Can Google Prevent Traffic and Housing Woes in San Jose?
By Ethan Baron
The Mercury News
16 July 2017
Photo courtesy San Jose Mercury News
Google will be traveling a razor’s edge of love and hate all the way to its planned new 20,000-worker San Jose campus as it brings jobs and star power to a city that needs both while delivering extra helpings of the ills that have sparked public ire against Silicon Valley’s big technology companies.
Check off all the boxes on the list of Bay Area horrors as potential downsides to Google’s planned campus in the heart of downtown: escalating traffic, overburdened transit systems, skyrocketing housing costs, and displacement of lower-income people.
That has placed Google at the epicenter of the Bay Area controversy over the power of huge tech companies to transform communities — often not for the better. But as one of the world’s leading innovators and economic engines, the search giant has a unique opportunity to do it right.
“The amount of wealth they’ve been able to create is just unprecedented in the history of our country,” said Malo Hutson, College of Environmental Design Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning. “Their obligation, really, is to the citizens, the young people, the people who are concerned about traffic and the environment.”
“One of the things they could do is make investments in local public education — that could go up to community colleges and universities,” Hutson said. “They could start investing in the public infrastructure. The most basic one obviously is just to go out and build some housing.”
Google already is being applauded for the proposed location around Diridon Station, where $10 billion in transit improvements are planned, including BART and high-speed rail service. And in talks with San Jose officials about the campus plan, Google has expressed “strong interest” in affordable housing, “not just for, as they call it, their Googlers,” said San Jose councilmember Don Rocha, who supports the project but has objected to giving staff the authority to extend negotiations with Google for the sale of city-owned land.
The plan Google is discussing with San Jose city officials involves 6 to 8 million square feet of tech offices and research-and-development space in an area of about 240 acres. The campus would provide open spaces for public recreation, along with entertainment and retail options, city officials have said. The project is intended to fit with the Diridon Station Area Plan, which calls for up to 2,588 housing units. How many dwellings would be built in connection with the planned Google campus, and who would pay for construction, remains unclear.
“I’m excited as heck about it, and I don’t blame city hall for falling all over themselves a little bit to make this happen,” Rocha said. “We don’t want to screw this up. The stakes are high.”