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Why One Silicon Valley City Said “No” to Google – Next City
"Big money and even bigger egos are colliding in the tech world’s new company towns."



"In 2012, Mountain View and Google entered into a $222,000 annual contract for Google to pay for city planning staff to handle all the reviews needed to get Google’s projects off the drawing board and into construction phases. Today, that contract is valued at $377,838. While the city normally charges companies an hourly rate for municipal services, the vetting of Google projects required more hours than the city had available. Instead of rejecting the company’s plans outright for lack of staff, Mountain View asked Google to fund the hiring of two additional planners. It was an unusual arrangement, the kind usually reserved for corporate polluters that must pay for large-scale government cleanups.

The agreement to have Google subsidize public servants didn’t necessarily raise many local eyebrows. After all, like it had before, Google solved the problem it had created, albeit by playing a major role in government affairs.

But local will for such involvement appears to have waned. In rejecting the vast majority of Google’s campus expansion, the Mountain View city council also rejected most of the company’s $240 million community benefits package, from the bike lanes and affordable housing, to the $15 million public safety center and ecological restoration, all planned at Google’s behest and design.

The vast majority of the North Bayshore area was instead granted to LinkedIn, which offered far fewer community benefits, but had one major factor in its favor: It’s not Google.

The political climate for tech companies in the Bay Area is, to a great extent, confused. The Googles of the world are blamed for a sharp rise in the cost of living and an increased strain on public services and infrastructure, but at the same time, no one can deny the huge boost they’ve given local government coffers.

Still, there is a discrepancy between the billions of dollars these companies make and the checks they write to the local governments that host them.

The sales tax model that served California cities for decades doesn’t work in the knowledge economy. While Apple remits local tax on the products it sells, Google and Facebook don’t collect sales tax on the digital ads we click away and the data we unwittingly share. Community benefit deals can potentially bridge the gap between those taxes and impacts, but they allow companies to determine which civic projects should be priorities. Facebook might want more police and Google might want more local ecology — but what do residents want?

If cities want to take greater control of their future, they’ll have to create and enforce new tax revenue streams — something Mountain View council member Lenny Siegel says he is working toward.

Without a significant local tax burden, companies can afford to drive policies and services, superseding the role of local government and advancing their own ideology. When that ideology includes bike lanes and public school support, this arrangement might work well.

But in a region in the grips of a controversial housing crisis spurred in no small part by an influx of high-paid tech talent, Silicon Valley companies on the whole appear comparatively disinterested in funding the affordable homes these cities so desperately need."



"Big companies in small cities are bound to exert some of their own power, either purposefully or passively. Much of this seems inevitable — it’s how this valley was named “Silicon” decades ago. But these companies are no longer dealing just in silicon. Regardless of Google’s loss in North Bayshore, soon Mountain View will feature Google-designed cars running on Google-funded roads planned by Google-paid city engineers. Where they once built semiconductors and software, tech is shaping the future of human communication, infrastructure, transit, law and collective lived experience — all the things that make up a city."

[Related: “New Balance Bought Its Own Commuter Rail Station [in Boston]: Instead of asking the cash-strapped public-transit system to add a stop, the company simply paid for one itself.”
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/05/new-balance-bought-its-own-commuter-rail-station/392711/ ]
siliconvalley  google  mountainview  california  infrastrcuture  taxes  2015  susiecagle  government  governance  economics  publictransit  transportation  housing  law  transit  boston 
may 2015 by robertogreco

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