweep a homeless encampment, there is no dialogue. There are orders, threats of arrest, and (all too frequently) blatant confiscation of the few personal belongings they may have.
There are no homes available to them. There are no shelter spaces for more than a day or two. Homeless people in San Jose are literally forbidden to live inside and forbidden to live outside.
There is no common ground between San Jose’s minority neighborhoods and the city’s aggressive policing practices. There is no dialogue when police approach people with weapons drawn, as 24 year-old Jennifer Vasquez found out when she was shot and killed by police on Christmas morning. There is no common ground between San Jose’s hundreds of thousands of service workers and the ICE agents assigned to incarcerate any of them who are undocumented, deport them, and break up their families.
St. John-Crane claims that anti-Google protesters at the December 4 City Council meeting on were “trying to ensure that they are part of the rewards that this new development would surely reap.” This is not strictly accurate.
Most protesters openly opposed to the project because they rightly understood that there were no rewards for them at all. Google’s record is unmistakable: it hires less than 4 percent Latinos to its workforce. The jobs it talks about creating are not primarily for San Jose’s current residents, and particularly not for its African Americans and Latinos.
What Google does offer to low-income people of all colors is displacement and the destruction of their community. As developer Mike Kim explained in the Mercury News, incoming tech workers “are the same workers who created the massive housing shortage in SOMA (in San Francisco) and drove up rents and prices there. The same thing is going to happen in San Jose, but the impact will be more dramatic… So until supply can come online, the demand’s going to be ramrod straight, and there’s going to be very little to satisfy that demand, which results in a rapid rise in prices in rent in the existing stock until the supply can catch up with the demand…”
Google is a for-profit corporation. What is good for Google is not necessarily good for America.
No responsible urban scholar or policymaker advocates the displacement that the Google project in San Jose will create. Displacement destroys communities, reduces diversity, tears families apart, erases culture, damages the environment, ruins people’s quality of life, undermines economic opportunity and increases inequality and homelessness.
Google did not have a dialogue with the San Jose community when it decided to move into San Jose. In fact, it signed non-disclosure agreements with city officials so that no one even knew it was planning to come here almost up until the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement was approved in June 2017. The San Jose Google hearings held after that time were rigged to ensure that the option of opposing Google’s expansion here was never allowed to even be considered.
St. John-Crane’s idea of dialogue is apparently the vignette she describes near the end of her article. A non-profit CEO, a tech worker, and a San Jose State student all talk it over and apparently agree that San Jose’s status quo is acceptable, while those who disagree are hauled away in paddy wagons.
She chastises protestors who were not civil while abjectly failing to criticize the mayor for the meeting’s overbearing police presence and his summary ejection of dozens of young people from the chambers for clapping or complaining. She does not mention the police order to take down a banner critical of Google from the City Hall plaza, under threat of arrest. She praises a Councilmember who vilified organizations opposed to Google, and who defended Google’s public policy manager.
If the American Leadership Forum honestly wants community dialogue, here are a few suggestions for how it can use the considerable influence of its members to level the playing field to allow real discussion to be able to take place.
- Enact an immediate rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions and apartment demolitions, so people do not have to live with the daily threat of displacement.
- Stop the deportation of immigrants and destruction of their families.
- Stop police killings of innocent people.
- Stop sweeping homeless encampments when there is no housing, shelter, or alternative location for people to move to.
- End non-disclosure agreements between large corporations and city officials and begin conducting city business out in the open instead of behind closed doors.
- Enact a moratorium on the entire Google project until the city has a realistic plan to prevent the displacement of the people who built this city.
A few steps like these might begin to make dialogue possible, but American Leadership Forum, as an organization of the Valley’s elite, is unlikely to even try to make them happen.
The social polarization here and in America is on a course to continue and actually escalate. There is no middle ground. Either we will organize our society to practice economic inclusion and cooperation, or we will continue the naked exploitation and exclusion that is happening now.
We will either fight for real political freedom, or continue to live with the corporate tyranny we experience today. We cannot pretend to do both.
Sandy Perry is president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County.