Word that the Google barge may be setting sail for San Diego is shining a new spotlight on another tie between the city by the border and the mega-data giant of the San Francisco Bay. Initial speculation about the purpose of the barge leaned to housing for giant portable computers. But earlier this month the San Francisco Chronicle broke the word that the heretofore mysterious 50-foot-tall, 250-foot-long vessel made of shipping containers and currently docked at San Francisco’s Treasure Island is to become an “interactive space where people can learn about new technology,” according to a short statement released by Google.
“Among the envisioned mooring sites,” the paper reported, “are Piers 30-32 and other San Francisco docks, Fort Mason, Angel Island, Redwood City and Rosie the Riveter Historical National Park in Richmond. The idea is to stay at each spot for a month. Eventually, the barge would sail off to San Diego and other West Coast ports.”
A lesser-known Google whale berthed in San Diego is Garth Conboy, founder of La Jolla’s eBook Technologies, who signed on to Google’s staff when he sold his company for undisclosed but believed major money to the data behemoth in 2011. “This acquisition is most likely about patents, personnel and technology, rather than hardware or software,” said Mashable.com at the time. An online bio says that Conboy is a “senior engineering manager at Google, responsible for the Google Play Books.” Not exactly a household name around San Diego, Conboy has of late been edging into local politics by giving mayoral Democratic hopeful Nathan Fletcher a total of $750 during August, September, and November, city disclosure records show.
Meanwhile, Google has made friends with another San Diego–linked political personage by providing a free trip to the Googleplex in Palo Alto for Vicki Middleton, top aide to GOP congressman Duncan Hunter. “We are inviting the Chiefs of Staff to all California Congressional representatives to our global headquarters to share information about Google’s economic contribution to California,” according to a filing with the House Committee on Ethics disclosing the late August trip. “The program will include Google presentations detailing our investment in California and a discussion of our products and policy initiatives. Google is fully responsible for organizing and conducting the trip.”
During their two-day California trip, the Capitol Hill politicos were housed at the Hotel Avante in Mountain View, chosen, the disclosure says, because “it provides the most reasonable rates within close proximity to Google HQ office.” The hotel’s website tells prospective guests: “Keep your brain engaged with our in-room Executive Toy Box, Hi-Fi music listening lounge and furniture on wheels that invites rearranging.”
The cost per night for each of Google’s guests there was $189. In all, lodging each visitor cost the sponsor $416.05. Transportation was $616.72, and meals were just $36.04, the filing says. Topics of the event included: “Patent reform and regulatory issues,” “The Future of Entertainment: YouTube as a platform for content creators and entrepreneurs,” and a “Presentation on Internet Security.” A 5 p.m. reception featured “product demonstrations of Google Glass and the driverless car (‘Project Chauffeur’).”
Besides free junkets, Google also gives away a considerable amount of political cash each year to members of Congress, including two from San Diego. Records kept by OpenSecrets.org show that so far this year the company has given $10,000 to influential Republican Darrell Issa, the self-styled techie and car-alarm inventor who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Freshman Democrat Scott Peters of La Jolla, also a champion of the high-tech lobby, got $1000.