The city's roadmap for development through 2030 is finally ready for a City Council vote after four years of work, and council members say they will vote against an option for 1,100 apartments that Google wants near its headquarters.
Council members split 4-3 in a July 3 straw vote over whether to zone for apartments north of Highway 101, putting the city in disagreement with Google, local environmentalists, a majority of the Environmental Planning Commission and the Chamber of Commerce, which has gone as far as to post a Youtube video asking the council to leave housing as an option for North Bayshore.
"For hiring talent we turn over every rock in the world," said Google real estate chief David Radcliffe during the July 3 study session. "What we hear from people is they want to live near where they work. We fully support housing" in North Bayshore.
Council members cited impacts to the rare burrowing owl at Shoreline Park among the reasons for their opposition to new North Bayshore housing, noting feral cats and loose dogs already pose a major threat. They also cited the lack of a plan to control traffic, though supporters say housing there would decrease trips to and from jobs in the area.
"I have seen traffic backed up from El Camino Real all the way over the overpass to North Bayshore," said resident Joan McDonald. "That is absolutely unacceptable. If there isn't residential there it's just going to get worse."
"I really hope we don't rule out housing at a general plan level," said planning commissioner Chris Clark. "I think we can create a model community. We can say 'no pets' and 'you must have an office in the North Bayshore Area.'"
The Audubon Society and the Sierra Club also opposed new housing in North Bayshore on Tuesday. Audubon's Shani Kleinhaus said it was a fallacy that 5,000 homes in North Bayshore would have no significant environmental impact. She said such development would mean the burrowing owls "would be gone forever."
"We feel this is really a line in the sand for the birds," Kleinhaus said.
To ease the impact on the edges of North Bayshore, where wildlife exists in Shoreline Park and Stevens Creek, Google wants to transfer development rights from the edge of North Bayshore to allow more intense development in the center, Radcliffe said.
"The transfer of development rights is critical," he said. "We think we can bring people from the edges and bring them to the middle" of North Bayshore.
Council members had little to say about the North Bayshore housing issue on July 3. Council member Laura Macias explained her opposition in an email.
"North Bayshore and Shoreline Park, which is essential wildlife refuge, is all the wild lands that we have left in Mountain View," Macias said. "There is no more. (Highway) 101 and very little housing in North Bayshore have provided a helpful barrier to protect the wildlife. Although presently, feral cats fed by corporate employees and dogs off leash near Vista Slope are endangering the twenty-plus species that live in the North Bayshore area that are already endangered.
"So this is about balance. Having housing for people is important. And we also need to provide housing for the wildlife that lives in North Bayshore and Shoreline Park."
Council member Ronit Bryant also explained her opposition in an email.
"Initially the thought of including housing in the mix sounded intriguing and I was in favor of investigating it," Bryant wrote. "But the contemplated 1,550 units are not enough to create a real place, a neighborhood with services, retail, schools -- the kind of place our residents have told us they want. I am not interested in creating an enclave of dense apartment blocks isolated from the rest of Mountain View -- nor am I interested in inventing a whole new city along the bay, just a short walk away (takes me 20 minutes) from our vibrant downtown.
"And then there's the nature of North Bayshore. I envision it as an outstanding place along the bay where wildlife and cutting-edge technologies coexist. We've done well so far. We will do even better in the future. Housing is no more than a short walk away on the other side of 101. Several new apartment projects have recently been approved in Mountain View -- but there is no way we can single-handedly, in our 12-square mile city, solve the Bay Area's housing difficulties."
While council member Macias wondered aloud Tuesday why North Bayshore housing wasn't yet off the table, planning director Randy Tsuda said because of the environmental planning commission's support there would be an alternate general plan ready to go in case the council votes for North Bayshore housing Tuesday.
The council had taken a straw vote on North Bayshore housing during an April workshop with similar results -- 5-2 with members John Inks and Mayor Mike Kasperzak in support. On Tuesday member Tom Means joined them in a 4-3 straw vote.
Several Google employees spoke in support of housing, including one Google employee who said he'd be first in line for a studio near Google headquarters. He said he had slept in his van in the Google parking lot to avoid the environmental impact of commuting to work.
"I personally believe anybody aware of global issues, everything from traffic congestion to ocean acidification, would not drive a car to work," he said.
Google employees who live in other cities are more likely to commute by transit or bike than those who live in Mountain View, said Google employee David Fork. "The hardest nut to crack are people who live close to Google," Fork said. "We know that from data."
The draft general plan allows more intense development in key areas of the city, including Moffett Boulevard, the East Whisman area, the San Antonio Shopping Center area, El Camino Real and North Bayshore.
According to the draft plan, most new development in the city will occur in North Bayshore, including 3.9 million square feet of new office space by 2030 and as many as 293 hotel rooms. East Whisman will see similar intensification of office use to North Bayshore, with allowed maximum densities more than doubling.
On Tuesday Bryant also opposed much more development in North Bayshore without serious traffic mitigation measures.
"Nothing is well connected in North Bayshore," Bryant said. "I don't want to move forward with intensification until we resolve traffic issues, something like Stanford's no net increases in car travel. If problems can't be resolved, they can't be resolved and we can't intensify."
City-wide, new zoning may allow as many as 6,539 new housing units, mostly on El Camino Real and the San Antonio area, 498 of which are single-family homes, while the rest are multi-family. The city's population could grow from 73,860 to 88,570.
The plan also anticipates the addition of 31 acres of new park space in Mountain View, including a new 20-acre regional park, two new three-acre neighborhood parks, and four new mini-parks totaling five acres. All of the parks are expected to be built in areas deficient in park space near Highway 101.
Google is eager to move ahead with its development plans in North Bayshore, which it owns much of but has yet to build on. North Bayshore housing or not, Radcliffe said he hopes "we make a decision and we move forward with the general plan. Our business has been waiting eagerly for three to four years now."