By Lloyd Alaban
San Jose leaders are set to make history Tuesday with a vote on what could be the biggest development the city’s ever seen.
Google’s Downtown West project is a multi-billion dollar plan to expand to San Jose. The Oakland Athletics baseball team, now in home stadium limbo, was close to occupying downtown before a prolonged legal battle shut them out of the city.
The project, first proposed by the tech giant in 2019, spans 80 acres near Diridon Station and features 7.3 million square feet of office space, 4,000 housing units, 15 acres of parks and a 30,000-50,000-square-foot community center. It also boasts 500,000 square feet for retail, cultural, education and arts uses. A quarter of housing units in the area—approximately 1,000—will be affordable.
Google estimates that up to 25,000 people will work at the downtown offices.
“The Google investment is certainly historic,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at a news conference last week at the project’s site. “But even more historic is their awareness and consciousness, their willingness, the obligation to more for our community rather than simply put up buildings and make profits.”
The Downtown West project is expected to use provisions from Senate Bill 7, a bill Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Friday that will allow cities and developers to move affordable housing projects through a streamlined environmental review process—a long procedure often fraught with red tape.
Downtown West faced concerns over the past year about gentrification and high rents in the area. In response, Google launched a $200 million community benefits fund to provide grants for programs serving low-income residents, addressing the causes of displacement and helping to preserve affordable housing in the area. The community benefits agreement includes $154.8 million for anti-displacement, homelessness and affordable housing efforts.
“The public opinion survey confirms that our local neighbors recognize the many tangible benefits of the Downtown West project,” said Derrick Seaver, chief executive officer of the Silicon Valley Organization, the city’s chamber of commerce. “San Jose cannot miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity to pivot into the next great American city and to promote local placemaking for a more inspired, vibrant community.”
Downtown West has already cleared several hurdles, including a unanimous recommendation from the city’s Planning Commission.
Still, one of the project’s most vocal opponents is the San Jose Sharks hockey team, whose home arena—the SAP Center—is just a few hundred feet away from Downtown West. The Sharks claim the project could force them out of San Jose because of traffic, street closures and a shortage of parking caused by development. Team officials are demanding the city nearly double the parking spots in the plan and are unwilling to give up three city-owned lots the team uses on game nights to Google.
“We continue to work with city staff in good faith to find reasonable solutions to these extremely important issues that will impact the future of the SAP Center,” said Sharks spokesperson Scott Emmert.
The Santa Clara County Airport Land Use Commission also gave the project a thumbs down, citing concerns about building heights in the airport’s path.
The City Council needs a two-thirds majority vote in favor of the plan to override the airport commission’s rejection.
If city lawmakers OK Google’s project, it will clear the way for the company to draft design plans for each building proposed for Downtown West, which the council will individually approve or deny in the future.
Google expects to break ground in either late 2022 or in 2023, with its first phase of building on Santa Clara Street expected to last three to five years.
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This article was originally published by The San José Spotlight.