Google Village Project Advances Despite Pushback by Residents

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – San Jose and Santa Clara cinched a real estate deal with Google on Thursday that figures to pave the way for a transformation of the capital of Silicon Valley, but not all area residents are pleased.

The tentative agreement between the two cities and the technology titan stipulates Google will pay $67 million for five parcels in downtown San Jose near Diridon Station, the city’s transportation hub.

“This compensation agreement ensures that our taxpayers receive 2 ½ times what we originally paid for these properties and, just as importantly, it allows us to advance discussions about how we can create a vibrant, architecturally iconic, transit-focused village around Diridon Station,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

The deal announcement comes two days after the San Jose City Council agreed to form the Station Area Advisory Group, an advisory board of 35 people from entities that range from powerful corporations like Google and Adobe Systems to neighborhood associations.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the community’s angst over Google role in the project was on full display as more than 100 people attended. The overwhelming majority of those who spoke complained about Google’s role in the process.

“It excludes many impacted communities to stack the group with Google, its lobbyists and its allies,” said Connie Chew, a representative for a local union.

Chew echoed a common refrain of many speakers who expressed deep mistrust about the liaison between the city and the powerful corporation and whether the housing project will cause more gentrification, exacerbate an already sharp rise in home and rental prices and contribute to worsening homelessness in the city.

Proponents of the project argue the capital of Silicon Valley has an opportunity to create a template for the future of city designs, with a project that eschews the vehicle-centered design for one that features dense residential units in walking distance to BART and high-speed rail and other mass-transit projects.

“This provides a wonderful opportunity for the city, but unique challenges,” said Leland Wilcox with the city manager’s office. “We believe San Jose has an opportunity to lead in this area.”

Thursday’s announcement moves the project forward significantly, although San Jose still retains two parcels regarded as key to the project. Google has been scooping up privately owned parcels in proximity to Diridon Station, partnering with a San Francisco-based development group Trammell Crow and scooping up properties adjacent to or near the transportation hub.

Earlier this month, the company spent a total of $1.3 million on two properties near the proposed project.

Google plans to build 6 to 8 million square feet of office space near the station, enough for 20,000 of its workers, along with preliminary plans for the pedestrian-oriented development that figures to contain commercial and residential units.

The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to create an advisory group composed of business, community, environmental representatives to guide the project as it develops.

Wilcox acknowledged the process is in its infancy and will likely take three to four years, as the city and company need to come to an agreement on the land purchase, finalize plans for the project and proceed with extensive environmental analysis.

Google and San Jose have both pegged completion by 2026 or 2027, which would coincide with the completion date for changes so Diridon Station can accommodate high-speed rail.

While several speakers at the meeting voiced suspicion about the deal, Johnny Khamis, one of the more reliable pro-business voices on the City Council, noted that Google was willing to create jobs and residential opportunities in San Jose without extracting any large favors from the city – making a tacit comparison to Amazon’s search for a second headquarters.

In the Amazon sweepstakes, many cities have been willing to forfeit significant financial and tax considerations to attract Amazon and its job creation potential.

Liccardo echoed Khamis’ sentiment on Thursday, tweeting: “Tax breaks, subsidies, giveaways to corporations, none of that is happening here. Google didn’t demand any of that, and we didn’t offer it.”

Several of Tuesday’s speakers from local organizations like People Acting with Community Together, Silicon Valley Rising and the Silicon Valley Law Foundation said they aren’t necessarily opposed to the project as a whole but objected to the composition of the group, saying it weighed heavily in favor of industry interests and powerful corporations.

But other speakers noted there is already a heavy community presence on the advisory group.

“I was very pleased to see 12 neighborhood associations are being represented here,” said Harvey Darnell, a board member with the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association

“I think what we’ll find is that many of us on neighborhood boards will wear many hats – I am an environmentalist, I am a historian, I am a homeless advocate and I am a faith-based person.”

Darnell warned against adding too many more organizations, saying it will make the meetings unmanageable.

Many council members agreed.

“If you actually want to have a productive conversation about the concerns of the community, I think you should narrow it down, not increase its scope,” Khamis said.

Ultimately, the council voted to create the advisory group as currently composed, while adding handful of community organizations like PACT and the Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium.

The public will be able to attend future meetings of the group and provide input.

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