San Jose steps up talks to woo Google into downtown


The San Jose City Council passed an agreement Tuesday evening that will enter the city into exclusive talks with Google over a 6 million-square-foot office and retail complex around the Diridon station that promises to bring as many as 20,000 jobs to downtown.

The development, which public inclusion-minded city officials have avoided calling a “campus,” would include public plazas and paseos, retail shops and a public greenbelt and park along Los Gatos Creek.

Kim Walesh, San Jose’s Deputy City Manager and Director of Economic Development, said in her presentation:

“This is really a once-in-a-century opportunity.”

If all goes according to plan, Walesh said, the site will constitute part of the most transit-rich region in the western United States, transforming downtown San Jose, which has historically lagged in public transit use.

Diridon, already a transit hub with service from Caltrain, Amtrak, Altamont Corridor Express, light-rail and buses for three counties, is poised to become a stop on the California High-Speed Rail Line and Phase II of the Silicon Valley BART extension.

Nanci Klein, the city’s Assistant Director of Economic Development and Director of Real Estate, said the project would be a boon to San Jose, bringing jobs to a “bedroom community” that she says is housing-rich and jobs-poor.

The city currently has about 0.85 jobs per employed resident, compared to 2.9 in Palo Alto and between 1.6 and 1.8 in Cupertino, Mountain View and Santa Clara, Klein said.

Mark Golan, Google’s Vice President of Real Estate and Workplace Services, said in a brief address to the council:

“Google shares the city’s vision.”

The vote came after more than an hour of public comment, largely from union leaders and housing advocates calling for the city to negotiate for terms that would prevent displacement, support housing affordability and create good jobs for locals, including construction and service workers.

“We’re not depressed here. We don’t need Google,” one advocate said, arguing that the development would “not necessarily” lead to an improved quality of life in Silicon Valley.

Some advocates called for delaying this evening’s vote, saying rushing into exclusive talks could give the Mountain View search giant too much power.

Bob Brownstein, a strategic advisor for Working Partnerships USA, said:

“Google is not the government. … It can’t perform the representative function that only the government can.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo said he was receptive to the advocates’ concerns and intends to engage the community as the project moves forward:

“We know this is just the beginning of the conversation … I do appreciate the very sincere and intense expression of concern … about pains of growth.”

In response to union advocates, councilman Raul Peralez called up Golan to confirm that Google would work to create good jobs for locals:

“Google has had a really good track record with working with our local unions. … They’re providing recruiting and training opportunities for our local residents.”

The mayor added that San Jose has “borne the brunt” of high housing costs and traffic brought by tech workers in neighboring cities like Cupertino, Palo Alto and Mountain View without enjoying the tax revenues and proceeds from the sale of public land to tech companies.

The city made $34 million when Adobe moved into San Jose more than 20 years ago, Liccardo said.

A 6 million- to 8 million-square-foot development would generate $8 million or more in property tax revenue, Klein said.

As for the city’s issues, like affordability, Liccardo said:

“Google didn’t cause them, and Google’s not suddenly going to fix them.”

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