Anti-gentrification protesters block Google bus in San Jose, want better housing solutions

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Protesters blocked a commuter tech bus Thursday morning as tensions rise over Google's plans to build a 20,000-employee campus in San Jose that critics fear will heighten inequality and displacement. 

“I don’t want Google here. Google is toxic,” said San Jose resident and activist Xahn Tran. “Google will displace thousands and thousands of people.”

“The way this city treats its poor, and actually most of its people, is a disgrace," said Pastor Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network. "The city council has decided to basically sell its soul to Google." 

In response, Google's public policy manager Javier Gonzalez said "we look forward to continuing the public dialogue on tough issues like affordable housing, displacement, jobs, and more. Google will absolutely commit to a community benefits agreement in San José when the time comes during the city-led development process."

About 8 a.m., a few dozen community activists wearing white radiation suits (because they say Google is toxic) and carrying signs that read "Evict Google," blocked a Google bus at South Fourth and San Salvador streets carrying 15 tech employees trying to get from downtown San Jose to headquarters in Mountain View.

San Jose police tried to negotiate with the protesters, who they said are not allowed to block traffic. "We can't have them blocking the street," Sgt. Lyle Jackson told KTVU. "Of course they can protest on the sidewalk, but they can't block traffic."

As in the rest of the Bay Area, there are deep divisions over San Jose's plan to sell public land for tech development instead of housing. Currently, housing costs in San Jose are the fourth most expensive in the country. San Jose’s 2017 Homeless Census and Survey counted 4,350 homeless people, with 3,219 of them unsheltered. Grassroots leaders believe the uncounted numbers are even higher. 

Critics of Google believe that rather than responding to the housing crisis, the city has exacerbated the issue. Between 2010 and 2015, Santa Clara County, where San Jose is located, added over 170,000 jobs and fewer than 30,000 housing units.

On the other hand, according to a recent poll by Silicon Valley Leadership group, more than two-thirds of San Jose residents are in support of the development.

Protesters believe Google’s proposed San Jose Campus and Didiron Area Engagement Plan is the final straw, offering nothing for low-income residents while threatening to displace tens of thousands of long term residents.

Thursday marks the end of the city's Station Area Advisory Group, intended to gauge community support of the proposed Google development. However, the protesters say the bus blockade will show there is still significant dissent. 

This isn’t the first time tech buses have faced opposition. A wave of Bay Area tech bus protests started in late 2013, with the most recent in May in San Francisco's Mission District.