Ever since Google announced its intentions to build a sprawling mega-campus in the Diridon Station area, it has seemed as though San Jose is once again poised to drop working-class residents like dead rats in exchange for the financial windfall that the search-and-advertising giant and its associated developments are expected to bring.
In 2018, the City Council unanimously voted to sell several municipally-owned properties to Google in exchange for mysterious, unspecified “community benefits.”
Public land for public good? What’s that?
Home prices in the Diridon area soared by 7 percent in just one month after Google’s big announcement, while San Jose’s Anti-Displacement Strategy Report, released in January of this year, noted that the vicinity around the public transit station was undergoing “advanced gentrification.”
Displacement apologists like Mayor Sam Liccardo were quick to claim that “revitalize many dark corners of our downtown.” Evidently, the Diridon area never seemed to be worth “revitalizing” before the prospect of Google money came into the picture.
And if history is our guide, this “revitalization” will be little more than an excuse for the city to welcome a flood of investment and land speculation into previously forgotten neighborhoods—while the existing residents are shunted out of the neighborhood, and even the city, into re-segregated communities.
When crafting the Santana Row Urban Village Plan, the city promised that affordable housing would be “one of the highest priority amenities” for the development.
But it seems that affordability was not such a high priority after all, as the creation of that Disney-esque pseudo-city has placed the neighborhood in a state of “ongoing gentrification and/or displacement” according to the city’s anti-displacement report.
Meanwhile, as downtown sees record investments, nearly the entire city center is undergoing gentrification on a massive scale.
And in order to “accommodate” new development in North San Jose, the city is waiting with bated breath to drive a four-lane extension of Charcot Avenue through a playground in a school where half the students are poor enough to qualify for discount lunches.
It seems as though the new development and its accompanying government investment (virtually all of the San Jose’s priority bike projects are located in “Planned Growth Areas”) are really only meant to benefit new, wealthier residents and developers.
For all its talk, if you don’t have money, the city couldn’t really care less about whether you get to live here or not.
It’s not hard to see how this phenomenon develops. Rising land prices which stem from rezonings give landlords incentives to raise rents and evict low-income tenants; putting tremendous pressure on already tight housing markets.
But these land prices increase tax revenue for the city, while an exodus of poor people means it can spend less on social services—an important factor in municipal bond rating.
This is what makes cities so reluctant to explore alternatives such as affordable housing overlays and community land trusts which prevent land value inflation and keep homes affordable permanently.
To tie this back to the Diridon Station, it is all but certain that the area will see massive displacement—it is happening as we speak. The Draft Area Plan talks a big game about preventing displacement, but, like virtually every rezoning in the city to date, it relies on private construction of affordable housing to meet demand—a deeply flawed strategy.
Even when mandatory affordable housing minimums are required, these often aren’t affordable enough for a high percentage of residents (case in point: San Jose’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance) or are simply not enough to prevent displacement. This was the case in New York City, which has stricter displacement protections than San Jose, where rezonings which were launched in an attempt to provide much-needed housing ended up spurring massive displacement.
If the San Jose council is serious in its quest for equity in Diridon, it needs to act like it. Selling public land in the area must be used to stabilize vulnerable communities in the face of the piranhic land grab that the city wrought upon the neighborhood.
To do otherwise would be the final affirmation that San Jose is only committed to protecting the deer if it doesn’t involve confronting the hunter.