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How Google beat the San Jose megacampus’ biggest critic

Google’s “Downtown West” offering is Google’s first hybrid campus comprising 80 acres in downtown San Jose.

Sitelab Urban Studio

Google’s path to planning a massive tech campus in San Jose began with activists tying themselves to a city hall chair over the city’s decision to sell public land to the tech giant. It ended with some of the biggest opponents signing the compliment.

last month San Jose City Council has approved Google̵

7;s plan for a hybrid megacamp that covers 80 acres and 7.3 million square feet in California’s third-largest city center. To win over critics, Google has made more than half of its campuses public. and offers a $200 million community benefit package that includes a displacement fund. job search training and the power for community leaders to influence spending.

“Of course it’s a very different process in the end. Compared to what we initially saw with regard to community and labor activism,” said Jeffrey Buchanan, director of public policy at Working Partnerships USA, a San Jose-based community alliance.

“It’s a reminder of how organizing works and how important it is,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, nonprofit director of Silicon Valley Rising. “Now it feels like a real partnership.”

The successful partnership comes as tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon try to expand real estate across the country. while the villagers complained about the displacement Two years after Amazon famously abandoned plans to build a New York campus after community protests. It also happened as labor and employee groups voiced their opinions on the influence of big tech companies. Some local organizers say their success with Google is paving the way for future organizing with technology.

But it took four years to get there.

Loud opposition and a rocky start

Google has a long history of dealing with city governments and communities near its headquarters in Mountain View, 10 miles from San Jose, but the company has no history of investing in San Jose. even if the company’s employees live there

Wrong startup process, community members say

Maria Noel Fernandez, Silicon Valley Rising campaign leader, led a protest at the 2019 Google shareholder meeting at the company’s campus in Sunnyvale. california

Jennifer Elias | CNBC

It began when the university’s plans were kept secret around the same time that conversations about the power of technology and antitrust began to take hold in the wider world. For the local community, it seems that Google and the city are secretly planning. To make public land of the company without talking much to the community

In 2017, residents discovered that the city of San Jose had entered into exclusive talks with Google, which it intended to purchase all parcels in an area of ​​about 240 acres. In 2018, local media reported that a non-disclosure agreement between government officials and Google revealed. Buchanan Working Partnerships USA sues the city, alleging it’s making a secret deal. with tech giants

“One of our primary concerns is the NDA,” Fernandez said.

“NDA is just a bad look at the project,” said Bob Staedler, who runs Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm.. “Then it’s starting to get worse.”

Another big concern is displacement. The city sees tech workers from Apple, Google and others who have moved in over the years. Within a week of news that Google was coming to town and taking over most of the city. Home prices within a three mile radius of the site It’s up 7% and up from there in the following months, experts told CNBC at the time.

Community groups protest at the Google event and every city in sight. At a particularly controversial city council meeting Many protesters tied themselves to chairs. The protesters also set up a scene outside the Google marketing conference in San Jose, and teamed up with employees and investors to protest outside the company’s 2019 shareholder meeting, with demonstrators holding placards that read: “Welcome to Googleville” and “Ok Google, don’t.” Fire me.”

Fernandez led most of them speaking through a megaphone.

“Since Google entered into a Special Negotiation Agreement I’ve had two children since then,” Fernandez said. “But it almost feels like Google is my third.”

After the exhibition The company has announced a $1 billion housing pledge to build 20,000 Bay Area homes over the next decade. But residents are still not excited. Fearing the company would throw money into the issue without giving details or plans for what it would be spending, shortly after Google’s announcement, US Senator Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., sent a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai asking for earnings. More details

At the time, Google told CNBC it had heard criticism at the time of the announcement. But also know that housing in the Bay Area has reached a critical point.

Fernandez’s organization called Google’s housing investment a “win”, but added there was still a lot of work to be done.

Google has scoured the region and raised frustration from workforce organizations looking for answers. “We want to make sure they don’t just put their money on the problem,” Buchanan said.

Fernandez said at that point the local organizer had a clear message for Google: “Swim upstream or build something together.”

Embedding Community Coordinators

In 2019, Google brought together a diverse group of community liaisons to talk to locals. listen to their concerns and emphasize their story Community members say these open conversations eventually allowed them to sit at the table when it came to making decisions.

That group consisted of newly hired people. Many women and people of color, whose roles range from public affairs to real estate.

One of them is Ricard Benavidez, who is responsible for “the design, program and collaboration needed to develop comprehensive real estate,” according to his LinkedIn page.

