This Wednesday residents will have a unique opportunity to engage with Google about the company's relationship with its hometown. But be aware, there will be an unusual effort to keep it civil.
To discuss "corporate responsibility in Mountain View" Google's John Igoe will sit down with three members of the community in a roundtable in the Senior Center ball room for two hours on Wednesday night. Organizer Ken Rosenberg, a human relations commissioner for the city, said the goal is to talk about "potentially contentious issues before they become overly contentious." And he hopes it will be the first of many "civility roundtable" discussions.
"We're not going to be listening to people lecture us," Rosenberg said. Much of the event will be the people at the roundtable having an unscripted discussion while others observe. But Rosenberg adds, "My desire is for as many people who wish, to participate in the conversation. It would be a failure in my mind if only the people in the middle spoke."
Sitting around the table will be Mountain View Whisman School Board member Steve Olsen, Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association secretary Jack Perkins and Rick Meyer, owner of Meyer Appliance.
"We're not going to be picking on Google," Rosenberg stressed. He said he's entrusted the moderation of the discussion to Chris Block, CEO of the American Leadership Forum -- Silicon Valley. Rosenberg said Block specializes in facilitating civil discussions. If people lose their temper, "it doesn't mean he won't turn that around on you," Rosenberg said. "I don't know what he's going to do."
The potential for resentment to build against Google has become clear as the company buys or leases much of the city's industrial real estate. Thanks to Google's hiring and growth, "Mountain View is blessed to have more people clamoring to get into it then we have space for," Rosenberg said. "It is a problem 99 percent of cities in the US would love to have. We just want somebody there who can speak about what it's like to have a big presence here."
In a recent City Council meeting about Google's desire to build a pair of privately owned bridges over Stevens Creek, council members blasted the idea, and some seemed to suggest that they felt Google was taking more away from the community than it was giving. Google said the bridges would help its headquarters to a new Google campus at NASA Ames. Parents in the city have also questioned whether enough of Google's property taxes are going to local schools, which led to the City Council to recently fork over a larger share of Google's property tax revenues that get diverted into the city's Shoreline Fund. Later, Google donated to schools another $1 million.
For future events, Rosenberg said he's already got a long list of topics suggested by City Council members, but said, "What I don't want it to be by design is some type of a town hall meeting where we discuss policy issues."
"If we can find a way to talk about something that's polarizing and move that conversation forward then the civility roundtable has done its job," Rosenberg said. If people can shake hands on the way out and say, "'It was nice talking to you,' that's the place I want to get to."
The Oct. 12 event is set to run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Senior Center is located at 266 Escuela Avenue.