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Sam Liccardo Works For Google

Google’s downtown San Jose Transit Village will transform the city into a major urban center. How walkable will it be? Photo: George Avalos

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has cheerleaded so hard for Google’s plans for 6 to 8 million square feet of office space in the Diridon Station Area, that a backlash among social justice groups demanded changes at the June 20 City Council meeting. Google’s professional real estate development officials will have exclusive access to San Jose city staff’s expertise and advice – with no upcoming public meetings on the project yet scheduled. Non-profit groups demanded adequate affordable housing and a community benefits package that will protect current residents and the Diridon area’s low-wage workers of the future.

“Imagine a tech headquarters in downtown San Jose that’s an engine not of riches for the few, but of shared prosperity for the many, that brings good jobs not just for programmers, but also for cafeteria workers, janitors, those who build the campus, security officers, and Google bus drivers,” said Working Partnerships USA Director of Organizing and Civic Engagement Maria Noel Fernandez at the meeting. “A project of this magnitude deserves a broad and inclusive community engagement process overseen by the City Council… today we ask you to set community benefits as goals for successful talks with Google, not later after months of negotiations.”

“This campus will create an influx of service jobs, yet these same low-wage workers could be the most at risk of displacement if this project doesn’t have a strong community benefits package,” said Unite Here Local 19 Research Analyst Sarah McDermott.

Development of the Diridon Station Area as envisioned by the city in the 2014 plan. Image: City of San Jose

“If all goes according to plan, then years from now, we will have dramatically improved transit access at Diridon Station and downtown San Jose,” said San Jose Director of Economic Development Kim Walesh. “It will become the most transit-rich in the Bay Area, California, and likely, in the western United States.” San Jose predicts an eight-fold increase in ridership through the Diridon Station to 140,000 trips starting or ending at the station on a typical weekday on VTA buses, Caltrain, BART, High Speed Rail, Amtrak, and the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE).

“We believe that the partnership with Google is really fully aligned with the goals outlined for development of this central zone in 2014,” Walesh said, referring to the Diridon Station Area Plan, which city staff “fully anticipate” will be amended next year to accommodate Google. The plan calls for only 5 million square feet of new office space rather than Google’s up to 8 million square feet. 420,000 square feet for retail uses and 900 hotel rooms were also planned. Critical goals include “creating a highly active, open, lively pedestrian environment including public spaces that are high-quality and actively-used,” said Walesh.

Google has not submitted any draft designs or conceptual drawings showing the locations or extents of such pedestrian spaces. Google has also not commented on a goal included in the Diridon Station Area Plan to restore the Los Gatos Creek Trail and extend the creek’s walking and bicycling trail along it.

“The creek was buried in a pair of giant pipes over a city block long under the Park Avenue & Montgomery Street intersection back in the 1960s in a mis-guided attempt to speed up car traffic,” said resident Larry Ames. “This opportunity to repair this wrong and to daylight the creek, creating a more natural habitat and afford off-road access to the Diridon Station.”

Google’s plans are likely to result in massive displacement of long-time residents as thousands of additional tech workers bid up the available rental housing in a wide area surrounding the San Jose Diridon Station, a topic Mayor Liccardo failed to address in his comments except to say that “we all acknowledge the affordable housing crisis.”

“We are going to be working collaboratively with the community to ensure that we plan appropriately and build appropriately,” said Liccardo. “One of the ways it can fail is if we decide we’re going to do demand so much up front before we’ve even started the conversation, before we’ve even sat down with Google.”

“I am concerned about creating multiple hearings and drawing out a process which is not ultimately going to serve our ability to move forward,” said Liccardo, who nonetheless called for a 17-day public review period for the to-be-written Memorandum of Understanding and eventual Draft Development Agreement associated with Google’s proposal. As a city council member in June 2014, Liccardo opposed any substantive public review of major changes proposed to the Diridon Station Area Plan via a memo released just four days before the final approval of the plan.

“Corporations are choosing to go elsewhere, ” stated City Council member Johnny Khamis.  “I want to caution us not to put too many burdens on any of these negotiations. I want to go into this with a welcoming approach rather than a what can we beat out of you approach.”

San Jose City Council member and Santa Clara Supervisor candidate Donald Rocha. Photo: City of San Jose

The San Jose City Council approved goals in a June 19 memo authored by council member Sergio Jimenez to “seek out strategies that help alleviate the City’s housing crisis, minimize the displacement of residents, and increase the quality of and affordability of housing at every opportunity possible.” Despite this, no council member mentioned the gaping difference between the amount of office space Google wants to build compared to the number of housing units envisioned. City staff are now citing 3,o00 units as the expected residential build-out, while over 20,000 more workers are expected within in the Diridon Station Area.

City Council member and Santa Clara County Supervisor candidate Donald Rocha cast the lone NO vote against the city’s “shut out the public” proposed review of Google’s development proposal. Rocha objected to the terms of the agreement with Google, which will allow City Manager Norberto Duenas to extend the one-year negotiation period by an additional year – without any city council or public review.

Not a single public community meeting on Google’s “Transit Village” yet scheduled, but the search giant is promising to be a good neighbor.

“Google shares the city’s vision for the development of the Diridon Area,” said Google Vice President of Bay Area Real Estate & Workplace Service Mark Golan. “We look forward to having robust conversations with the city, county, local residents, and community organizations to ensure that any development is representative of everyone’s ideas.”