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Nonprofits Sue San Jose Over Google's 'Mega-Campus'

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- Two nonprofit groups filed a public records lawsuit against San Jose Tuesday alleging a lack of transparency in the city's dealings with Google for a new "mega-campus" near Diridon Station.

The First Amendment Coalition and Working Partnerships USA claim in the lawsuit that San Jose allowed a "clandestine" approval process for Google's new campus through non-disclosure agreements signed by city officials. The lawsuit seeks all documents regarding the property agreement, including any correspondence between Mayor Sam Liccardo and Google.

The attorneys have also sent the city a letter alleging unnecessary private meetings and a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, a state law that outlines open and closed meeting requirements for local governments.

City Attorney Richard Doyle said this morning the lawsuit appears to be an effort to strike down Google development due to concerns over gentrification, over-development and a lack of affordable housing—issues that could be quelled by a community benefits package in the final plan.

Beginning with a City Council meeting on Dec. 4, he projects the plan could take between two to three years to complete with public input.

"They're concerned about a company like Google coming in and having a massive project ... those are concerns, the city has those concerns," Doyle said.

He believes the city complied with Brown Act rules when it began discussing property agreements with Google in 2016.

He added NDAs have become common in dealings with technology companies - the city has previously signed NDAs with Facebook and Adobe—and the agreements are legal as long as they carve out exemptions for state law, which includes access to public records. The NDAs in question expired in June 2017 and did not affect the public records process, according to Doyle.

Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director of Silicon Valley Rising, instead called the city's property agreement a "backroom deal" and marched with a group of community advocates this morning to deliver the lawsuit to city staff.

"We are not going to stop until we know what San Jose is hiding from our community," she repeated in English and Spanish as she stood outside the door to Mayor Sam Liccardo's suite.

The First Amendment Coalition first filed a public records request in May of this year requesting all NDAs signed by city officials with Google. The suit says the coalition received NDAs from 18 individuals, but the city refused to release other documents.

The coalition said Liccardo was the first city official to sign an NDA in February 2017. Working Partnerships USA filed a public records request in February and received even less information, according to the suit.

A group of about 20 protesters occupied the top floor of the City Hall tower today as they waited for Liccardo's representative, chanting "We want Sam now!" and "¿Que queremos? ¡Justicia! ¿Cuando? ¡Ahora!"

Robert Aguirre, a spokesman for local houseless populations, was upset by a lack of information regarding the future development and said a Station Area Advisory Group for citizens to discuss the plan lacked representation.

Another person chimed in on the SAAG, saying, "It's a joke."

Doyle instead said the SAAG meetings are a testament to the city's transparency. He said all information regarding the deal will become public Friday in advance of the Dec. 4 City Council meeting, including finalized property sale agreements.

"No one's really trying to hide the ball here," Doyle said. "This has been a very transparent process. In terms of the SAAG ... everybody had a chance to express their concerns."


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