Mountain View Voice

Opinion - October 28, 2011

Is Google a good corporate citizen?

First, we want to congratulate Human Relations Commissioner Ken Rosenberg for organizing the first of several "civility roundtable" discussions at the Senior Center. The first one last week focused on corporate responsibility and included John Igoe, Google's director of real estate.

The advertised goal of the meeting was to show "that we can disagree but we don't have to be disagreeable." Other participants included elementary school board member Steve Olsen, public affairs manager for Sutter Health Cynthia Greaves, Meyer Appliance owner Rick Meyer and local businessman Jack Perkins and an audience of about 50. Chris Block, CEO of the American Leadership Forum-Silicon Valley, moderated the roundtable.

Google's agreement to participate in the event was no small feat, given that the company rarely takes part in such open and public discussions.

Although Igoe was very forthcoming in his belief that Google is more than willing to do its share, there was no agreement on any concrete objectives for the company to offer more of its financial and other resources to the community.

The company already provides free Wi-Fi service in the downtown area, donated $1 million to the city's schools and provided a high-tech bookmobile for the library. And there have been other, more modest offers of assistance from Google over the roughly 10 years the company has made its headquarters in Mountain View.

Google's current employee count is not made available to the public, but the company probably occupies more than half of all the office space in the Bayshore area, and just last week firmed up a deal to pay $100 million to buy a campus that could hold 960 workers across the street from its main headquarters. This purchase of the 240,000-square-foot "Landmark at Shoreline" campus makes Google's footprint in North Bayshore even more staggering. The company appears to own or lease well over half of the city's large office buildings north of Highway 101, and all but a few of the large office buildings between Shoreline Boulevard and Garcia Avenue.

And through its leases of city-owned Bayshore property, Google provides several million dollars a year to the city, and pays a hefty amount of property tax on many other properties. And the company's corporate jet fleet is housed at Moffett Field, for which Google pays more than $1 million a year. Also, the company is planning to build 1.2 million square feet of new office space at Moffett, which will complement NASA's effort to develop a high-tech center on the property.

Certainly, when a company as large and as profitable as Google has such an overwhelming presence in a community this size, some residents would like to see more initiatives coming from company headquarters. There is much that could be done, including more involvement with local nonprofit groups who are dealing with the less fortunate residents of Mountain View.

The good news for local leaders was Igoe's declaration that the corporation "can be a citizen," and that "more and more (its leaders) realize that they have a responsibility to the community."

Google appears firmly committed to making its permanent home in Mountain View and during its current growth spurt has virtually locked up every available square foot of office space throughout the city.

But given its size and resources, it is time for Google to step up its involvement in the local community. Participation would not necessarily have to involve money. Its employees could be dispatched to help with public service projects, either with hands-on labor or technical support. Google has thousands of talented workers who could make significant contributions to local institutions. At this point, the city may be too shy to suggest what is needed, but there is certainly no harm in trying.

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