Council compromises in vote on San Antonio center project


San Antonio shopping center is set for a major facelift after a suspenseful council meeting Tuesday in which the project appeared to be doomed for much of the discussion.

With council member John Inks abstaining due to a conflict of interest, the council was split 3-3 on whether to support the project. Opponents Ronit Bryant, Margaret-Abe Koga and Mayor Jac Siegel were eventually won over after several last minute changes to the project were agreed to by developer Merlone Geier and the rest of the council. The approval was unanimous.

Just before the meeting ended at 11:45 p.m. Merlone Geier agreed to pay double the park fees at $5.5 million, accommodate a bike lane on San Antonio Road and work with the city's bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee on bike paths through the project.

"I don't think anyone is happy with the project," Siegel said, after hearing what were mostly critical comments about the project from environmentalists, neighbors, bicyclists and affordable housing advocates, many of whom wanted something fundamentally different that would be more attractive to pedestrians. "The reason I think we should do this is because the property will sit there another 5, 10 or 20 years if we don't."

Demolition will begin next month on the empty Sears and Rite Aid buildings, said Mike Grehl, vice president of Merlone Geier. After the 60-day demolition, construction is expected to take two years.

The project will bring up to 350 apartments and 311,000 square feet of retail to the 16 acres at the corner of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real. It includes a new "urban" Safeway, which will move from California Avenue to the corner, set behind a large parking lot and several small street-front shops. There is space for three large retailers at the north end of the site above first floor garages and dozens of small retailers throughout the southern half, some under the three, five-story apartment buildings. There's also parking on the roof of the Safeway and on the ground floor under the apartments.

"We are going to spend $180 million on this project," said Greg Geertson, managing director for Merlone Geier. The plans are attractive to "a lot of name brands you will be proud to have in your city."

Grehl added that retailers who saw the plans at a recent convention "can't wait to be in here."

Too car-friendly?

While it appeared that certain that retailers liked the project, which accommodates cars very well, it wasn't clear to many whether people would find it a nice place to walk through, like Santana Row or Stanford shopping center, two examples council members frequently cited.

"It's auto-centric, Siegel said. "Everywhere you go you can't get away from cars."

Council member Bryant was the biggest critic of the project, saying that she would prefer that the plans were scrapped in favor of a fresh start.

"Having everything subservient to the convenience of cars doesn't make any sense," Bryant said. "Somebody in the audience said this was a plan for 1990, I think this is a project for 1960, actually."

Bryant said the project didn't allow a place "where I can be a pedestrian and I don't have to look around me all the time. Even the green area is surrounded by roads."

Abe-Koga attempted to remove the northbound driveway that splits the park, but the developer said that property owners to the north had rights to the access provided by that driveway, which connects their properties to El Camino Real. The developer blamed the bad circulation patterns in the plan on such access rights.

Bike access

With no bike lanes on El Camino Real and popular bike boulevards on the east and west sides of the project (Fayette Drive and Latham Street), bicyclists and neighbors said a "bike bridge" to allow safe cycling through San Antonio shopping center was important. The design presented Tuesday would have required cyclists heading east from Fayette Drive to take a circuitous route on part of the 10-foot-wide San Antonio Road sidewalk and across a busy driveway to bike paths through the Hetch-Hetchy parkway towards California Avenue. City staff and the developer were given carte blanche to fix the bike problem with the help of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Council members said they preferred Merlone Geier's initial plan for the site, which included a large outdoor mall above a one-story parking garage that took up much of the site. Council members had also criticized that plan for not allowing bike and pedestrian access across the site.

"This project has always been about compromise," said council member Mike Kasperzak, a sentiment that was echoed by Laura Macias, who said the project was "pretty reasonable." Council member Tom Means said it was "fascinating" to see too many people try to design the project, and made a motion for approval.

Kasperzak's only criticism was that there were only 10 units of affordable housing, for buyers making 65 percent of the area median income of $128,000. It's far lower than the 10 percent (35 units) that the city would have required under its below market rate housing ordinance, which was struck down in court with others like it around the state. The developer agreed to abide by the city's ordinance if the court decision is overturned before the homes are occupied.


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Posted by commuter
a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm

A lot of people will want to bicycle to this shopping center from southern Palo Alto, from San Antonio Road east of Alma St, or from Los Altos. If the shopping center doesn't provide safe and efficient bicycle access, they will lose all these customers.

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Posted by MVRB
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Is that giant ugly sign that looks like it belongs to a truckstop on the freeway still in the plan? Sure hope not.

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Posted by MVMike
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

It annoys me that the council thinks Santana Row and Stanford SC are "pedestrian friendly", not taking into account both locations have giant parking structures. Meaning, it's pedestrian friendly only AFTER you drive your car there. It's irrational to think that we're all going to walk to this shopping center. I'm 5 miles away from the center. I'm sorry, but I'm not walking 10 miles round trip to go to a new Old Navy. But I'll happlily drive my car there...and sure, probably walk around and shop at other stores just like I do at Stanford.

Can things be done to impove access? Absolutely. And it looks like they made that happen in the compromise. But to dream that this will be a "Santana Row" project, a project surrounded by parking garages, is narrow-minded. Those centers are post-driving-pedestrian-friendly. There's a huge difference.

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Posted by commuter
a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Maybe you live 5 miles away, but a lot of people live a lot closer, including the various new housing developments along San Antonio and El Camino. Providing safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists is really cheap compared to more roads and parking lots.

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Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I just want it to look nicer than the area does now. Perhaps someday the rest of the center will get a much needed facelift as well.
But I will still miss the Sears store. No Sears, no J.C. Penny, what is Mountain View doing getting rid of these stores? I guess Mtn. View just wants to be different...

