Listen closely and you can probably hear the champagne corks popping over at Google.
After nearly 10 years of planning, Google's vision to create a premier headquarters in Mountain View's North Bayshore will become a reality. At a Tuesday, March 7, meeting, City Council members gave what will likely be their last round of approvals for Google's plan to create a signature campus with a unique design.
The plans for the 18-acre site at 2000 N. Shoreline Blvd. known as Charleston East will represent the Google's first attempt at designing its own building. Since revealing its grand design about two years ago, the company has emphasized that its new home would reflect its culture of innovation and community.
Those values led to an eye-catching proposal marked by glass walls, a public promenade and one of the world's largest solar arrays draped over the campus like a tent canopy. Architects for the company say the structure was tailored for everyone to enjoy, not just the company's workforce. They point to a public "Green Loop" cutting through the dome-like structure that will include cafes, art and other attractions. The open plaza at the southeast corner of the site will be reserved for public events, such as food trucks, live music or tech exhibits.
Early preparations for construction have reportedly already begun at the Charleston East site, and Google officials expect to move forward swiftly with the project's grading and foundation. Depending on the weather, the company is aiming to complete the project by late 2019.
Executives, architects and other Google representatives pitched their new campus as a showpiece for the city, not just for the company. John Igoe, Google's real estate director, described it as a new "front door" to Mountain View for tech tourists and other visitors.
"This was our opportunity to make this location more open to the community," he said. "We took such an effort to make sure this site is welcoming to the public."
With all those dazzling features, it can be easy to forget that the plan is for a corporate office, not a community center. The 595,000-square-foot building will house up to 2,700 Google employees, plus an unspecified number of food-service workers, contractors and support staff. Igoe and other company officials couldn't specify which Google divisions would be housed in the new Charleston East center. But they said work on the new campus will begin immediately.
It was a full-on charm offensive on Tuesday night as executives at the $498-billion tech giant played to the company's local roots as they sought final approvals from city leaders. They arrived with a large retinue of friends from the nonprofit sector who reminded city leaders of the tech giant's significant financial help over the years.
Those supporters included leaders from two school districts, four environmental groups, two transit advocacy organizations, plus the local Chamber of Commerce, YMCA and Los Altos Community Foundation. Mountain View Whisman School District Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph highlighted the "great partnership" his district has with Google, which rents out the Slater Elementary School campus for the company's employee daycare center. Rudolph pointed to nearly $1 million in donations from the company over the last 16 months toward the district's strategic plan and efforts to bridge the achievement gap.
Tony Siress, the Chamber CEO, pegged Google's total donations to the community since 2010 at "$160 million," making it the Bay Area's largest corporate philanthropist.
"They're one of those humble employers," he said. "They care about where they are, and this is their headquarters."
One public speaker dubbed it a "love fest" for Google and it seemed only a slight exaggeration. Gita Dev, vice-chair of the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club, at first lamented that no one was speaking out against how Google's plans for Charleston East would involve chopping down nearly 200 trees, about half of them redwoods. But she quickly pivoted to lending her support for the plan, pointing out the trees were non-native and blocking the company's planned bike path.
"These redwoods -- these wonderful gentle giants -- we're sad to see them go, but we're looking forward to a vibrant forest canopy," Dev said.
Google officials expect to begin removing the trees in the coming days. The company promised to replace them with more than 300 oak, sycamore and cottonwood trees.
It was unclear whether the huge outpouring of community support for Google swayed any City Council members. Some members were more skeptical toward the company, pointing out it received a free ride in many aspects. In a meeting one week earlier, Mayor Ken Rosenberg commented to his colleagues how just one of Mountain View's gas stations paid more in sales taxes to the city than all of Google.
Speaking to that, Councilman Lenny Siegel said the company's largess really played no part in whether the Charleston East project should be approved. The package succeeded at meeting city standards, so it deserved support, he said.
"I'm not swayed by the scope of Google's philanthropy or the utility of their products," he said. "I'm supporting this project because it's imaginative, innovative and sustainable."
It should be noted that the Charleston East project will bring a tidy sum to the city. Google will pay a flat $600,000 fee as well as an annual $2.25 million rental fee to the city for using the Shoreline Amphitheatre lot for its employee parking. The company will eventually build out its own new parking as part of a future development planned for 2171 Landings Drive.
The Charleston East project is just the first piece of a much larger strategy at Google for developing the North Bayshore area into its global headquarters. Back in 2015, the company presented plans for a series of dome-like buildings across North Bayshore, similar to the canopied structure at Charleston East. At the time, the company's vision called for changeable interiors and crane-like robots that could move buildings around. Robots might still be part of the approved Charleston East plan, but they would likely be used to move around furniture, according to a Google spokesperson.
But in a surprising turn two years ago, the Mountain View City Council declined to back those plans, instead giving the lion's share of development rights to LinkedIn.
Google turned the situation to its advantage last year by negotiating a huge land swap with LinkedIn. Google signed over seven buildings to its rival near Sunnyvale in exchange for development rights and leased offices in North Bayshore. As a result, Google consolidated its position by acquiring nearly all the city's allotted space for development north of Highway 101.
The city is now nearing the finish line after a multi-year process to complete a precise plan at North Bayshore. That plan to add housing to the area relies heavily on signals from Google officials that the company is interested in developing about 10,000 apartments in North Bayshore, mainly to alleviate the immense traffic demand from its own workforce.
The company will be required to make a string of improvements to offset the traffic, including realigning the Highway 101 off-ramp at La Avenida to prevent traffic jams, and modifying Plymouth Avenue and Space Park Way to allow cars to maneuver better. Most of those upgrades would be made after the Charleston East project is completed, according to city staff.
The City Council added some minor conditions to their approval. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak heaped praise on Google's emphasis on community with its Green Loop and plaza, but said she wanted to ensure non-employees knew they were welcome.
"There's going to be goods and food offered to Google employees. That should really be offered to everyone," she said. "Yes, you'll have to pay for it, but everyone should know they can partake."
City leaders repeatedly referred to the plaza as a public space, but that isn't quite the case. Google will retain control over the property and would have to sanction any groups that want to assemble there, according to the company's representatives.
In addition, the city also instructed Google to notify nearly all residents and small businesses in the North Bayshore area for any planned disruption from the construction. Siegel also asked for employees to be notified in advance of the toxic contaminants present in the groundwater in the area.
Mayor Rosenberg had to recuse himself from the vote due to a conflict of interest from business dealings with Live Nation, which operates the neighboring Shoreline Amphitheatre and is involved in the parking lease with Google. The rest of the council voted unanimously, 6-0, to approve the project.
"I strongly support this project; it's very exciting," Siegel said. "This is a project any other city would die for -- including Cupertino."