San Jose Told Amazon And Google: No Incentives For You Amazon canceled plans for a New York City HQ after meeting stiff opposition over big tax breaks and other incentives. A California mayor refused to offer similar incentives but landed Google anyway.
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This City Told Amazon And Google: No Incentives For You

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This City Told Amazon And Google: No Incentives For You

This City Told Amazon And Google: No Incentives For You

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It was rolled out like a rose ceremony. Who would be chosen to marry Amazon? Every city tried to make themselves the most attractive.

As we know, it didn't quite work out as planned. Activists and local politicians in New York were not happy about offering big tax breaks to Amazon, and Amazon has pulled out of that deal.

As big companies continue to expand, one city in California says it's trying to do things differently. They're asking not what we can do for big tech, but what can tech do for us? NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports from San Jose.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: A few years ago, Joseph Chavez's (ph) parents had to do like so many people in San Jose - leave.

JOSEPH CHAVEZ: The prices are so outrageous, we've got to move to the Central Valley to actually have affordable homes.

GARSD: Joseph stayed behind, but he says that like in most of the Bay Area, the cost of living in San Jose has skyrocketed, although it's still not as bad as San Francisco. People who live in San Jose tend to commute to other cities for work. Here's Mayor Sam Liccardo.

SAM LICCARDO: We're the only major city in the United States that actually has a smaller daytime population than nighttime population. And as a result, our residents spend a lot of time commuting. We're right up there with the worst cities in commutes. And, obviously, it drives up the housing costs. And so we get the worst of both worlds.

GARSD: Mayor Liccardo would like that to change. In 2017, when Amazon started looking for a city to house its second headquarters, San Jose threw its hat in the ring. Around the country, it became a circus. Cities did everything they could to lure Amazon. Many offered juicy incentives. Chicago even got William Shatner to narrate a proposal. But San Jose made a point of offering no subsidies.

LICCARDO: If you're offering incentives, those are dollars you could use to be building out transit, to be helping supporting an ecosystem of talent development.

GARSD: This is exactly what many activists argued when Amazon ultimately picked New York for one of its second headquarters. Why does one of the wealthiest companies in the world get these tax breaks and incentives? It caused such a local outrage, last week, Amazon announced it was pulling out.

LICCARDO: The lesson for cities really ought to be don't take the bait. And don't even offer the bait.

GARSD: Liccardo has also been talking to another tech giant, Google, which is headquartered in a town nearby. It wanted to build a campus in San Jose. Again, Liccardo says he offered no incentives. Rather, he says his government asked that 25 percent of the housing built around the campus be affordable. He says this will bring tens of thousands of jobs to the area.

LICCARDO: And they've also agreed that we can impose a fee on development in that area and throughout the downtown that will generate dollars we need for affordable housing.

GARSD: Google is planning to develop as much as 8 million square feet in downtown San Jose. Walking through the area, it lacks the allure of San Francisco or neighboring Palo Alto. It's not hard to see why some are so excited to develop it.

But, here in the Bay Area, that word, development, touches a raw nerve. Will development actually mean affordable housing? And all those shiny tech jobs that keep getting promised - how many actually will go to the locals? Jeff Buchanan is a policy director at Working Partnerships USA, a community labor coalition.

JEFF BUCHANAN: So when you look at Google's workforce, only about 7 percent are either Latino or African-American. You look at the population of San Jose, and it just looks incredibly different than who it is that Google's actually hiring. Even if you're a student that graduates from San Jose State University, it ranks nowhere in the top 10 of the universities where Google recruits from.

And so I think when we've gone around and talked with people in the community, they don't think their kids are going to be able to work on the Google campus.

GARSD: Buchanan says, don't be fooled. The land that San Jose sold to Google could've been used for public works to serve the community.

BUCHANAN: Maybe we're not offering billions in tax rebates, but we're offering really valuable public land in an area where land prices are going through the roof.

GARSD: Affordable housing is on everyone's mind out here. But Joseph Chavez, the man whose family had to leave San Jose because they just couldn't afford it anymore, says he's hopeful about all those new jobs Google will bring in. Chavez is in construction. He says he's worked on other Google buildings in the past. Maybe he'll get to work on the San Jose site.

CHAVEZ: More jobs means more opportunities. More opportunity means everybody gets to eat. If it pays well, you might be able to make it.

GARSD: Whether or not he'll be able to make it here after Google gets built - that is an open question.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, San Jose, Calif.

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