When Google and the City of San José Make Plans Behind Closed Doors

A Letter to Inspire San José

Editor's Note:

San José City Council moved quickly to approve starting negotiations with Google for a proposed facility downtown, with an agreement that leaves it up to Google to determine a community engagement process. East side resident, Jocelin Hernandez wrote a critical letter to her community to insert ourselves in creating the future San José we've been left out of.

We have been here before. The pain, the death, the pleasure and the life resisting, it’s all too familiar. As Huey P. Newton said,  “because things do not stay the same we can be sure of one thing: the owner will not stay the owner, and the people who are dominated will not stay dominated...”

San José, mi querida ciudad

Google is coming. I have never seen San José City Council bend their backs so quickly for any one entity to come storming in. Many folks in our communities are still not even aware of the upcoming Google/Diridon project. Many folks are overjoyed with the promises of jobs and housing, but please don’t believe the hype. As a community, we need to be critical of any company that is being allowed to act as its own government, and any city council that acts without transparency. 

I write this letter in hopes that it can serve to start a very urgent conversation with ourselves on self-determination, why we need it, and how it can be achieved in the Silicon Valley. Self-determination is the ability to make decisions for ourselves and our future. Together, our experiences, knowledge, and imagination will awaken the clarity, and strength we will need to fight and secure our right to self-determine a dignified future for ourselves and for our children here in our city.

On June 20th, I sat in a public session and watched as City Council voted to enter into exclusive negotiations with Google over 16 parcels of public land. I watched the Council forgo transparency and democracy in desperation of having a tech giant in our city. 

In the agreement voted in by City Council, there is NO place for genuine community input. Even City Council loses authority as it is the City Manager that will be forefronting the project and making decisions unilaterally later in the process. 

But how can one person (or a handful of wealthy people) speak to, or even imagine the broad experiences of San José’s working-class? Of San José’s unhoused community? San José’s immigrant communities? San José’s youth and communities of colors? San José’s mothers and children? I can go on, but my point is that he can’t and he shouldn’t. So we, as community, must work together to ensure we have a seat, several seats, at the table we have yet to be invited to. 

I watched as the community spoke to valid concerns surrounding corporate responsibility and community inclusion. We spoke from experience, because we know that although gentrification and our history of displacement precedes Google, handing Google a blank check will only exacerbate the problems our city faces. Meaning more displacement. More criminalization of our youth and communities of color. More hoarding of wealth for those who already have so much money, they don’t even know what to do with it.

Community advocates proposed a council-directed  technical advisory committee (TAC) composed of community members to work collaboratively with the City Manager in order to ensure that Google does not intensify the problems our city already struggles to solve. The San José community was not only shut down, but effectively told by the Mayor that community needs cannot be prioritized in the San José Google project because it would scare Google away. 

This simply is not true. Google wants the land as much as City Council wants Google, if not more. The Mayor should stop centering Google over his own constituents. Part of that land is public land, so it should be for public use. I think he misinterpreted what was being expressed by the public that night. Precisely because the community has such diverse needs, concerns, and qualities; the community was asking for comprehensive inclusion throughout the project in order to acknowledge and address them properly. That could have been in the form of a TAC or any other type of community arm or committee with a genuine voice and agency.

Sadly, the city failed to vote in genuine community inclusion, failing San José in the process. Most of all, they failed our youth. Our youth and the impacts the Google project can have on their well-being and education should be prioritized by everyone. Our lower-income, youth of color, for example, need academic and community spaces to study in, and foster their academic success. Students need access to educational materials and resources that will allow them to be competitive in higher education, or in Google and other future job pools. The list continues, but most of all, they needed a seat at the table. 

Instead, the community watched the City and Google laud each other over the vote; over a shared vision that they apparently had all along. Personally, I don’t know what vision Google is talking about. Google hasn’t come around our block to ask if their vision was the same as ours so I wouldn’t know. A shared vision with most on city council, maybe – but they are not all of San José. 

In fact, San José’s city council vision throughout the years has undoubtedly left out the very constituents they are supposed to represent. I mean, it took thousands of no-cause evictions, hundreds of testimonies, years of community organizing and mobilization to move the council into voting for just cause, and we are still in the works with that! 

Throughout the just cause campaign, we not only saw the council’s vision for San José, but also how some council members see low-income and communities of color here. We were criminalized throughout; all our children labeled gang bangers and our community cast as criminal, lazy, unintelligent, and anti-growth. All for a vision that prioritized capital growth over San José’s human life. 

If this is part of “San Jose’s vision" for the city that Google shares; we will see homeless, low-income, and communities of color further criminalized, and again, be labeled as obstacles to development in the city. Their vision is undemocratic and inhumane. It is a vision that can only be materialized on the backs and at the expense of the most vulnerable in our communities. 

The implications of being left out of the conversation are serious, and will likely lead to more criminalization and death in our communities. I think about Alex Nieto, que descanse en paz, who now rests in power alongside so many of our other children murdered on the streets. Alex Nieto was only 28 years old when he was murdered by SFPD in the very neighborhood where he had grown up in. Even though Alex Nieto had spent his entire life in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, he was perceived as an intruder and a threat by white gentrifiers who probably had lived in the area for no more than a year. 

In leaving behind the very folks that built San José, it allows for a  monstrous vision that clings to racist and classist stereotypes. A monstrous vision that labels our communities criminal, and the inheriting meek. But we are far from meek, everything we have, we have fought for. This incoming storm is no different. We have always resisted, we have always survived even when we were never meant to. 

As community, it’s on us to fight for a future where our children’s humanity will be honored. In face of a giant as big as Google, I remind ourselves that all David had was a slingshot.

In love and community,
Jocelin Hernandez

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