San Jose-Google benefits fund could take 10 years to pay out
Residents supporting San Jose's land sale to Google held signs at a Dec. 3, 2018 City Council meeting. The sale's approval set the stage for the tech titan to develop its plan for a massive campus. File photo.

    San Jose could approve close to $155 million in community funds from Google as early as today, but the pay out will take some time.

    The agreement between city administration and the tech giant on its proposed downtown campus development heads to the City Council for a vote tonight, but the money would come in at the same pace as the project’s construction—which could take up to a decade to complete.

    The project, first proposed in 2019, spans 80 acres near Diridon Station and features 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.

    The San Jose Planning Commission signed off on the community fund recommendation when it approved the company’s envisioned project on April 28.

    With activists continuing to rail against gentrification and displacement of San Jose natives, Google committed to putting the funds toward preservation of affordable housing and expanding education opportunities to increase job prospects for residents. Google estimates that up to 25,000 people will work at the downtown offices.

    The fund is in addition to $22.3 million worth of homelessness prevention services and childcare support, among other “community benefits” the city requires for the proposed development.

    Office of Economic Development spokesperson Elisabeth Handler said completion of the project’s first office building could take two to three years. Only then will Google begin paying into the fund, though the company committed to making smaller payments shortly after approval of the agreement.

    According to Handler, Google will give the city $7.5 million for what it called pressing community needs—eviction protection, land trust development, scholarships and job training for at-risk youth and adults.

    The company will need to deliver the funds within 120 days of lawmakers passing the agreement, $3 million of which will be paid out 30 days after approval.

    If approved, the City Council will appoint a 13-member community advisory committee to work with the city in finding a fund manager, who will then draft grants to give to local organizations. Final approval of the grants rests solely with the advisory committee rather than city lawmakers.

    Residential status in San Jose is not required of the 13 members—merely having a “meaningful connection” to the city is enough to qualify, with the exception of one academic or researcher who can be from anywhere in the country.

    “(The committee) has a priority placed on people who are living and working in San Jose communities that are experiencing displacement,” said Jeffrey Buchanan of Silicon Valley Rising, an affordable housing and labor activism group.

    Buchanan said the advisory committee’s membership requirement of at least five people with first-hand knowledge of displacement will address concerns of political inequity.

    Silicon Valley Rising has collected concerns over Google’s proposed development for years, Buchanan said, to present to the city and tech giant.

    “If you look at the development agreement, it has perhaps the strongest community benefits package for a project of its kind anywhere in the country,” he told San José Spotlight. “We were able to engage directly with Google and city staff to really co-develop community stabilization and opportunities pathways.”

    San Jose Director of Economic Development Nanci Klein calls the community fund unprecedented in terms of the amount of money committed and latitude of discretion afforded to the community on how the funds are distributed.

    “The community really wants to see a high level of sustainability and local hiring to ensure the jobs associated with the project are going to the community,” she said. “Your fund manager will help the committee outline what it is going to be giving grants for, and what are the criteria for the grants.”

    As outlined in the near-500-page development agreement between San Jose and Google, the city intends grants to be limited to 501c(3) nonprofits, public education institutions and city-run programs.

    Jocelin Hernandez (right), representing Serve The People San José, holds up a sign protesting the Google land sale during a Dec. 3, 2018 City Council meeting. She was later arrested for chaining herself to the chair. Xahn Tran of Serve The People San Jose.

    Activist Jocelin Hernandez of the South Bay Community Land Trust said the $155 million community fund might sound like a lot of money, but the immense cost of living in San Jose dramatically hinders the fund’s goal of substantial change.

    “When you look at the housing market, even if we were to use all of that money just for housing, we would only be able to acquire maybe 100 units,” she said. “And we have more than 7,000 people on the streets. This is not enough.”

    Hernandez was among those arrested at City Hall on Dec. 3, 2018 as a member of Google opposition group, Serve The People San Jose. She and at least seven other people left the chambers in handcuffs during the late-night council meeting after chaining themselves to the seats in protest of San Jose’s public land sale to Google.

    Hernandez has fought against Google’s presence in San Jose since 2017, and said the best way to prevent gentrification is to deny the company a place in the city altogether.

    “At this point, I know that the City Council is not going to reject (the agreement), but until the first shovel hits the ground, we’re going to continue organizing,” she said. “You don’t need a tech company to develop a city, you just need community.”

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

    Editor’s Note: Silicon Valley Rising is a campaign of Working Partnerships USA, whose executive director Derecka Mehrens sits on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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