Mountain View Voice

Opinion - September 27, 2013

Council does right thing on tie vote

The city is in the midst of a growth spurt driven by Google and the other high-tech companies that have followed them here. The epicenter of this growth is the North Bayshore area, home to Google and not much else as the company continues to gobble up office space in its massive expansion.

But as more and more employees commute into this beehive of Google offices, the morning and evening commutes are approaching the worst in the Bay Area. The company offers executive bus service from San Francisco and other Peninsula locations, but it has done little to stem the tide of workers coming and going every weekday.

In 2010 during consideration of the city's new comprehensive plan, the company made a concerted effort to win approval to build housing in North Bayshore, which they said would give workers homes near their job. But the idea was squelched by council members who feared some biotech companies would not locate near housing, and that once established, homeowners there could use fears of increased traffic to block new commercial development. In the end the council nixed housing in the North Bayshore, and later decided to order staff to produce a new precise plan for the area by late 2014,

It was this scenario that the owners of the Century Theaters confronted before the City Council last week when they attempted to skirt the precise plan process and rush forward with the first phase of a project to build a new, slightly smaller theater at 64,000 square feet, along with an 88,000-square-foot family-oriented fitness resort on the 15.35-acre site at the entrance to North Bayshore. A second phase would add a hotel, parking structures and office space on the site, which does not include the popular Sports Page, Sunny Bowl, Cheryl Burke Dance studios and Laser Quest, as well as other small businesses around the theater.

But even after a spokeswoman for property owner SyWest pressured the council to approve the project, saying the theater operators "...are in business and they need to make a decision," three members of the council refused to go along and due to the absence of member Mike Kasperzak, approval failed on a 3-3 tie.

It was a good decision and showed that at least some members of the council refuse to be intimidated by a development request that attempts to bend the rules.

Jack Siegel was joined by members Ronit Bryant and John McAlister in voting no. "I've seen windows of opportunity come and come and go and go. Developers say, 'If you don't allow us to do it now, it's not going to happen.' I have a hard time with that," Siegel said. "I think negotiations are always possible. ...This is so critical, such a critical piece of property. We really need to take the time to do it right."

Situated at the gateway to North Bayshore, this property is indeed one of the most visible and critical in all of Mountain View. So even if the property owner has to wait 12 months, it will not cause the site to degenerate and lose its earning potential. If not a movie theater, another use will surface that could beckon after-hours visitors to one of the city's busiest neighborhoods.

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