The Surprising Struggle For Google’s West Downtown Development

There was only one problem: four parcels of unsold road left over from the housing estate of Billings, Peachy and Naglee more than 150 years earlier.

Two of the plots are long and lean, measuring approximately one acre. Google hopes to build a parking structure underneath. The third, on what is now Barack Obama Boulevard, is one-tenth of an acre. The fourth, tucked away in a dusty cul-de-sac, is only as big as four ping-pong tables. The legal status of the four plots is murky.

Google points to sections of the California civil code as confirmation that it, or possibly the city of San Jose, owns the parcels, their bike lanes, parking spots and asphalt. But the company remains worried about legal challenges from beyond the grave.


“Writing legal descriptions was much less of a science back then,” says Nanci Klein, director of real estate for the city. “To my knowledge, Google’s extensive historical searches have yielded no one who can meet the criteria for ownership review. »

Nevertheless, Google undertook to trace the families of the original owner. In February, he sent letters to 115 possible descendants of the three men, including Peter Adams, a product manager at a data center technology company in Washington. Google thinks Adams may be a distant descendant of Archibald Peachy, via Peachy’s niece’s husband’s husband’s nephew.

In its letter to Adams, Google wrote that it was “cleaning up the title” of roads in San Jose and that it would pay Adams a “courtesy fee” if it filed a waiver that waived its rights and interests in the property and kept the agreement strictly confidential. The $5,000 offered was almost an insult, according to a legal expert WIRED spoke to; another defendant described it as “a meaningless sum” in a court filing. Commercial lots in San Jose have recently sold for $2 million an acre, or more, albeit for traditional, un-cobbled lots from roads and lanes.

While the majority of these 115 descendants signed the deed of resignation, Adams did not. Nor, presumably, are 33 other potential heirs to the original men. So Google sued them, in what’s called a “silent title” lawsuit. (Mark Zuckerberg used similar lawsuits to gain control of a 700-acre estate in Hawaii in 2017.)

“In order for Google to proceed with its development plans for the project, the title of the charges in the subject properties must be perfected in Google,” reads a lawsuit filed by Google and the City of San Jose in Superior Court. of California, Santa Clara County, in April.

A number of descendants of Frederick Billings are still prominent, including a few who married into the Rockefeller family. Many defendants can claim direct descent from Peachy and Naglee. None of those contacted by WIRED wished to comment on the matter.

Others are harder to find. In May, Google and San Jose admitted in a filing that “despite due diligence, [they] had been unable to find addresses or locations for a number of defendants,” and asked the court for additional time to serve their summonses.

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