Mountain View City Council members signaled their approval for what would easily be the city's most dramatic office building. Google on Tuesday presented the eye-catching plans for its Charleston East site, which call for glass walls, a public walkway running through the center and a huge solar array draping the structure in place of a roof.
The futuristic plans for Google's first self-designed campus were given an initial review by Mountain View officials at a March 29 study session, about one year after they were first made public and drew worldwide attention. The response from City Council members and the public was largely celebratory, and many heaped praise on the design saying it would be a showpiece for the company and the city alike.
"Leave it to Google, a company that has never built a building before, to build a building like none other," said Councilman Ken Rosenberg, who admitted to borrowing the line from a colleague.
For the one-of-a-kind design, it was also a one-of-a-kind meeting. At points, city staff admitted they lacked good comparisons for the bubble-dome aesthetic of the building. A photovoltaic canopy doesn't exactly fall into any standard roof category, pointed out city planner Stephanie Williams.
The proposed 595,000-square-foot building would go on a vacant 18-acre North Bayshore site at 2000 N. Shoreline Blvd. known as Charleston East that the city has leased to Google through 2064. Once built, it would reportedly house up to 2,700 Google employees, plus an unspecified number of food-service workers, contractors and other ancillary people.
Many people visiting the new campus likely won't be working at all. A design highlight will be the "Green Loop" walkway going straight through the center of the building, which Google officials say will be a promenade of shops and cafes open to the public.
"We've prioritized innovation, community, nature and creating a place where Google can open its doors to the public," said Michelle Kaufmann, an architect working for Google. "We're creating a place that's welcoming and re-imagining the concept of a workplace."
Among the impressive features Kaufmann called attention to was the building's wavy white canopy, which was tailored to look "like a cloud." Along with filling the interior with soft light, the cover would serve as the largest office solar array in existence, generating 5 megawatts of power, well more than the building needed to operate, she said. The new campus would also be equipped with systems for capturing and reusing rainwater for its plumbing.
Despite the emphasis on environmental sustainability, some public speakers pointed out there would be be sacrifices implicit in the grand design. Bird advocates warned that the new building's transparent sides and its cloud-like canopy could be a danger for migratory birds that might fly into it. In addition, the east side of the project slightly intrudes onto the habitat buffer zone for the protected burrowing owl.
Several others spoke in defense of the site's 229 heritage trees, which include many redwoods. Google's plans call for removing 159 of the trees, some of which were noted to be in declining health.
"That's a lot of redwood trees to fall down," said Mike Ferreira, chairman of the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club, who otherwise said he was "in awe" of the project.
Google representatives explained they were planning to plant about 260 new trees on the property, and they were working on a "tree phasing plan" that would examine which ones had to be removed. City officials urged the company to remove trees near the burrowing owl habitat, which would be a draw for predators, and to focus on preserving trees along the Shoreline Boulevard corridor.
For council members, the biggest sticking point of Google's campus design centered on parking -- or more accurately, the near-total lack of it. Google's project includes only about a dozen parking stalls for handicapped drivers, far short of the 1,200 parking spaces required under city guidelines for this project. The company's solution is to use an adjacent parking lot for Shoreline Amphitheatre, a property owned by the city and leased to Live Nation.
This would be only a temporary arrangement, as Google officials said they would eventually build enough parking capacity as part of a similar campus planned for its Landings property. That project, a 515,000-square-foot office development at Charleston Road and Landings Drive, would begin as soon as construction in underway for the Charleston East property, said John Igoe, Google's real estate director.
"Landings would be completed so there's no impact with the lease the city has with Live Nation," he said. "The reason we're starting here (at Charleston East) is we're paying rent on this site!"
It remains unclear how this proposed deal is regarded by Live Nation, which has a lease for Shoreline Amphitheatre through 2025. Google currently sub-leases a portion of the amphitheater's parking lots for its bus parking. Representatives from the event company didn't speak at the city meeting.
Prior to the public meeting, the City Council met in closed session for negotiations on the price and terms of payment for the Shoreline Amphitheatre site. No report of any decision was made following the discussion.
At the study session, city officials indicated they were amenable to the temporary arrangement so long as Google agreed to provide compensation.
"The taxpayers of Mountain View don't anticipate letting a corporation like Google get free parking for 1,200 cars for up to five years," said Councilman Mike Kasperzak. "We need to talk with Google about compensation for that."
Nevertheless, council members also requested language in any deal to include incentives to ensure Google included parking in its Landings property. The risk, said Councilman John McAlister, is the city could be stuck with a building with no parking if Google suddenly decided not to go forward with the Landings project.
Once approved, construction for the Charleston East campus is expected to take two years.