MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — About 200 activists and local residents marched to Google’s headquarters on Thursday to demand the tech giant sign a community benefits agreement for its proposed downtown San Jose mega-campus that will feature housing, retail and offices for 15,000 to 20,000 of its employees.
Alphabet-owned Google, under fire from Republicans who claim anti-conservative bias, is facing heat from a coalition of activists known as Silicon Valley Rising as the search giant swallows up large swaths of land near San Jose’s major transit hub, Diridon Station. In February, San Jose’s City Council approved a pricing proposal for nine parcels of land at six downtown addresses to Google for $67 million, which San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said was the taxpayers “getting their money’s worth.”
However, community members who rode buses out to Mountain View on a sunny Thursday afternoon had a different message.
Chanting “Fight, fight, fight, fight, housing is a human right!” and “Google, Google, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!” the demonstrators listened and cheered as a series of speakers noted the negative effects of the tech industry’s massive presence in the region, decrying homelessness, skyrocketing housing costs and low wages, to name a few.
Several speakers noted that when Google wanted to build a 3.4 million square foot campus in Mountain View in 2015, it offered $340 million in community benefits to address concerns about housing, transit, wages and sustainability. That works out to $100 per square foot; a similar agreement for the San Jose campus would mean a benefits package worth $860 million.
So far, Google hasn’t pledged any dollar amount to San Jose.
“Affordability and gentrification are very much on our radar screen,” Joe Van Belleghem, Google’s senior director of development, told a meeting of the Station Area Advisory Group in May.
The cost of living in many parts of Silicon Valley has continued to rise. According to Zillow, the average rent in Mountain View, where Google, LinkedIn, Symantec, Microsoft and others maintain offices, is $4,182 a month (an increase of almost 60 percent from 2010) and the median home sale price is $1.7 million. Meanwhile, the city of Mountain View reports that homelessness has gone up by 51 percent since 2015.
Last year, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo pledged to get 25,000 new homes built, with 10,000 of them affordable, in the next five years.
“These tech corporations are making billions of dollars,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, field director for Mijente, a group that bills itself as a “new national hub for Latinx and Chincanx organizing. “Time and time again, we have seen that when they come into communities, what they bring is poverty, what they bring is destruction of actual communities that were there before the companies came in.”
Salvador Bustamante, executive director of Latinos United for a New America, which partners with Silicon Valley Rising, delivered a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking the company to sign a community benefits agreement with San Jose and meet a list of demands around housing and affordability.
During the company’s shareholder meeting in June, executives were grilled about Google’s aggressive expansion plans in San Jose, and activists questioned what the tech firm would do to mitigate fears.
Alphabet general counsel Kent Walker reportedly said the company was exploring different housing initiatives but didn’t offer specifics.
Although they carried banners saying “Don’t be evil”—a reference to the company’s former motto—and “Googleville,” a reference to the Hoovervilles built to house the homeless during the Great Depression, several activists stressed that they are not against Google building a new campus in San Jose.
According to Silicon Valley Rising, there are only two months to go before the sale of nearly 20 acres of public land is complete; therefore, they’re asking Google to step up its game.
“The community needs to know how our public resources, especially our valuable and scarce public lands, will be used to address our public needs, especially around affordable housing, good jobs, education and accessible transit,” said Silicon Valley Rising in its letter to Pichai.
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