San Jose to study how Google project might benefit residents
Diridon Station in downtown San Jose is at the center of massive redevelopment plans, which includes Google's proposed megacampus. Photo by Carly Wipf.

The San Jose City Council met on Monday to discuss evolving plans for the massive Google and transit projects set to reinvent the face of downtown.

Changes to the area surrounding Diridon Station have triggered community anxieties—and most recently roused the concern of the San Jose Sharks. The hockey team worried the long-term construction could force the Sharks out of the city. Similarly, residents have worried Google could displace them.

Kim Walesh, deputy city manager of community and economic development, said the study session held by the council will cover everything from the city’s history with Google to changes in building height guidelines. Last week, community leaders sounded off on building height concerns and open space requirements for the 250-acre area, as well as Google’s proposed 80-acre campus project.

But chiefly, city leaders outlined how the projects can better serve the community.

The city has boasted the Diridon Station Area Plan’s potential to bring more affordable housing, parks and services to the area, but Walesh said there’s even more opportunity for affordable housing and community benefits than previously thought. This makes it necessary to revisit plans to and ensure the current vision is right for the community.

The master plan promises to transform a whopping 250-acre section of the city into a transportation hub with high speed rail, BART lines and Caltrain extensions in addition to becoming a world-class destination for Google’s tech campus. It will be the largest project in San Jose history.

“We should listen and see how we can accomplish what best reflects the community’s values,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

A recent report called Draft Diridon Affordable Housing Implementation Plan — a talking point at Monday’s meeting — said the city and Google’s combined investments are likely to enhance job and transit access for South Bay workers. It will also likely increase property values.

But the report notes the importance of including working families in the development plans.

“It is important to ensure that lower-income residents in San Jose can also benefit from these investments,” the report said.

According to the report, the city can make more affordable housing a reality amid new development by seeking state funding, taking advantage of public and private partnerships, using revenue from commercial linkage fees and amending the city’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.

Under the ordinance, the city requires at least 15% of apartments in a new residential development to be affordable. The affordable housing goal is higher in the Diridon Station area — 25%.

“This is an important area because it’s at the heart of where all these new transit services are going to be,” Walesh said. “There’s a lot of other private developers and property owners that will play a role in shaping it, not just Google.”

But a development agreement with Google could be San Jose’s ticket to securing affordable housing and other benefits for residents.

Under California law, developers and a city can enter an agreement that provides the developer with certainty about how a project will take place— especially over a long period of time, according to Walesh. That way, when a new City Council takes over years later, it will be difficult for lawmakers to drastically change an agreement with the city. In exchange for such such certainty, the city can ask the developer to guarantee certain benefits to the community.

“It’s pretty difficult to find another example anywhere in the United States of a major employer committing so much to a community before they even open their doors,” Liccardo said. The mayor applauded Google for its promise to help the community and its willingness to pay commercial linkage fees to support affordable housing projects before the city adopted such fees

Walesh said city staff will discuss what benefits Google could provide to residents, including building 25% affordable housing instead of the 15% required of developers in other areas of the city.

“That’s very expensive and significant,” Walesh said. “But the community has said that affordable housing is such a foundational important part of the plan.”

During the meeting Monday, East San Jose resident Olivia Ortiz said the community benefits should focus on low-income housing across the city — not just in the Diridon area.

“Let’s focus on the underserved communities that will be most impacted by all this development,” she said.

There are an estimated 3,900 low-income households in the Diridon Station area with an income below 80% of the area median of $141,600 for a four-person household in Santa Clara County, according to the Draft Diridon Affordable Housing Implementation Plan. The plan aims to ensure that residents aren’t displaced from their neighborhoods as the area develops.

If the city can arrange for 25% affordable housing near Diridon Station, this would translate to 3,380 affordable homes, according to the city documents.

Walesh said the city could also ask Google to create a community benefit fund and contribute to it over time. The fund could potentially go toward homelessness prevention, early childhood education and business support programs. She also said Google would help ensure Sharks fans received adequate parking space near SAP Center.

“Those things are pure community benefits that we wouldn’t have the right to ask for from any other developer,” Walesh said. “But because there’s a development agreement, we get to negotiate.”

Outside of housing needs and services, Walesh said residents will be able to benefit from new parks, trails and vibrant bike-friendly roads and modern design in the Diridon area.

Resident Bill Rankin said COVID-19 heightens the need for open space in the city, but questioned whether the space in the Diridon area will be enjoyed by all residents and not just Google employees.

Opponents of the Google project, including community groups such as Serve the People San Jose, have argued the public land the city sold to Google for its proposed campus should belong to the community — not the tech giant — and the development will spur gentrification and displacement.

The city is accepting community feedback on the plan until Jan. 1, 2021. Upcoming events where residents can provide comment include:

A Spanish-language resident cafecito hosted by SOMOS Mayfair on Nov. 20 at 5:00 p.m., the Planning Commission study session on the Diridon Station Area on Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m. and a DSAP community meeting on Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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