Perhaps the biggest and most complicated development on the horizon for Mountain View, LinkedIn's proposal for a new 10-building campus received a round of support from city leaders on Tuesday, with some big caveats attached. The project, reviewed in a City Council study session, now faces a difficult battle to prove it can mitigate traffic impacts along Shoreline Boulevard near Highway 101, widely considered to be the most congested spot in town.
On Tuesday, Oct. 20, the project now dubbed the "Shoreline Commons" was put under the proverbial magnifying glass by city officials to see if it should go forward as planned. Council members expressed some concern that the plans essentially hinge on LinkedIn being able to partner with Google and other local rivals on a slate of transportation improvements to the area.
Plans to build a new frontage road along Highway 101 would require the two tech companies to work together and both contribute land. The two firms would also be required to work together on a planned pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Highway 101 as well as a new off-ramp at La Avenida.
That kind of cooperation could be difficult, particularly given the background. In May, LinkedIn emerged the victor in a fierce battle for bonus development rights in the North Bayshore neighborhood. As in business, the company's chief competitor was Google, which tried to entice city officials by adding thousands of homes to its proposed expansions.
Given that the North Bayshore land competition was essentially a "zero-sum game," Councilman Chris Clark asked: Why would Google now want to help its competitor?
LinkedIn Vice President Jim Mortgensen answered that all the big companies are essentially playing in the same sandbox and dealing with the same set of troubles in the area.
"Everyone has the same interests, and we all have to make the same improvements," he said. "In order for them to do their projects, it's in their interest to help us do our projects."
The proposed Shoreline Commons development would reportedly bring 8,000 LinkedIn employees and likely many more workers to staff a new hotel, movie theater, shops and restaurants planned as part of the project. Those numbers spurred some concerns among council members and public speakers that it could worsen an already bad traffic situation.
For some, a superior way to reduce traffic would be to push for new, dense housing development in the North Bayshore, operating under the logic that workers who can walk to their jobs won't clog the streets with their cars. City planners are currently working on a North Bayshore housing study that would map out how new residences could be built in the area. But that study with have little bearing on LinkedIn, which declined to incorporate housing directly into its project.
Instead, the company is offering a lump sum of at least $40 million to the MidPen Housing Corporation to expand affordable housing development in Mountain View. Speaking on Tuesday, MidPen executive director Matt Franklin said that money would best go toward buying up older housing units or land. He estimated that about 400 housing units could be financed if the money was used to acquire an older property.
But that wouldn't be enough to counter-balance all the new jobs and traffic coming from LinkedIn's new campus, complained Councilman Lenny Siegel. He urged the company to consider adding housing to its plans, saying he couldn't support it otherwise.
"I have a hard time supporting this magnitude of job-creating development without figuring out where people are going to live," he said. "To allow this to go forward would be a big mistake."
By all accounts, the situation is as complex as it gets in municipal planning, and city staff are working on simultaneous studies for North Bayshore. Mountain View officials are envisioning more than $96 million in North Bayshore transportation improvements, much of it being funded by the local tech firms with the goal to drastically lower the number of single-occupant cars streaming into the area. As part of that effort, Mountain View planners are getting ready for a difficult effort to acquire right-of-way ownership or easements along more than 50 properties in the area. City staff reported that Mountain View may need to exercise its eminent domain privileges.
Capping the discussion, City Manager Dan Rich reminded council members that staff members were dealing with a huge challenge in planning for the future of this area.
"This is an incredibly complex issue," he said. "I don't want to mislead the council, applicant or public. This is an unprecedented engineering analysis that needs to occur here."
City Council members were generally supportive of the Shoreline Commons project. The project will be brought back for approvals at a future date.