SAN JOSE, CA — December 4, 2018 was a preview of what politics may look like under Google corporate domination. To the local community, it confirmed where the city government’s loyalties lie, and just how far it will go to exclude residents and repress dissent. After entering an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement in June 2017, and signing Non-Disclosure Agreements with Google, the San José City Council was about to vote unanimously to sell precious downtown public lands to the company for a new 20,000-employee tech campus.
The year leading up to the vote featured a public process designed to mislead residents and keep us detached from those driving the proposal. The Council handpicked a public engagement committee that included business associations, non-profits and even Google, but lacked representation from residents, especially those at greatest risk like renters and unhoused people. City-sponsored community meetings were held, but were poorly advertised and designed to mislead attendees and poach consent. Google actively worked behind the scenes to create fractures between community organizations and residents, using donations and even volunteer work. It was no surprise that on the day of the vote, recipients of Google gifts were virtually the only in-favor speakers during public comment.
The views of hundreds of thousands of residents who would be displaced by a Google campus were channeled through the many speakers who shared stories, fears and frustrations directed at a City Council that has prioritized pro-corporate policy and development for years. The meeting featured a heavy police presence, and several rows of seating in the center of the chamber were sealed off with police tape for no apparent reason. A new no-backpack policy in Council Chambers was instituted without warning, effectively excluding many unhoused and public-transit-riding residents.
Mayor Sam Liccardo enforced a code of conduct, removing from the chamber anyone who clapped, booed, or cheered. As the night wore on, tensions boiled over, with anger manifesting in chanting, clapping and cursing at Council members. The outrage reached its peak when the Mayor evacuated the chamber and adjourned the meeting after eight community members chained themselves to their chairs. After police removed and arrested the protesters, the City Council resumed the meeting after banning the public from reentering. This decision inspired spontaneous protests around the outside of the chamber that lasted into the next morning. In the end, the only way the San José City Council could sell public lands to Google was in an empty chamber surrounded by police, and the local media was finally there to see it firsthand.
Many people around us feel overwhelmed by the crushing pressure of the present economic situation, but actions like this one inspire them to push back. Our strengths have always been our humanity and our numbers, and together we can stifle the rising tide of inequality and greed. Google was recently defeated in Kreuzberg, Berlin, where residents forced an abandonment of plans for a campus on properties already owned by the company. The battle against this sale of San Jose’s public land was lost, but the war for San José’s soul is far from over.