Mountain View is in the midst of a tremendous growth spurt that in the next 15 years is likely to bring thousands of new employees to town unless the City Council decides to rein in what seems like an out-of-control phenomenon.
One need only look around the city's main thoroughfares or visit the city planning department to see that housing and office construction projects are moving full speed ahead at many locations. The San Antonio Center's developer is planning to build more than 400,000 square feet of office space plus a hotel and movie theater near the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street. More retail space is planned as well.
And at Castro Street and El Camino Real, a 134-unit housing complex is scheduled to replace local shops like the Rose Market, although in some cases the developer will reserve space for those displaced to return. There are other large projects on El Camino and elsewhere in the city, but all of these developments will be dwarfed by construction of massive office buildings in the North Bayshore commercial area if the City Council authorizes construction of 3.4 million square feet of office space over the next 15 years. If permitted, it would mean another 15,000 or more jobs would be added in North Bayshore alone, on top of the 66,768 jobs citywide that were here in 2011, the last year for which records are available.
All of these jobs might be acceptable if a commensurate amount of housing was built to house at least some of the new workers. But at this time, there is very little new housing on the horizon, and certainly not affordable housing, a sorely needed commodity when so many longtime residents who rent are being priced out of their homes.
In last week's Voice, reporter Daniel DeBolt asked council members how they are thinking about adding so many new jobs in the North Bayshore. Only Jac Siegel argued that the council should have discussed the strain new office space is putting on the city's housing supply and rapidly escalating rents.
"The fact is that in North Bayshore we are proposing 3.4 million square feet of office in the same city where working people are being displaced in large numbers, rapidly," Siegel told his colleagues. "I'd like some discussion with council about what this is doing to the housing market in our city."
But while some council members last week shared Siegel's concern, Margaret Abe-Koga appeared to be in a bind, saying she hears the community say that job growth is good, but the public does not "...want us to to be higher density (housing)," she said. "I am trying to understand better what the people really want," she said.
Part of the housing bind was created when Siegel, Abe-Koga and council members Ronit Bryant and Laura Macias voted in 2012 to block any residential housing development in North Bayshore. Bryant made the controversial comment comparing the proposed North Bayshore housing to Chinese factory dorms where workers "do not live happily ever after." Bryant has explained her opposition to the fact that the proposed 1,100 units in North Bayshore would have fallen short of the housing needed to support a community. She said that, "It is generally accepted that a neighborhood must have about 5,000 people to make a local grocery store viable. The limited number of units proposed would not create a neighborhood capable of supporting retail, a grocery store, a school, the kind of services that our residents expect," she said.
Also playing into the defeat of North Bayshore housing was the council majority's fear that the few remaining endangered burrowing owls would be threatened by a residential community there, as would a substantial colony of egrets.
But at this critical time, we believe the first priority is to slow or halt, at least for a year or two, the amount of office space that can be added in North Bayshore. Mountain View is choking with commercial growth that is playing havoc with the price of rental and single family housing, and is causing near gridlock on local streets. If the council can throttle back office development in North Bayshore, then time can be devoted to a good discussion about once again considering a number of housing projects there, as proposed by Lenny Siegel (no relation to Jac Siegel).
The council's reluctance to build housing near the jobs in North Bayshore resulted in the three of the same council members plus John McAlister voting against permitting an environmental study of a proposed bridge across Stevens Creek for Google shuttle buses and pedestrians and bicyclists. The road would provide access to a 1 million-square-foot Google office building on Moffett Field, and provide another access point to North Bayshore.
It is time for the council to be much more proactive as it considers approval of 3.4 million square feet of office space in the Baylands. How will the additional employees get to and from work? How will the thousands of new employees affect the residential housing market? If the office space is delayed, what can the city do to increase transit options for workers who need to get to the North Bayshore? Would pod cars or another "out of the box" mass transit mode help solve the problem?
It will be truly disappointing if the council fails to understand the consequences of adding 15,000 or more jobs here in the next 15 years, without making extensive plans to counter the impact on the city's residents. We urge council members to reconsider their decision on housing for North Bayshore, and postpone any decision on authorizing 3.4 million square feet of office space for at least a year or two.