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FAC and Local Community Group Sue San Jose Over Secret Negotiations With Google

The First Amendment Coalition (FAC), joined by Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA), today sued the city of San Jose to force the disclosure of secret details of its negotiations to sell valuable public land to Google.

The suit, filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, seeks records under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) relating to the planned development of a massive new Google campus on city-owned property, including records about the city’s use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs).

More than a dozen city officials, including Mayor Sam Liccardo as well as councilmembers, signed NDAs at Google’s request. The NDAs purport to require city officials to withhold a broad range of information required to be made public under California law.

FAC and WPUSA, a San Jose-based nonprofit, have submitted numerous public records requests to learn more about the development and the city’s use of NDA’s. The city largely rebuffed these requests, in clear violation of the CPRA. Today’s lawsuit seeks to force the city to disclose those records.

“The public is entitled to know what elected leaders are doing and saying in negotiations with corporations doing business with the government—especially where those companies are as large and powerful as Google,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “NDAs do not and cannot override elected leaders’ obligations to produce records under public records laws.”

WPUSA deputy executive director Maria Noel Fernandez said the public shouldn’t be left in the dark when it comes to plans for Google’s large campus—which will hold up to 20,000 employees—given what it might do to the city’s housing crisis, homelessness, eviction rates, and the cost of living.

“The question we’re trying to get to the bottom of here is: what are they hiding? What details about this new tech campus would be so toxic for the project that the City and Google have gone to such great lengths to prevent them from coming out? Fernandez said. “The public has a right to know what’s going on and deserve better than a backroom deal.”

In addition to the suit over public records, the groups today also sent the city a letter outlining the city’s violations of California’s open-meetings law, the Brown Act. The letter alleges that members of the San Jose City Council met more than 20 times behind closed doors to discuss a range of topics that the Brown Act requires to be discussed in public.

Today’s letter demands that the city unconditionally commit to correcting these practices or potentially face further litigation. Furthermore, the letter demands that the City make these corrections before taking further action, including the proposed sale of public land to Google scheduled for a City Council vote on December 4th.

View a full copy of the lawsuit here. View the Brown Act demand letter here.

FAC and WPUSA are represented in this matter by Karl Olson and Aaron Field of the firm Cannata O’Toole Fickes & Olson.

For more information contact: 

David Snyder 
Executive Director
First Amendment Coalition
415-760-5060
dsnyder@firstamendmentcoalition.org

Karl Olson
Karl Olson
Cannata O’Toole Fickes & Olson
(415) 409-8900
kolson@cofolaw.com
 
Liam Kelly 
Communications Manager
Working Partnerships USA
408-809-2119
liam@wpusa.org

First Amendment Coalition 
The First Amendment Coalition is an award-winning, nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to advancing free speech, more open and accountable government, and public participation in civic affairs.

Working Partnerships USA 
Working Partnerships USA is a community organization bringing together the power of grassroots organizing and public policy innovation to drive the movement for a just economy.

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