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Posted by Sabrina
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

>>>The plans are attractive to "a lot of name brands you will be proud to have in your city."

Did anyone else but me find this statement patronizing? I guess if you are Greg Geertson, managing director for Merlone Geier, and you do not live anywhere near Mountain View, then this statement seems sensible. Especially if you are going to profit from the future retail serfs who will be working at the new, manufactured chain stores that you helped bring in.

I would like to say that just about the only stores I am proud of in San Antonio are those like the Milk Pail. Well, Esther's Bakery too but it is shut down now. Is there any room for small businesses in this plan? This seems awfully rushed for such a gigantic project.

I hate that this seems to be following the generic formula for manufactured strip malls that have been popping up all over beautiful California. (thanks, big business)

Santana Row is a nice place sans parking structures and Valley Fair, but it is also important to have stores that sell things ordinary people can afford to buy. (Rather than a bunch of marked-up brand name products that are made in the same factory in China, anyhow.)

Why aren't small businesses allowed into the picture? And what is wrong with bike paths? I can't imagine that anyone local is in favor of more cars on the road, seems to me that Merlone Geier is just recycling an old design to save the effort of trying to create something that actually pays attention to the needs of our neighborhood.

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Posted by Sabrina
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 17, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Oh yeah, and I would like to point out Siegel's fear mongering here:

>>>"The reason I think we should do this is because the property will sit there another 5, 10 or 20 years if we don't."

Do you REALLY think this would happen in Mountain View? With property that is already worth so much? Absolutely not. If it doesn't happen now, something else will happen right after. They are not going to let this sit.

Seems to me that someone (Siegel) is trying to push their own agenda onto those who will have to live with the consequences. I really think that this needs to be revamped to better suit pedestrians, bicyclists, and small local businesses.

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Posted by former MV renter; alas, now a SV homeowner
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2011 at 12:13 am

TOTALLY agree with Sabrina. MV City Council needs to get what the RESIDENTS of MV want; if everyone compromises, no one is going to like it. Why not get it right the first time? Or would MV rather be constantly re-defining itself (like SV seems to be!) and eventually be tearing it all apart again in the future........

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Posted by curious
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 18, 2011 at 8:53 am

sabrina from crossings writes: "Do you REALLY think this would happen in Mountain View? With property that is already worth so much?"

Say sabrina, why don't you walk or bike to the shopping center at the corner of Middlefield and Rengstorff only a few blocks away. There you will see a big store building that has been sitting vacant for at least 10 years. And this after the shopping center operator pumped $millions into sprucing the place up.

How about the HP building across Central from Crossings? That has been sitting empty for about 10 years too.

For the rest of you enamored by walking and biking, I am willing to bet that you do most of your walking to and from your car. My favored form of exercise is walking and I am out in my neighborhood every day. The only other person I usually see is the mailman. Everyone else is in their cars. The shopping center is a business and they need to give their customers what they want.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

Council did a great job in spite of the pressure from special interest groups. After watching the tape, Mr. DeBolts summary is too simplistic and leaves out much of what happened. After council comments, one would have thought the project DOA. As a political junkie and retired city worker, watching council member Means put together a winning motion was a thing of beauty. Once the developer agreed to the BMR and park fee issues, it was obvious there were 3 votes for the project. Means made the motion, stated he would accept friendly amendments and waited to pick up the fourth vote. First in was Abe-Koga and after a few adjustments, she was the fourth vote. Bryant and Siegal tried to extract more silly concessions, but these went nowhere. It was all over except to call for the vote. 6-0 . Pretty Amazing.

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Posted by Sabrina
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 18, 2011 at 11:53 am

Thanks, Political Insider (a real name would be nice, bust c'est la vie), those are comforting words. Though, I am still depressed that there is no room in this plan for small businesses. How come the community is not allowed to give input on this planning? What blocks us from getting involved?

Also, is there a link to where the taped meeting can be viewed online?

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 19, 2011 at 2:26 pm

@ Sabrina. There are small stores planned for the corner of SA and ECR. The stores near the green hetch hetchy area will be larger chain stores. The video replay is on the city web site Typical of most meetings, the special interest groups tend to be the ones that show up and comment (unions, environmental groups, affordable housing advocates, etc)

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Posted by k
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Sounds like this well be only for residents of the apartments they want to build. If i lived there, i wouldn't want car traffic. The bigger the parking lot, the more people can shop. If you want to restrict cars, then the city may want to subsides the companies that move in.

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Posted by Janet
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 23, 2011 at 9:32 am

@curious @MVMike A significant number of people do walk and bike to San Antonio Center now, and with a more friendly design more will.

When I used to live in an apartment on California Street I walked there sometimes, but found that walking across the deep parking lots filled with impatient cars unpleasant enough that I often drove the 1/4 mile. That's sad.

I currently live just over 2 miles away in Rex Manor and I gave up driving there about a year ago. It only takes me a few extra minutes to ride there (11 min vs 8 min) and it's a lot more relaxing and fun. I still have to deal with cars in the parking lot, but it's better on a bike than on foot when there's no pedestrian path.

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Posted by Jonathan
a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 8, 2011 at 7:12 pm

"whether people would find it a nice place to walk through, like Santana Row or Stanford shopping center"

I don't get the Santana Row reference. Plenty of parking garages around Santana Row for......CARS!! But most importantly, there is TWO WAY traffic down the entire shopping center, and several cross streets that take you to......PARKING LOTS for, get this, CARS!

Yeah, you cannot drive down the middle of Stanford shopping center, but it is more of a true outdoor mall that is surrounded by.........acres of PARKING FOR CARS!

Sorry, just do not understand the whole "too car friendly" argument.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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