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School board: Google needs to do more

Trustees underwhelmed by offer for North Bayshore school site

Mountain View Whisman school board members were underwhelmed last week by Google's latest offer for a future school in North Bayshore, a small property in the densest part of town that's likely to be beset on all sides by 15-story buildings.

Board members also took a strong stance on financing construction at the March 7 meeting, making clear they were not interested in a bond measure to handle enrollment growth caused by the new development. If Google wants to build more offices and homes for its employees, they argued, then the company should fully foot the bill for the students it generates, they said.

With an eye towards housing growth, the city of Mountain View recently revised its zoning to allow up to 9,850 housing units in the tech park north of Highway 101. The area's largest land owner, Google, released its master plan in December for turning that zoning map into a reality, adding between 7,200 and 8,000 homes in total.

What remains unclear is where a school -- or multiple schools -- would fit within Google's master plan. The initial proposal by the Mountain View-based tech giant was to provide land for a campus at the northwestern tip of the city on artificial landfill, miles away from the residential center. The idea was soundly rejected by board members as one of the worst possible locations the company could have chosen.

Google then proposed a new site: 2.5 acres in the center of the bustling mixed-use core of the plan. The property on Plymouth Street between Huff Avenue and Joaquin Road fixes multiple problems flagged by trustees last month, putting the proposed school within walking and biking distance and significantly reducing the earthquake risks. But lingering concerns still remain, and trustees said they are still not content with the offer.

Chief among those concerns is that the zoning map allows for 15 stories of development on all four sides of the school site, which could create traffic and safety problems along with an "urban canyon" effect that would cast a nearly 24-hour shadow on the school's facilities. By comparison, a school located on the east side of Shoreline Boulevard would be surrounded by eight-story buildings, Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told board members.

Board member Devon Conley said the board should fully expect Google to build out the so-called Joaquin neighborhood of North Bayshore to the maximum 15-story heights, and that building a less dense school site in the middle is hardly ideal.

"A school on a 2.5 acre site where the zoning code says you can go up to 15 stories could end up looking like the house from (the movie) 'Up,' especially because we are constrained in how high we can go," she said.

Board member Jose Gutierrez sought a hardball approach to negotiations with Google, telling Rudolph to push for two school sites, 10 acres in size, and close to the nature preserves outlined in the Shorebird neighborhood of the master plan on the east side of Shoreline Boulevard.

"I don't think that's that big of an ask, to be honest," Gutierrez said.

Though the final number of homes built in North Bayshore is subject to change, district officials have previously estimated that North Bayshore housing would bring an estimated 797 new elementary school students, enough to fill two elementary schools. The school board had previously sought to house between 400 and 450 students at each existing school, but North Bayshore's limited land and dense design is throwing many of those norms out the window.

At 2.5 acres, Google's proposed site for a school would be the smallest footprint of any campus, requiring buildings higher than two stories. Some of the examples Google suggested the district could emulate include Horace Mann Elementary in San Jose, which has a 700-student capacity on 1.6 acres, and the Tenderloin Community School in San Francisco, which has 331 students on a 1.5-acre site.

After the school site is selected, someone is going to have to pay for the construction, and board members made clear they wanted Google to pay for all of it. Officials at both Google and the district have been negotiating a funding plan based on projected enrollment from its North Bayshore housing, but it's been a moving target. A past mitigation plan with the developer Sobrato landed on $8,661 per housing unit built.

Regardless of where the number lands, board member Tamara Wilson said the district shouldn't get stuck with the bill.

"I don't see why, if these companies are going to come in and build communities to house employees to make them more profit, we would be stuck with the bill for providing school sites," Wilson said. "I think they should be funding this."

Throughout the negotiations, board member Laura Blakely recoiled at the idea of seeking a bond measure in order to build North Bayshore schools, and said at the March 7 meeting that it would be unfair for district taxpayers to bear the burden of Google's development.

"I don't think it's fair for the school district to propose a bond that gets paid for by every single resident in the city of Mountain View in order to subsidize building for new development over there for kids who don't yet live in our city or go to our schools," Blakely said.

Another worry, brought up by Conley, was that Google may end up using its concessions to the school district as leverage for negotiating more office space or decreased housing in North Bayshore. The North Bayshore Precise Plan calls on developers in the area to negotiate agreements with the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District to mitigate their impact on local schools, but it's written into the plan completely independent of bonus office development.

"I'm not interested in the school becoming a pawn in negotiations for either more office space or decreased housing," she said.

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