Google’s grand vision to transform 80 acres of land just west of San Jose’s downtown core into a mega campus complete with thousands of housing units, new jobs and retail shops cleared a major hurdle Wednesday night with the unanimous approval of the city’s planning commission.
Although the San Jose City Council will decide whether to give the tech giant’s proposed transit village the official green light next month, the commission’s strong support bodes well for one of the biggest development projects in Silicon Valley history.
“This is an opportunity for our residents to stay here, to benefit from this, to have better parks, to have better transportation and streets and bicycle routes and pedestrian walkways and really make downtown the vibrant place that we’ve always wanted it to be,” said Commission Chair Mariel Caballero. “I think this a step in the right direction for the longevity of our city, the vibrancy and the sustainability.”
Alexa Arena, Google’s San Jose development director, called the overwhelming support from the commissioners and dozens of residents who called in Wednesday night “yet another milestone of people showing up and contributing to their community so that we can all create a really great place together.”
Google’s development proposal, branded as Downtown West, calls for the construction of up to 7.3 million square feet of office space, 5,900 residential units, 500,000 square feet of retail space and 300 hotel rooms.
In return for the city’s support of Google’s transit-oriented village where as many as 20,000 people could work, Google has offered to provide $200 million in community benefits — a deal that has turned some of the project’s earliest and harshest critics into strong proponents.
The agreement between San Jose and Google will not only set aside 1,000 units of affordable housing but create a $150 million community fund for anti-displacement, homelessness and affordable housing efforts — resounding concerns raised by community members throughout the planning process.
Kiyomi Yamamoto of the Silicon Valley Law Foundation said Wednesday that Google’s pledges made through the development agreement will “ensure that those most acutely at risk of displacement will benefit, particularly people of color.”
“We hope other companies will look at this agreement as the bar for responsible corporate citizenship … and we look forward to seeing this finalized as the minimum standard for future development agreements,” Yamamoto said.
Kathy Sutherland, a San Jose resident who lives within walking distance of the proposed development, said that Google has had an “open door” with neighborhood leaders for months as they refined their plans.
“They don’t just listen to our concerns — they listened and took action,” she said. “We know that there are years of change and development ahead, but we look forward to working with Google and the city.”
But despite the near-unanimous support Wednesday night from community members, Google’s project and proposed development surrounding it have one exceedingly vocal opponent: the San Jose Sharks.
Since late last year, the Sharks have publicly lodged complaints that Google’s Downtown West project will undermine the viability of the SAP Center and force the arena out of San Jose. And despite more holding more than 70 meetings between the city and the Sharks, Jonathan Becker, president of Sharks Sports and Entertainment, again declared earlier this week that the city and Google had made very few changes to the plans.
The Sharks are asking the city to double the minimum parking requirement to 4,800 spaces to provide attendees necessary access to the facility, leaders say. But during a Monday interview on the podcast Teal Time USA, Becker said that he has two other major issues with the proposed development: increased street congestion due to plans to narrow streets in the area and a number of massive development and infrastructure projects occurring directly around the SAP Center simultaneously and without a clear construction and traffic mitigation plan.
Google’s mega campus, which will be built to both the north and south of the SAP Center, is just one part of San Jose’s broader Diridon Station Area Plan — a blueprint that will be used by city planners and developers to guide growth across a total of 250 acres of land surrounding San Jose’s Diridon train station and the SAP Center.
Under the plan, which was also approved by the commission Wednesday night, the remaining portions of the Diridon Station area outside of Google’s project footprint could experience a wide range of new development over the next two decades in the form of up to 6.4 million square feet of office space, 7,000 housing units and 536,000 square feet of retail.
On top of the potential for a dramatic increase in development in the area, the city is also planning for the massive redevelopment of the city’s transit hub Diridon Station, the extension of BART through downtown San Jose and the eventual addition of the high-speed light rail and electrification of Caltrain, which would all connect at the train station a block away from the SAP Center.
Becker’s concern is that the city is making decisions without a clear plan, which could create long-term traffic problems down the road.
“If we’re all wrong on parking, you can resolve that in 10-20 years because you can build a parking garage,” Becker said on the podcast. “But if we’re wrong about the street network and you narrow the lanes and put buildings up, that’s not curable.”
Nevertheless, the planning commission sided with residents, affordable housing and public transit advocates who urged them to move forward with the project and away from San Jose’s long history of overparking, which only fuels more traffic and congestion issues.
“The Diridon Station Area must maximize access for people, not cars,” said Fred Buzo, San Jose director for the public policy organization SPUR. “It is absolutely possible for a mixed-use downtown environment and the SAP Center to not just coexist but thrive.”