Silicon Valley Business Journal: Guest opinion: Why the San Jose-Google plan is a ‘bad deal’

By Maria Noel Fernandez
November 30, 2018

Editor's note: The following guest column from Maria Noel Fernandez from Working Partnerships USA and Silicon Valley Rising is part of a series of op-eds the Silicon Valley Business Journal is running to get perspectives about Google's plans to purchase land in downtown San Jose. Read all the viewpoints here. To offer your take, send an email to [email protected].

San Jose is at a crucial decision point where we, as a city, decide whether the new Google development will become a project that we can all be proud of – or a development with a legacy of displacement and gentrification.

When Google announced plans to build a new campus in downtown San Jose, many residents feared the latter. And they worried that the only Google jobs they may have a shot at would be poverty wage janitorial, cafeteria and security work at a time when most are struggling to hang on.

After seeing how the land sale with Google is shaping up, I fear this may be a bad deal across the board.

Despite the city’s contention that Google will improve San Jose's finances, this deal falls short. After selling land near Diridon Station to Google, Mayor Sam Liccardo will still need to spend tens of millions of dollars replacing what he just sold. San Jose will still need a fire training center, new parking facilities for the area, and replacement parks — and land for these will need to be bought at new Google-inflated prices. 

Replacing this infrastructure will be expensive and, in a worst-case scenario, could cost more than what Google has offered to pay the city for our land. The deal is not billions of dollars in corporate subsidies that other cities have offered Amazon for its HQ2 development, but a public land sale to Google that could end up losing the city money is not exactly a great deal for San Jose, either.

San Jose officials predict between $6 million to $8 million a year in extra tax revenues from Google's Diridon-area project, equal to about 0.6 percent of the city’s general fund today. The benefits of this revenue pale in comparison to the added rents working families and business owners will face as a result of Google coming to San Jose. 

We need to bring these negotiations out from behind closed doors and bring the voices of those most impacted by the project into the center of the debate if we want the city's leaders to negotiate a good deal for the people of San Jose. If the city of Mountain View can get Google to pay $100 per square foot for community benefits or cities like Oakland can get agreements on local hiring and protections for family-supporting wages and a voice at work, why should San Jose sell itself short?

The city’s memorandum of understanding with Google leaves the biggest questions unanswered:

  • Will Google make investments to mitigate its impact on unaffordable housing and gridlocked traffic?
  • Will Google ensure all the jobs on campus are good jobs?
  • Will Google address the disproportionate impact of this project on women and people of color?

We need to hold Google accountable for a plan that invests in our working families instead of bringing more low-wage jobs, rent increases and homelessness. We need Google to commit to local hiring and educational investments so today’s students can get tomorrow’s jobs. And we need agreements with Google to ensure the 8,000 to 10,000 contract service workers who work at this campus aren’t paid poverty wages and forced to live in cars.

Let's ensure those workers have dignified, family-supporting jobs thanks to responsible contracting standards, livable wages, good benefits and labor peace. And let’s require Google and other developers to make 25 percent of new housing units affordable to low-income families and use community benefits, commercial linkage fees and other revenues to build and preserve thousands of affordable units.

The community needs to continue raising its voice to improve this deal so Google does not leave our working families behind and San Jose is left with a development that can act as a model for responsible tech growth.

Maria Noel Fernandez is director of organizing and civic engagement for Working Partnerships USA and leads the organization's Silicon Valley Rising program.