Google's ambitious plans to build a futuristic headquarters in Mountain View's North Bayshore is hitting big snags over some of the neighborhood's deep-rooted inhabitants. About 200 trees, mostly redwoods, lining Shoreline Boulevard and nearby streets will need to be removed to make way for a slate of road improvements to accommodate the company's growing workforce.
In an Oct. 4 study session, the Mountain View City Council signed off on early plans to remove all the trees along the western side of Shoreline Boulevard, despite plenty of apprehension that the sight of all those iconic redwoods being chopped down could prompt a public backlash.
Yet most council members concluded that removing the redwoods was ultimately the best environmental course of action. The trees aren't native to the baylands area, and they require much more water than other species, they said.
It was a divisive issue for the council as well as many environmentalists. In a curious turn of events, naturalist groups known for preserving the redwoods, including the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, attended the Mountain View meeting to lend their support for felling the trees.
In this case, the trees near Shoreline are out of place and prevent the development of the larger, eco-friendly campus envisioned by Google, said Gita Dev, vice-chair of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta chapter.
"We know (these trees) are going to die. In order to enhance that area, we are supportive of the idea that we need to replace these trees," Dev said. "We need a new model, a new paradigm for how we live with nature -- if we do that, we have to get rid of these trees."
Following the meeting, she explained to the Voice that the Sierra Club and other environmental groups had been meeting regularly with Google officials for more than a year to discuss how the company could best blend its growing office park into the surrounding habitat. That collaboration built a relationship of trust between the groups, reassuring them that the tech giant's representatives truly wanted to build a sustainable campus, she said.
But some independent environmentalists were appalled. At a March review of the project, tree advocates made impassioned -- in one case, tearful -- pleas to save the North Bayshore redwoods.
"Losing such a large amount of our heritage redwoods is too steep of a price to pay," said Pamela Tremain, a San Jose resident at the meeting. "Why do these companies seek to destroy our redwoods that have been here for generations?"
As part of the city's North Bayshore Precise Plan, Google's massive plans for office expansion are contingent on the company's ability to drastically lower the amount of traffic caused by its employees. The company is helping finance about $90 million in transportation improvements, including construction of a new frontage road along Highway 101, a variety of new bus pullouts and an elaborate bike path to encourage more cycling.
But city officials indicated the redwoods along the western side of Shoreline Boulevard were directly along the right-of-way where three lanes for bicycles were slated to go. About 100 trees would need to be removed under this plan, city staff reported.
In addition to the Shoreline redwoods, about 100 more trees along Amphitheatre Parkway and Charleston Road would also need to be removed. These trees are a mix of redwood, cherry and cedar, some of which are in poor condition, according to the staff report.
Sensing a potential hot-button issue, city staff offered some alternatives, including a plan to remove only a fractions of the trees by scaling back the bike lanes and instead creating a trail through the wooded area that would be shared by cyclists and pedestrians. This idea was opposed by Google team members, who described it as a recipe for bike-versus-pedestrian collisions and hefty ongoing maintenance.
"If it were possible to achieve this vision with the trees, then we'd be doing that," said Michelle Kaufmann, an architect working on Google's Charleston East project. "Unfortunately, that's is not the case. The reality is these trees are non-native; they're young and they require significant amounts of water which will be increasing over time."
Kaufmann and other Google representatives pointed out that their plans would eventually bring 380 new native trees, which would use 40 percent less water.
Nevertheless, council members indicated they had a hard time stomaching the idea of chopping down redwoods. Describing the trees as "magnificent", Councilman Lenny Siegel said he disagreed with the premise that removing the trees was the best environmental option. Eventually the city would be able to pipe in recycled water suitable for the trees, he said. He proposed an alternative plan with Councilman Chris Clark that would result in about 45 trees being removed.
But Councilman Mike Kasperzak said his colleagues were being blinded by their emotion. He recommended they stick with the transportation improvements suggested by their adopted precise plan.
"It's an emotional decision, but (the redwoods) don't belong there," Kasperzak said. "We talk about removing invasive species -- well, they are an invasive species."
The council approved removing about 100 trees in a 4-3 straw vote with Clark, Siegel and Councilman John Inks opposing. Yet the council members wanted to make clear they were extremely reluctant to lose the redwoods.
"People are going to be upset," said Councilman Ken Rosenberg. "When we're known as the council that got rid of the redwoods, I'd like the record to show how much the environmentalists were saying the same thing."