Google will receive $28 million from the city of Mountain View in exchange for a series of North Bayshore properties needed to build traffic improvements along Shoreline Boulevard. The purchase was approved in a 5-2 vote at Tuesday night's City Council meeting, despite criticism that the city is footing the bill to aid the tech giant's expansion.
The deal is for about 1.75 acres of land that the city would use to connect Plymouth Street to Space Park Way. Traffic is regularly congested along at this spot on Shoreline Boulevard due to the crush of drivers who work in the area. The plan is to realign Plymouth Street about 300 feet to the north so that it creates a new four-way intersection across Shoreline, which city officials believe will greatly speed up traffic.
But building that intersection would require demolishing multiple office buildings that Google is loathe to surrender. For months, a team of Mountain View officials have been holding closed-door negotiations with Google representatives to hammer out the property sale.
Last March, Google officials had pledged to negotiate a land sale to the city in order to win approvals for their Charleston East campus, which is currently under construction. But the price of the land wasn't determined at the time, and city officials on Tuesday said they had to give the company a fair market price based on property appraisals.
The nature of this exchange frustrated multiple council members, who pointed out that the tech giant was supposed to be paying for traffic improvements as part of its massive office development plans. The precise plan for North Bayshore imposes a strict cap of 18,900 cars on the road per weekday morning, and new office projects not only are expected to finance new transportation upgrades but also to demonstrate that they're reducing traffic.
"The intent was to have these new office projects pay their way for the improvements needed to increase capacity on these roads," said Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga. "I have a fundamental problem with paying the company that is 90 percent of the population out there, paying them to fix their problem, and at top dollar."
City staff and other council members said Abe-Koga's assessment wasn't quite accurate. As part of the Charleston East project approved last year, Google paid about $17.9 million in impact fees. On Tuesday night, city staff reported that $13.4 million of those fees would be used to purchase the properties along Plymouth Street.
Once the road construction is complete, the city will be left with excess land that it can resell to recoup some of the cost, according to city staff. As part of the land negotiations, Google officials insisted they receive first right of refusal on any available land left over from the road realignment.
"I fail to understand why this is such a big deal," said Mayor Lenny Siegel. "Between the sell-back value and the transportation impact fees, we're coming out even in terms of dollars."
The $28 million to pay for the land won't come from the city's general fund, but rather the Shoreline Regional Park Community Fund, a special tax district run by city officials that draws money from developments and property tax. The Shoreline fund was originally established through state legislation in 1969 to improve recreation in the North Bayshore area, but the city in recent years has used the district to finance a variety of other improvements.
Despite the source of the money, there was barely enough support on the council to approve the deal. Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak signaled their opposition early on in the discussion, on the principle that Google was supposed to be paying for the traffic upgrades. As a budget allocation, the action required five votes, and it fell to Councilman John McAlister to cast the deciding vote. He threw his support behind the project with the caveat that the city staff pressure Google to vacate the office buildings on the properties as soon as possible, in order to get the project under way quickly.