Mountain View's top stories of 2011

Google grows, Pulitzer-winner outs illegal status, Hangar One up in the air, new city manager

It's been a big year for Google. The tech giant's expansion plans for Mountain View made the news in 2011 more than any other year, with 11 headlines in the Voice about its plans to build over 1.7 million square feet of offices -- while purchasing and leasing even more space.

Residents got together for the first time to publicly grapple with how Google's presence is changing the city during a "Civility Roundtable" on Oct. 12. Google's real estate director John Igoe said Google should be "a good neighbor" and hinted that Google even go as far as restoring the wetlands near its new buildings.

Jack Perkins remained critical of how the city was losing its diversity as it changed to an "IQtopia," of tech workers, a place where people come to make money.

"If we think a corporation has gotten a heart, I think we've gone a little too far," Perkins said of Google's local philanthropy, which he said would only last as long as Google's success.

In all, Google spent more than $225 million to purchase over 15 properties in Mountain View by October, including $100 million for a 240,000-square-foot Landmark campus across Charleston Road from Google headquarters, several office buildings near its headquarters and three smaller properties on Terra Bella Avenue, including the home of KMVT, the city's cable access station, which was assured by Google that it could stay, for now.

The stories began in May when a deal was made for Google to lease 9 acres from the city, once slated for a city-subsidized hotel and convention center, to expand a new office building at Shoreline Boulevard and Charleston Road to 585,000 square feet. Over the next two weeks Google made even more room for future growth, leasing a 450,000-square-foot campus on Ellis Street called The Quad, and purchasing the historic 171,000-square-foot office campus on Villa Street once home to the Pacific Press.

But controversy didn't come until July when the City Council discussed Google's plans to build a private pedestrian and auto bridge over Stevens Creek for a convenient connection between Google headquarters and a new 1.2-million-square-foot Google campus to be built at NASA Ames. Council members expressed frustration over a lack of control over a private bridge and potential impacts to Stevens Creek Trail users. Google allayed some concerns by promising that the bridge would be open to the public, and council members eventually supported the plan when a new design for the bridges was presented Nov. 18 in a study session.

MV's Vargas starts immigration debate

Mountain View's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas made national headlines in July, and started a fresh discussion on immigration policy, when he came out as an undocumented immigrant.

In a first-person account for the New York Times, Vargas recalled the struggle of living with a secret he shared with only a few people, including some teachers and administrators at Mountain View High School. He used fake documents to obtain jobs at the country's top newspapers, including the Washington Post. He recalled being brought from the Philippines at age 12, but did not discover he was here illegally until trying to get his driver's license at 16, when a DMV employee told him his green card was fake.

The move meant giving up his career in newspapers, but Vargas founded a non-profit, Define American, to raise awareness and push for immigration reform and the Dream Act. He appeared on many major talk shows, and there was opposition to Vargas' cause. Vargas is currently trying to raise immigration issues in the 2012 presidential election.

Hangar One saved, almost

After nearly a decade of struggle to preserve the massive landmark, 2011 was the year that someone finally came forward and offered to save Hangar One.

In November the founders of Google said they would pay the cost of restoration, estimated at over $46 million, in exchange for a long-term lease that would allow them to use at least part of it for their eight planes. The announcement was met with enthusiasm on the part of preservationists, though there were also concerns that it might prevent the hangar from being used by the public, and concern that any apparent favors for Google might face political opposition. NASA has spent at least two months sitting on the offer, even though there appears to be no other way to fund restoration immediately after the hangar's asbestos and PCB-laden siding is stripped off entirely next year.

Parents win school funds fight

In February a group of parents led by resident Jim Pollart proved wrong the old adage that "you can't fight city hall" after persuading the City Council to give schools $13.6 million in property taxes over three years.

The taxes from Google and other North Bayshore property owners were locked in a special tax district, unlike any other in the state, created in 1969 to redirect property taxes to the industrial neighborhood's redevelopment and Shoreline Park maintenance. While the funding helped create the area now home to Google, it means the Mountain View Whisman School District now sees $5.9 million less a year than it would if the tax district didn't exist.

Unlike most redevelopment areas, the Shoreline Fund never sunsets, and parents are concerned that the money-sharing deal may not be extended.

Landmarks make way for major developments

In 2011 residents said good-bye to two longtime businesses, Sears and Minton's Lumber and Supply. Minton's would be 100 years old this year, a business which once took lumber off trains to build many of the homes downtown. Minton's itself has now made way for 200 apartments downtown, now under construction by Prometheus Real Estate Group.

After existing as a mainstay of San Antonio Shopping Center since the 1950s, Sears was demolished this year, along with a Rite Aid and several other small businesses. It appears now that Ross and Beverages and More will also be demolished soon to allow a large swath of the shopping center to be redeveloped for a mix of four-story apartment buildings, a new Safeway and dozens of smaller shops.

The City Council also gave approval for another major project that will demolish the 520,000-square-foot building that once housed the Mayfield Mall, the first indoor mall in the region. It was to be demolished in November, but apparently has been delayed. William Lyon Homes is set to build 260 homes and 3.6 acres of park space, as well as a pedestrian tunnel under Central Expressway.

New city manager takes the helm

As the year began, city hall was grappling with a change in leadership. Kevin Duggan, the city's widely respected city manager since 1990, was due to step down in April. Council members expressed doubt that they would ever find a replacement that could live up to his legacy and city staff said in a meeting that they wished they could clone him.

As a search began for a replacement, Assistant City Manager Melissa Stevenson Dile was selected to help the City Council get through its annual budget process by June while running the day-to-day affairs at City Hall. On May 27 it was announced that Daniel Rich was hired away from his post as Campbell's city manager to take the reins in Mountain View after the summer break. He's since taken a low-key approach to his first few months on the job.

Duggan didn't leave the news right away, as he ended up being instrumental in recruiting new city management to reform the tiny Southern California city of Bell after it was discovered that top city officials were paying themselves as much as $1.5 million a year. Duggan said he was surprised to be hired almost immediately after his retirement as West Coast director of the International City/County Managers Association.


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