The other, Javier Gonzáles, is a San Jose native who often connects with residents about their love and concern for blue collar workers, the arts and culture of the region.

“I think it’s just the moment they prepare coffee or talk to organizations,” Bob Staedler said. “Instead of making Google monolithic, you really need human beings.”

Google hosts a community presentation and feedback session in San Jose for the proposed large campus.

Jennifer Elias/CNBC

These liaisons become trusted members of the community who listen to concerns and follow up. said the resident

“They brought together a team that was interested in working more closely as a community — as a partner,” Buchanan said. You see the relationship with the Silicon Valley alliance, the face of the conversation has changed over time.”

turning point

By the end of 2019, members of the local community began to see a change.

One of the key hires is Google’s San Jose district supervisor Alexa Arena, who joined the company in 2019. She previously worked for real estate firm LendLease, which is partnering with Google on a Bay Area housing plan. And she has experience with controversial real estate plans. Adding Arena shows community members that the company is sending people with real decision-making powers to listen to them.

They said that Arena’s presence was unpretentious and calm. And she expressed her awareness that she was entering an established and historic community. Unlike Google’s entrance in 2017, when companies and city officials still refer to the project as a “Game changer” for the city.

“It’s really different from what we’ve seen in the project on a normal scale,” Arena told a large crowd of San Jose residents during public comment in early 2019. “In this case, Google is the end user.”

She thanked the people for giving up their time and allowing the company to be a builder in an already historic city. But she reluctantly did so. community members said

“We’re here for the long haul,” reads her first slide at the 2019 community presentation.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen that real-life process,” Buchanan said, “for all of us. It felt very different.”

Residents have tested her accuracy and expertise. If Arena doesn’t know the answer, she won’t pretend. but will repeat the question to make sure she understands Then consult with others in the company or external partners. She followed up on concerns, such as how the six-story building near the existing neighborhoods would work.

Many organizers say that the diverse elements of the Google team have helped them better relate to minority members of their community.

“She has a different skill set that white people don’t have,” Staedler said of Arena. “There’s media training and there’s a natural way that Alexa isn’t trying to sell you something.”

Let the people ‘join good governance’

By 2020, Google is starting to understand that residents want more transparency and will not accept partial views of the plans. As a result, the company has made improvements to plans. Including community oversight committees for certain funds.

The company has also hired local authorities to design the website. It shows updates, timelines, expectations, and other details. of the campus plan The website lists the residents’ main concerns, for example. “True non-corporate character treatment” and “losing mom + pop shop” also started an email list. This will send periodic updates on campus with the option for readers to submit feedback on the plan.

Google Tech Campus Community Opinion Session

Jennifer Elias | CNBC

By 2021, the company has held more than 100 listening sessions, and the company’s plans are starting to change. Improved rendering of the space to reflect warm and inviting open spaces where workers, children and artists can stroll together. dining together or can buy things together That’s the complete opposite of the first render. It shows a cold, basic high-rise that overlooks the rest of the region as hip young tech workers walk around.

Alexa Arena, Google’s district chief in San Jose, said: “Thousands of conversations allow us to delve into what we really need on site, less than corporate campuses and financial districts. And there are many more flexible neighborhoods” Video 2020

Laura Crescimano, chief city designer, said: “As opposed to traditional corporate campuses”

The biggest win for community organizers is gaining decision-making powers about community assignments and payments. The final agreement included the establishment of a 13-person advisory committee, which required five members with community-based life experience.

“The decision-making power is not in the town hall or the elected politicians. but with the community and deliberately about the imbalance of power for those who have experience,” Buchanan said.

Fenandez said “Being able to have this level of real decision-making power is something we have never seen before.”

Labor agreements in the program guarantee internships and fair wages for construction workers. to make sure “Non-Google workers benefit, too.”

Buchanan said that since the approval, organizations such as Amazon and Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics have reached out to them for advice on how they can connect with nearby communities upon successful partnerships with Google.

“I think it represents how communities can come together in complex projects. and making sure the project works for all residents and businesses in San Jose,” said Jean Cohen, CEO of the South Bay Labor Council. told a local television show, “Google is not a union employer, but Google is a really good partner. in figuring out how to make this project work for as many union members as possible.”

While some critics remain Organizers say the project has created a positive path for organizing future real estate projects and others. Cohen added that she thinks the conversation is going so well that she sees it continuing after the project ends.

“When the project is complete Talks with Google about how to ensure unions can be organized,” Cohen said, “so I believe there are a lot of positive negotiations. So eventually those companies decided that they wanted to be a union company.”

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