San Jose approves controversial sale of land to Google, despite critics, chaos and arrests

- After several hours of public comment, a bit of chaos and eight arrests, San Jose's City Council early Wednesday morning unanimously approved the sale of more than $100 million in land west of Highway 87 to the tech giant Google.

The vote came about 12:30 a.m. and was highly controversial as some community members say they feel that the sale of several parcels of land near Diridon Station to Google, will send already high home prices soaring and push vulnerable people out of the city, would reshape downtown. The activists held a hunger strike outside City Hall. And nearly 200 people came to speak, most of them against the sale. 

But Mayor Sam Liccardo and other city and corporate leaders believe the  6.8-million square feet of mixed use space near Diridon Train Station – with offices, 20,000 jobs, and thousands of units of housing will transform downtown and provide needed housing across the spectrum. The next step is a development agreement, which would provide rules and a timeframe for the project in addition to environmental and zoning reports. 

Liccardo has been pushing to ensure 25 percent of the new housing will be deemed affordable.

“This crisis is decades in the making and it’s going to take time for us to be able to build the housing we critically need," Liccardo said ahead of the meeting. " And to do it effectively. I think Google can be a very helpful instrument in this objective." 

But many disagreed with that line of thinking. 

“For 30 years, the city has made promises about affordable housing," said Pastor Sandy Perry of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County. And they always fall short." 

Before the vote, San Jose police had to use bolt cutters to remove the protesters from being chained to the furniture. Critics yelled, "San Jose is not for sale!" and some were escorted out of the chambers for using profanity, outbursts and interruptions. Some councilmembers also left the room. 

 

In mid-November, two nonprofits filed a lawsuit against the city alleging a lack of transparency during the negotiation process, which involved 17 city officials and Liccardo signing non-disclosure agreements with Google. Before the documents were made public, the city communicated with residents through several Station Area Advisory Group meetings.

Experts say the land vote is a first step, and attempts to forecast doom and gloom are red herrings that may not become reality.

“We have thrived and we have grown based on private investment and risk-taking. And that’s exactly what Google is proposing to do here,” said  Kelly Snider, a professor in the San Jose State University department of Urban & Regional Planning.

Still, those feeling the pinch of high rents and limited options say there’s a the risk Google’s development over the next decade will limit their options now and in the future.

“There’s this idea that this will trickle down to the rest of the community," said Vera Sloan, of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County.. And it’s never worked out in the past here in this valley. And it will not work that way in the future."

Construction could begin as early as 2022 and may last through 2035. 

Bay City News contributed to this report. 

Editor's note: This story was updated on Wednesday to reflect the vote. 

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