Google and San Jose are planning a massive new campus in the city’s downtown that could intensify gentrification, while also creating jobs. Community leaders, families and organizations are demanding that the development work for everyone, including San Jose’s long-time residents and families.
After months of exhausting debating and protesting, Sandy Perry still isn’t buying Google’s promise that it will be a great neighbor in San Jose.
A community activist and pastor, Perry says he will continue being “a disruption” to the tech giant, which plans to build a new massive campus on 10 acres of land and bring an estimated 28,000 jobs downtown by 2035, making Google unquestionably the city’s largest private employer.
Perry says he’ll keep pressuring Google to do right by the city’s “neglected, left-out and overlooked” residents. So far he’s fought the tech giant by chaining himself to a tree – and to a chair at a 2018 city council meeting where the Google deal was approved.
Undaunted, Perry recently protested outside the company’s annual shareholder meeting with a sign that read “Hey Google: Don’t evict me.”
“This city, this Goliath, still hasn’t made a commitment to offset their impact by providing affordable housing,” said Perry, a member of community groups Silicon Valley Rising and Serve the People San Jose. “I’m opposed to their expansion, period.”
More than six months after the San Jose City Council voted unanimously for a $110 million public-land sale to Google near a train station, the company made a bombshell announcement. Google revealed plans in June to invest $1 billion in building 20,000 housing units across the San Francisco Bay Area, which is in the midst of a severe housing crisis.
The housing commitment is the largest of its kind for a private employer. About $750 million of Google’s investment will come in the form of property that it already owns, the tech giant said in a June 18, 2019 blog post. Also, parts of the company’s current and future sites in Mountain View, San Jose and San Francisco would be rezoned and transformed to “new homes at all income levels, including housing options for middle- and low-income families,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in the blog post last month.
Perry isn’t sold, and neither is Andrew Bigelow, an artist and community organizer for Silicon Valley De-Bug. They want to see what Google will do for housing in San Jose, which has more than 1 million residents and is the largest city in the Bay Area.
“The city gave that land away to Google for pennies,” said Perry, sounding exasperated.
Perry believes that the voices of protesters led Google to make its billion-dollar housing investment.
“We want to congratulate ourselves and pat ourselves on the back because we believe it’s our protests that caused them to do that. But our work isn’t done. It’s far from over.”
Bigelow said he worries about gentrification, specifically the displacement of hard-working residents who may not be able to afford to stay in the city when the Google campus arrives.
Already, rents are rising. The current average rent for an apartment in San Jose is $3,064, a 7 percent increase from $2,836 a year ago, according to the website, Rentjungle.com. Both of those prices are steep, considering that a one-bedroom apartment was slightly below $2,000 in 2011.
The median price for buying a home in the Bay Area is roughly $1 million, according to the California Association of Realtors. Bigelow wants Google to do its fair share to make sure housing prices don’t skyrocket even more.
“People and companies get praised for things they should already be doing,” he said. “There are folks who have called this city home for a long time and [are] doing the best that they can who may get displaced. That’s scary, man.”
San Jose city leaders want the Google project at the Diridon Station, located on the western part of downtown, to become an even bigger transit hub for local and regional rapid transit as well as high-speed rail. The station already serves Caltrain and Amtrak rail lines, but the city has been hoping it will soon serve the larger Bay Area Rapid Transit that connects San Francisco, Oakland and its suburbs. A rail expansion of any sort could potentially bring the city more residents, businesses and money.
Bigelow also wonders if Google’s presence in a city that’s more diverse than Sunnyvale will lead the tech company to hire more people of color. Google’s 2019 report on diversity showed that only 5.7 percent of employees are Latinx and 3.3 percent are Black, slight increases from the previous year.
Those numbers are similar to other Silicon Valley tech giants Facebook and Twitter.
A report by local labor group Working Partnerships USA recommends that if Google wants to build in downtown San Jose, it would need to commit to creating more than 17,000 new homes in the area, including more than 5,200 units at below market rate prices to keep rents at current levels.
“This research confirms that unless Google helps build enough affordable homes along its huge mega-campus, the company will be pushing enormous costs onto families who can least afford it, likely leading to more families facing eviction and pulling communities apart,” Jeffrey Buchanan, a Working Partnerships USA policy director, said in a prepared statement.
It costs about $700,000 to build a new apartment in the Bay Area, according to Cynthia Parker, CEO of the San Francisco-based nonprofit developer Bridge Housing. That means it could cost roughly more than $14 billion to meet Google’s goal of building 20,000 housing units in the area.
Google reached out to Bridge Housing to discuss the housing initiative, and Parker said they plan to meet with the company sometime in August. It appears that Google doesn’t have an exact plan yet, Parker added.
“Providing affordable housing is important,” Parker said. “This is a very ambitious effort. I think everybody who is starting to interact with Google wants to help them figure out what are the best ways to leverage their funds.”
Parker agrees that Google seems determined to build in San Jose. The company hasn’t released specifics about how much housing it will add to the city, but did confirm that at least 25 percent of it will be affordable or reduced rent.
“We’re working closely and collaboratively with the city and many community groups on our future development in San Jose,” Javier Gonzales, Google’s government affairs and public policy manager, said in a prepared statement. “As we do so, we know that housing is a vital issue, and we’re committed to invest in new housing in the area, including affordable housing.”
Responding to the Working Partnerships report, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told a group of reporters this month that, “We certainly recognize Google will have an impact, and we’re going to be doing everything we can to get ready for it.”
Meanwhile, Perry is monitoring Google’s moves.
“They will be watching me,” he said. “And I’ll definitely be watching them.”
Terry Collins is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared in Fortune, the Associated Press, Bloomberg Businessweek and CNET. Follow him on Twitter at @terryscollins. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included.
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