Parking and traffic are the focus of conflict on a regular basis in City Council meetings, but rarely does anyone ever sit down to discuss these issues calmly, let alone with a Google executive and the man some call the father of modern transportation, Rod Diridon Sr.
That happened on March 26 in Mountain View in another "Civility Roundtable" organized by the Human Relation Commission, a talk intended to not be the "same people in the same rooms, discussing the same things, expecting the same results," said moderator Chris Block of the American Leadership Forum.
To discuss Mountain View's parking and traffic woes, Google's transportation manager Kevin Mathy joined Diridon and former Mayor Tom Means, Jackson Park resident Karen Demello, Drive Less Challenge co-founder Adina Levin and Mountain View Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Josette Langevine.
Diridon was a Santa Clara County supervisor for 20 years and veteran of about 100 different transit programs and agencies since the 1970s, including the California High Speed Rail board. He stole the spotlight throughout the night with passionate pleas for Mountain View to build adequate housing for all its jobs, and to do it near transit stations. He said the city needed many "micro solutions" to the "macro problems" of climate change and regional traffic congestion.
"Mountain View cannot continue to be a suburban community," Diridon said. "If you think that, you are naive. Google is going to be expanding if not a little bit, a lot. Where are people going to live? You can't say, 'Go live someplace else.' That's not being a good urban neighbor. Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Cupertino have to be housing their industry," he said of some of the county's jobs-rich, housing-poor cities.
Diridon's solution: focus growth near major transit stations. "That's the way you can focus growth. It needs to be high-rise with minimum parking to encourage people to take transit."
The City Council is working on a plan to allow space for over 15,000 new jobs along new Shoreline Boulevard transit stations North of Highway 101, where Google is expected to develop the lion's share of buildings. Despite lots of interest from the community, council members have decided against housing there.
Mathy didn't speak about he need for housing for Googlers, but offered other suggested fixes for regional traffic problems caused by thousands of Googlers and others commuting from elsewhere to Mountain View.
"In my vision of the future, transit is free," Mathy said. "I think we really have to do some radical things. I love that they are electrifying Caltrain but my concern is that by 2020 it will be maxed and what do we do to get to 2040? We really have to break it apart and rebuild Caltrain (into) a baby bullet system like we have in Europe. A high-frequency, high-speed train so that we can really carry the capacity this region is going to need in 2020, 2030 and so on."
Mathy also suggested that the local bus service, the VTA, needed financial help. It called to mind Google's recent donations to San Francisco's MUNI system after protests of Google employee shuttles there, seen by some as a symbol of the city's gentrification and underfunded public transit system.
Demello expressed the concerns of many home owners in the city, who are often at odds with transit planners and advocates of smart growth, though Demello wasn't as extreme as some in her opposition to change.
Demello said commuter traffic is so bad now that she avoids Shoreline Boulevard because rush-hour traffic is as bad as when there's major concert at Shoreline "But it's like this every day, and you're going to bring 15,000 more jobs?" she said of the city's precise plan in th works for North Bayshore sites located along North Shoreline Boulevard. "Everything is gridlocked now."
Demello also criticized recent apartment developments approved with the city's new parking standard of one parking space per bedroom, when more people are sharing apartments because of the city's housing crisis.
"It's scary to think in the future everyone's going to be doubling up potentially in apartments. It's going to be way worse 10-20 years from now."
Means, an economics professor at San Jose Sate University, said the issue comes down to supplying a lot of free parking. "Why pay for parking when there's a lot of free parking nearby?" he asked. When both of his children were students, they couldn't park at Mountain View High School, he said.
"If people really want to solve the parking issue, they've got to ration the parking in some way. If you don't ration a free good it gets consumed."
Means said the city needed to develop more affordable housing, and to steer away from building single-family homes on large lots as is done in Los Altos. "That's a death trap because all you end up with is expensive housing, very little downtown." Los Altos residents "come here to enjoy themselves and rightly so, we have way more to offer."
Langevine suggested that residents would eventually become used to parking restrictions, but also said, "I come from New York, which is a metropolis where they charge for parking on the city's streets. I feel like we're trying to make Mountain View a mini-metropolis. If we do have this pay-parking system, people are going to park in the residential areas and that's going to create a nightmare."
Levin suggested Mountain View follow the lead of Palo Alto in creating a parking permit program to prevent residential areas from being used as parking lots. Means said it could be as simple as enforcing time limits in certain areas.
"The old planning way was about planning for just about everyone to drive," said Levin, noting how few of Google's employees drive, as well as how few Stanford employees drive.
It was apparent that Google really does prefer alternatives to solo-driver car commuting.
"Using land to build parking structures is not a really smart way to use land," Mathy said.
At one point, Block turned the discussion to whether residents will see "trade-offs" if things like like free parking and open roads go away for good. Several at the round table suggested better bike and pedestrian infrastructure as a trade-off if traffic is going to keep getting worse.
"I live in Alameda and there are green bike lanes in Oakland, but none in this region," Mathy said. His interest was shared by Langevine, who said it was why she joined the BPAC, and Demello, who said she wanted more crosswalks with flashing lights because it seems like everyone walks around in dark clothes.
One resident reported coming to a realization about how the city should move forward when attendees broke into small discussion groups, after hearing the speakers suggest paid parking systems and free transit.
"Tonight I heard free transit should be our goal -- what if we replace free parking with free transit?" she suggested as the city's new goal.
Some free transit may actually be coming to Mountain View. A Transit Management Agency was founded recently by major Mountain View employers and developers to more efficiently move commuters throughout the city by various means, including shared shuttles. Some shuttles used by Googlers and other tech employees will be free for use by the public, who may soon be able to ride a shuttle from downtown to see a movie or concert in North Bayshore.
City Council members have expressed concern however that the extent to which such services will be offered by the privately operated agency is still unclear.