SJ commission to divvy up millions from Google

A select group of San Jose residents have the job of spending about $155 million from Google--and they're ready to get to work.   

The group, known as the Community Stabilization and Opportunity Pathways Fund Commission, is comprised of 13 residents who either have experienced homelessness or come from a field of advocacy, education or workforce development. The group is tasked with determining how to disperse millions to communities at risk of being priced out of San Jose, as well as funding education and entrepreneurship opportunities for residents. The San Jose City Council confirmed the members on Tuesday.   

"I know many of (these new commissioners) and I have great confidence they will be able to do the good work they are charged with doing: to protect the communities they intend to serve," said Councilmember Pam Foley.   

The tech behemoth agreed to provide the multi-million-dollar benefits package to help curb displacement related to its Downtown West development, and uplift San Jose communities through education and work training opportunities.   

Members can serve two consecutive four-year terms. Six of the members are San Jose residents who have lived experience with homelessness, and seven have technical experience with housing, mental health, health care or other community services. The commission will also include non-voting members--three city representatives, one Google representative and potential representatives from other major funders.   

Homeless advocate RJ Ramsey, who will fill a lived experience seat on the commission, said he is ecstatic to be selected. He has been eyeing a commission seat since Google's Downtown West project was approved in May 2021.  

"This time about four years ago I was still on the streets," Ramsey told San Jose Spotlight. "I never thought I would have this opportunity to help those who are disadvantaged or were in the same position that I was."   

SEE ALSO: Google accidentally pays man $250K in direct deposit

Ramsey said while he supports the expansion of Google into downtown, there is no doubt such a massive development will have a detrimental impact on disenfranchised communities. Google agreed to shell out millions to help minimize displacement caused from the thousands of tech workers moving into the downtown. The threat of gentrification and increases in housing and rents worried local residents.   

"The really unique thing about this fund is that it's really the community's fund. Google isn't in the driver's seat of how decisions will be made," commissioner Jeffrey Buchanan, who also serves as director of public policy at Working Partnerships USA, told San Jose Spotlight. "To see this kind of unity in the community around advancing this kind of a solution to displacement is pretty moving."   

The multi-billion-dollar development will take about a decade to complete. It will cover 80 acres near Diridon Station, and Google anticipates up to 25,000 people working in its downtown offices. The campus will feature 7.3 million square feet of office space, 4,000 residences, 15 acres of parks and a large community center.   

So far, the tech giant has provided $4.5 million for education, job training, scholarships and to strengthen neighborhood-serving programs. This funding is in addition to the $155 million.  

FOR MORE: With 10 days of holiday shopping left, shoppers are cutting back on spending

The $155 million was expected to be dispersed after construction finished, but Google voluntarily agreed to make a $15 million payment within 120 days of its initial construction on the first Downtown West office building, city officials said.  

"I'm glad that the silver lining here was that Google and the city came up with the funds to compensate people, to make them whole," Ramsey said. "It strikes a balance between welcoming a tech giant, but also taking care of the residents at the same time."   While Ramsey may not be on the commission when it starts to disperse funds, he believes this initial work is critical.   

After the 13 commissioners go through extensive training and onboarding, they'll work to determine the bylaws and hire a fund manager who will administer the grant-making process and recommend qualified grant recipients. The group will then create a five-year plan to distribute funds.   

Nanci Klein, director of economic development, said the five-year plan will likely be ready around 2024-25.