Activists who were arrested at a San Jose City Council meeting earlier this month after protesting a $110 million land sale to Google say they are upset, but unsurprised by the city’s actions.
Council members voted unanimously to approve the sale after 11 hours of public comment and deliberation. Eight individuals were arrested toward the end of the meeting for disrupting a public assembly.
Jocelin Hernandez, a 25-year-old substitute teacher and lifelong East San Jose resident, was one of nearly 100 people who spoke at the Dec. 4 meeting. She was arrested after chaining herself to a chair as police began emptying the room at about 9 p.m. following escalating protests.
Hernandez said there is still time to fight the development, which she believes will aggravate gentrification, but the City Council’s actions violated the democratic process.
“They sat in an empty City Council chamber and continued the meeting by themselves, while the rest of the community was barred from being let in,” Hernandez said, adding that it was a show of power designed to exclude the community.
She was booked into jail with a citation and released without having to post bail. Hernandez said the protesters, some of whom had been on a hunger strike for several days, were not treated with humanity.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said during the meeting he was “strongly advised” by San Jose police to deliberate over the vote with an empty chamber after completing public comment. News reporters were permitted in the room, and others were led into an overflow room.
“The likelihood of another disruption is great, and frankly we’re running out of time to resolve this,” Liccardo said.
Council members then approved the plan with a 25 percent affordable housing mandate and a vision to connect BART, Caltrain, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and high-speed rail in a new transit hot spot.
The mayor called for order several times throughout the meeting, and individuals were escorted out by police on multiple occasions. Unlike regular meetings, no backpacks were allowed and police and contracted guards were present in significant numbers.
Andrew Lee, 27, participated in the hunger strike with about 40 other individuals and was also arrested after chaining himself to a chair.
“The potential impacts of this development are so catastrophic, it’s inspired myself and other folks in the community to actually starve ourselves,” Lee said outside the chamber during a recess before the arrests. “Maybe this is the last way to get the attention of our representatives.”
The hunger strike was planned to end when the vote was decided, but Hernandez said she doesn’t know whether protesters were able to eat after being booked into jail.
Police released arrest numbers, but did not offer further comment about the protesters, who Hernandez said are scheduled to appear in court in February.
In the meantime, the city will begin a planning and design process with Google that is expected to last at least two years.
Several public meetings will determine the fate of the Diridon Station development, and Google will begin fulfilling a wide-ranging package of community benefits geared toward nonprofits, schools and affordable housing.
But “no Chromebooks or free Wi-Fi or coding classes are going to balance out the very real human needs that our children have,” Hernandez said, referencing the ongoing housing crisis. “It’s not enough when children are literally living in the trunks of cars.”
Hernandez, a member of Serve the People San Jose, said activists will continue fighting the development to instead establish a community land trust in the area west of downtown. Community land trusts are organized by nonprofits and typically oversee the development of affordable housing and community spaces.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for the community to organize and protest,” she said. “This is just the land sale.”
Story originally published by Bay City News.