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SAN JOSE (BCN)
The San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the creation of a heavily debated advisory board that will provide input on the proposed Google development near the Diridon Station.
San Jose's local community organizations, faith leaders and residents spoke against the Station Area Advisory Group proposed to regulate terms between the corporation and the city described by the San Jose's City Manager's Office.
Despite the speakers' efforts, the Council decided to approve the group, which will consist of more than 30 organizations to start moving along the development.
Deputy city manager Kim Walesh and the city manager's office chief of staff Lee Wilcox discussed the community engagement plan for the proposed development, for which a resolution was adopted on June 20, 2017.
The city manager's office executed an exclusive negotiation agreement in order to begin a planning process estimated to take three to four years.
Walesh and Wilcox said that the first phase of the development process is to have the city, as well as Santa Clara County, engaged with appraisers and Google to determine a fair purchase price for the public land parcels that the city will sell to Google.
The city manager's office proposed a community engagement plan including the advisory group, citywide public forums and regional meetings and online information and engagement.
The advisory group will be made up of representatives of local organizations like the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association and corporate interests like Adobe Systems.
Dozens of members of the community came to specifically protest the organizations listed in the group, especially the ones that they felt were missing.
Members of groups like People Acting in Community Together spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting on how they felt that the advisory group did not reflect what the community looked like, but rather only the interests of organizations with Google ties.
Nearly all of these speakers opposing the advisory group said they supported the opposing memorandums of Councilmember Sergio Jimenez and the organization Silicon Valley Rising.
Jimenez's memorandum offered the options of either seating agency staff in the group as non-voting members who provide technical assistance to voting stakeholders or removing the agency staff from the roster altogether and seating them in a new separate committee.
Jimenez named Santa Clara County, Caltrain, the California High Speed Rail Authority, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the Santa Clara County Water District and the San Jose Unified School District as the agencies to include.
Jimenez suggested that The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, PACT, Friends of Caltrain, TransForm, Sierra Club and Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium be appointed in the place of those agencies if that option was indeed selected.
Silicon Valley Rising, in partnership with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, PACT and Sacred Heart Community Center, submitted a letter from the public that called on the City Council to review the backgrounds of proposed members for conflict of interest and remove organizations that work for or lobby for Google.
The letter alleges that the proposed advisory board had industry associations paid to lobby on behalf of Google, organizations where Google staff serve on the board of directors, organizations where employees of industry associations paid to lobby on behalf of Google serve on the board of directors and organizations where Google has significant financial ties.
"Allowing Google membership to an advisory group advising the city on its negotiations with Google is preposterous and a direct conflict of interest," the letter says.
Ultimately, the coalition of nonprofits called for further amendments to include tenants who would be impacted by rising rents and evictions as a result of the deal, community members from areas at greatest risk of displacement and gentrification, a resident to represent the homeless or those at risk to become homeless, and a better scope of racial and ethnic diversity that echoes that of the community.
The organizations also requested that the Council consider impact on small businesses and environmental impacts to the surrounding area.
Sandy Perry, a representative of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, echoed the sentiments of the public letter, saying the group should contain more voices of those who are underserved.
"There's an old saying that goes, 'if you're not at the table, you're on the menu,'" Perry said.
Public comment on the item went on for nearly three hours.
The City Council did vote to add several groups that residents and community organizations felt would exhibit the voices of religious groups and people of color missing from the advisory group, such as PACT and the Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium.