San Jose releases Google’s $200 million community benefits plan
A rendering of Google's Downtown West development, which will span more than 80 acres of land around San Jose's Diridon Station. Image courtesy of SITELAB Urban Studio.

    Google is investing $200 million in San Jose as a part of its Downtown West development, dedicated to preventing resident displacement and creating more economic opportunity for locals critics say will be forced out by rising rents.

    San Jose and Google released their much-anticipated development agreement Tuesday, a nearly 500-page document outlining the legal obligations of the two entities and how the tech giant will invest its millions.

    “In contrast to some large employers’ attempts to extract every form of public subsidy and tax relief from local communities, Google has chosen the more enlightened path, making bold commitments to build affordable housing, invest in educational opportunity, and create pathways to better jobs for local residents,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “Together, San Jose and Google will establish the national standard for equitable, post-pandemic economic recovery. ”

    The 80-acre mega campus is set to include 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.

    Economists have estimated in the past that each new employee working at the Google campus will increase the cost of rent for existing tenants by $735 per month by 2030. The tech giant’s campus is expected to bring some 20,000 jobs to the city.

    Google and the city had planned to release their development agreement—including a community benefits plan—for the project on March 8, but postponed the release, citing a need to craft more legal language around the agreement.

    The plan released Tuesday showed more than $150 million going toward community stabilization and an opportunity fund, dedicated to preserving existing affordable housing in the area, increasing services for homeless residents and increasing protections for low-income renters.

    Additional grants through the opportunity fund would go towards college and post-secondary scholarships, programs and services related to adult and youth occupational skills training and small business support.

    “No other private project in the history of this city has come close to the potential community benefits that we expect from Downtown West,” said City Manager Dave Sykes. “In working on the Google Project and development agreement, scores of city staff across our departments have been involved. We have analyzed and improved the project with the goal of maximizing city resources and the quality of life for our residents for decades to come.”

    Community reactions

    Housing, labor and neighborhood advocates also voiced their support for the massive project with a few concerns.

    “Google has raised the bar for how the tech sector can be a responsible member of our community,” said Jean Cohen, executive officer of the South Bay Labor Council. “The labor movement and our community partners have worked collaboratively with Google to make sure this project includes the things working people need: a path to good union jobs building and running the campus, thousands of affordable homes between Downtown West and Google’s existing Affordable Housing Fund to help offset tech’s role in our housing crisis, and a community fund that gives communities of color real power to shape solutions to our most pressing needs.”

    Neighborhood leaders, including those who live closest to the development—who call themselves the Diridon Area Neighborhood Group (DANG)—in the past raised concern about the project’s density and putting high-rise buildings next to single-family neighborhoods.

    But on Tuesday, their consultant expressed satisfaction with the plan.

    “DANG has never had concerns about Google,” said Bob Staedler, a member and consultant for the group. “DANG just wanted to make sure that everything was coordinated well and Google has shown every desire and willingness to work with the surrounding neighborhoods.”

    The neighborhood group has called for lower building height limits and concerted efforts in community outreach in the project’s surrounding neighborhoods.

    “We appreciate the ongoing relationship that laid the groundwork for a future positive working relationship,” Staedler said. “DANG is very happy with this milestone and we know there’s a lot more work to do. We’re very excited with the way Google has been responsive.”

    Sandy Perry, director of the Affordable Housing Network, has mixed feelings about the agreement and will continue to oppose it. He pointed to a recent email sent to the network’s members, outlining his concerns.

    “The Affordable Housing Network has consistently opposed the ill-conceived Google Project in San Jose ever since it was first proposed in 2017, and we will continue to oppose it going forward,” Perry wrote. “The housing components in the development proposals we have seen so far simply do not adequately offset the catastrophic displacement that will be caused by the influx of 20,000 new Google employees and some 8,000 service workers projected for the project.”

    Perry also acknowledged that it’s likely the project will move forward as proposed. If that happens, he said the frontline community members should be “empowered to decide where the funds raised should be spent.”

    Perry said his group wants to ensure the fund is centered on addressing racial justice and focused on strengthening communities of color experiencing displacement.

    Meanwhile, Silicon Valley Rising, a group pushing the tech industry to be more inclusive and responsible, has found lots to celebrate about Tuesday’s announcement. Campaign director Maria Noel Fernandez has been vocal about the need for plenty of affordable housing to reverse the gentrification Google has already caused in the region.

    “Ultimately, what we’re seeing with the community fund and with commitments around housing and good jobs is that Google has listened to the community and wants to be a partner,” Fernandez said.

    Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association, said he’s never seen an agreement of this scope and size since he began at the association 33 years ago.

    “We feel that the small business ecosystem really needs a hand up, and here’s one of the biggest private companies in the world saying we agree with that,” Knies said. “What’s really important to us and our equity work is trying to ensure that the small business ecosystem gets its fair share.”

    Housing leaders have long pushed for Google to do its share in building affordable housing near the city’s transit hub, Diridon Station. They lobbied for the city to require 25% of the homes in the development area to be set aside for low-income residents.

    “Having some programs and efforts that make people more housing secure is very important,” said Leslye Corsiglia, executive director of [email protected]

    “As we increase the number of employment developments, we need to provide homes,” Corsiglia added. “The fact that Google is providing 4,000 homes is not something most corporations do.”

    The devil is in the details, however, and Corsiglia said she will be watching as the city rolls out the rest of the plan to see that it provides housing as well. Her organization has advocated for 15,000 units in the Diridon Station area.

    The next steps in considering the Development Agreement are a presentation at the Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG) meeting on April 14 and a community meeting on April 17. The agreement and full project package will go before the San Jose Planning Commission on April 28 and then be presented to the City Council, tentatively scheduled for May 25.

    Reporters Lorraine Gabbert and Lloyd Alaban contributed to this report.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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