Downtown anticipates major changes from proposed Google campus
By C.M. Bateman
In December, the San Jose City Council agreed to sell over 10 acres of the downtown region to build a new Google campus. The proposed campus aims to positively renovate the infrastructure and strengthen the core of the city; however, the Google village has also sparked fear and anger from San Jose residents and business owners, specifically from those located in or around the land parcels sold to the organization during the negotiations.
The proposed project would stretch from the south tip of the San Jose Market Center to W San Carlos Street, curving along the railways leading to the Diridon Station and Autumn Street on the parallel side. The campus includes plans to open up space to the neighboring communities with cultural walking areas, various entertainment and dining establishments, as well as residential and office space for up to 20,000 Google employees.
One of the main focuses for the campus is the development of Diridon Station- a central public transportation depot in San Jose connected by ACE, Amtrak, Caltrain and VTA light rail, along with local and regional bus services. BART and the California High-Speed Rail system also plan on adding Diridon to their map. These numerous platforms and public transportation connections define Diridon Station as the gateway to San Jose.
Rick Jensen, communications director for the San Jose Downtown Association, details the long-term effects anticipated for the city as a result of the Google campus: “San Jose is the only big city in the U.S. where there are fewer jobs than homes, which means transit-wise there are more people leaving San Jose to work than coming into the city. That has to be reversed … The Google project and the west side of downtown will become a worldwide model for how to grow an urban center correctly.”
An article from San Jose’s Office of Economic Development stresses the importance of urban villages to increase housing and jobs in the city, which simultaneously would help combat the urban sprawl Jensen mentioned. The Google campus will provide more jobs and housing units for local residents as well as increase ridership to the city itself.
However, many individuals are furious and concerned about the effects of the proposed campus.
The San Jose City Council voted unanimously to sell over 10 acres of land to Google for the project after 10 hours of discussion, testimonies and protests.
According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, advocates against the campus voiced their worries about rising housing costs, which would push gentrification and displacement as a result of the campus being built. Some protesters held signs condemning the decision to sell the land parcels. A group of activists chained themselves to chairs in the meeting hall while chanting in protest of the sale. Several people were arrested.
The effect of the campus on low-income homeowners, the elderly and homeless has been a key concern throughout the almost two-year negotiations with Google. In May 2018, a public meeting to discuss Google’s proposed campus features at San Jose City Hall faced similar setbacks regarding protesters; after San Jose police officers “briefly discussed the situation with the demonstrators,” they left peacefully.
Many are distressed that the Google campus would only drive up the cost of living in the city, even with the idea of building more housing units as a part of the project.
Angela Nicole Walker, a local teacher at Rocketship Public Schools, lives near the SAP Center and Diridon Station. She began renting an apartment in late 2017 and first heard about the proposal shortly after moving in. Walker emphasized that she felt “upset” upon hearing the news: “I finally moved downtown, and then I felt like my rent was gonna go up.” Walker noted, “People already can’t afford it … and people aren’t gonna be able to live downtown.”
Affordable housing has remained an issue in San Jose over the past several years. According to a survey from Zillow, the median home value has soared up to over 15 percent in the past year (October 2017 – November 2018) and is expected to rise by 15 percent by October 2019. The average price of homes listed in the San Jose area falls under $950,000; specifically in the downtown area, the price is $728,000. Renting in the downtown area varies based on apartment structure, but averages around $2,731, making it the second most expensive area in the city.
The median household income, taken from a 2017 United States Census, is $96,662. In 2017, the annual salary for a low-income family in Santa Clara County resides at $84,750. This makes it difficult to find affordable housing, which has also become sparse in San Jose. Only 20 percent of the city’s targeted number of building permits for affordable units was reached, while 2,622 homes were built at the market rate, surpassing its target number by 162 percent.
The Google campus risks soaring housing costs and displaced residents; however, the rising housing market in San Jose remains at the forefront of the company’s review. Jensen stated that the parties involved in the negotiations “are all in favor of providing at minimum 25 percent affordable housing, attempts to minimize displacement, [and] offer access to training and local hiring practices.”
While homeowners and other residents face concerns for housing, business and property owners face various challenges from Google’s expansion in the downtown area. Those around the sold land parcels expect more attention and business because of the expected balance of daytime and nighttime traffic.
The SJDA has been working closely with Google management to ensure fair compensation for business owners. Jensen states, “Those being bought out are getting very good prices for their property … Property owners are already benefiting from increased property values.”
Despite fair compensation, local business owners (who are all within the land bought by Google) have mixed responses to the proposed campus.
Wisa Uemura, executive director of Taiko, an arts center focused on the Japanese art form of ensemble drumming, said, “Our interactions with Google have been straightforward, and they seem sincerely interested in listening to the needs of the community and figuring out creative ways to connect their plans to mutual benefit. However, with any development of this magnitude, there are legitimate public concerns that warrant discussion and action.”
The previous owner of Borch’s Iron Works and Welding, declining to state his name, commented on how “the campus should bring in a lot of good changes for this area; I’m looking forward to the way they’re going to clean this place up.”
Kerry Puccio, the owner of Puccio Machine & Welding Works, is the third-generation owner of the store; the business has been in the family since 1941. Puccio was bought out by Google several months ago in one of the land parcels: “Now I gotta figure out what to do.” Puccio said, “There’s a lot of people who aren’t happy. They’re trying to find places and can’t find places. It’s too much and there’s no property available.” Puccio is among the owners who must relocate their businesses: “Google’s not going to hire me.”
The proposed Google campus remains an exciting prospect for the growth of the industrial downtown area, but it falls short on providing support to local residents and owners. The community of San Jose must prepare itself to take on the upcoming changes once the campus begins major construction as early as 2025.
See below for a video of the community’s response to the Google campus:
Featured Image (at the top of this post): San Jose street art welcomes visitors in the downtown area. PHOTO CREDIT: Maxwell Taniguchi-King
Tahoma Sports Editor Will Butler contributed to this article.