A room full of empty seats
I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m a policy wonk. I want that to be clear before we get to know each other better because you may have a litmus test for these sort of things, and I’m making an early New Year’s resolution to build more productive relationships.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk…
I should start by mentioning that I’m supportive of the expansion of our Google overlords into San José.
As chair of the City’s planning commission, I know this is exactly the type of project that has been envisioned for the Diridon Station Area over decades of community-based planning. The City has done a commendable job of getting the best possible value for public lands and ensuring an open and transparent process for securing community benefits without tax incentives or other kickbacks to our corporate “partners”. And despite what you may have heard, there has been a robust dialogue with ample opportunity for public engagement, and Google has shown the signs of being a good neighbor throughout the negotiation process thus far.
Of course, the process is far from over. City leadership will need strong wills, thick skin, and pragmatic stewardship to follow through on the outline of values the city council is poised to approve tonight — after what’s shaping up to be a marathon of public comment and council pontification. As most would agree, San José has not exactly proven to be a bastion of these traits when it comes to our officials, but that’s why elections matter. If we succumb to the traditional power brokers, we get what we deserve: the lowest common denominator of bureaucratic puppet.
But my concern over today’s vote doesn’t involve the particulars of the deal or the competing memos flying back and forth between council offices over the past few days. This is about the misinformation, hyperbole, and outright lies coming from all sides of this proxy war for the soul of our city.
**AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the midst of writing this piece, the council meeting was disrupted by protesters. San José Police cleared the chambers, removed several individuals who chained themselves to their seats, and shut down the proceedings for over an hour.**
On one side, you have city officials, who in their haste to win support for the Google Village, have used our neighborhood schools, our teachers, and our students, as a talking point — touting a windfall of revenue for the local school district from the land sale and property tax increment. This sounds great, right? Two teachers in every classroom and a VR headset on every student! But this candy striping blatantly disregards $1.5B in debt left by the San José Redevelopment Agency that must be serviced before any new revenue will ever make its way to our schools.
According to the city’s own economic development staff, this should happen sometime around 2036, or 18 years from now. That means an entire generation of students will be deprived of resources that should rightfully be flowing into their classrooms, all because city leaders of decades past sold us down the Guadalupe River. To suggest otherwise is reprehensible at best and lying at worst. And as the son of a former San José Unified teacher, a former district employee, and a recovering school board candidate, it’s just insulting.
But the city isn’t the only side making up their own facts…
Labor activists have spent the better part of the past year disrupting public meetings and community hearings on the Google Village with misguided and under-informed protests designed to shut down the entire process while wrapping themselves in the banner of “social justice”.
Complaints run rampant about backroom deals and non-disclosure agreements when the process has been more public than any of the principals would probably prefer. Protesters with catchy but nonsensical chants have fostered distrust and fear among the most vulnerable in our community — who they purport to represent. And otherwise sensible community leaders accuse city leaders of neglecting our homeless neighbors and prioritizing corporate developers when San José has done and continues to do more than any other local agency to protect our residents from displacement, institute unprecedented rent controls and just cause protections, and develop affordable, supportive, transitional, and emergency housing.
Community engagement is never a perfect process, but it’s only successful if all parties involved are committed to a productive conversation — and the same set of facts. As a third-generation San José native, it’s incredibly disappointing to see my friends and neighbors fall prey to the polarization currently plaguing our politics in Washington. (It’s only slightly ironic that many of the same folks are regulars at meetings of local Resistance groups.)
At the end of the day, the Google Village is a good project for San José. But the City and the People still have a long way to go to heal the gaping wounds of distrust that have been allowed to fester between us for far too long. Exhibit A is the circus that was today’s council meeting, which is still going as this column goes to print.
With a room full of empty seats.