News

Decision delayed on controversial downtown Mountain View office project

Sobrato is seeking to build four-story offices next to City Hall (right) in Mountain View. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

The Mountain View City Council will decide next month whether to approve a four-story office project next door to City Hall, a proposal that has generated significant objections from residents opposed to further office growth in the city's downtown.

The project was supposed to be up for approval at the Tuesday, April 12, City Council meeting, but was pulled from the agenda at the request of the developer, Sobrato.

Under the plan, Sobrato would demolish the commercial property at 590 Castro Street – previously home to a Wells Fargo – and replace it with 102,000 square feet of offices. Though ground-floor retail is standard for the area, Sobrato is asking for a provisional use permit to build a mix of both offices and retail space on the first floor.

Rather than ride right up against Mountain View's Civic Center Plaza to the north, Sobrato is proposing a 50-foot-wide paseo dividing the office project from the city property, creating a strip of open space leading to Pioneer Park.

Aside from the ground-floor offices and a request for a parking reduction from 312 spaces to 255, Sobrato's project meets all of the zoning requirements for the property.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

Yet as the Tuesday meeting approached, numerous residents raised concerns about flooding Castro Street with even more offices, and the potential for creating long stretches of "dead zones" that deter shoppers and pedestrian foot traffic.

Several residents suggested that the project's square footage would add anywhere from 400 to 500 new jobs, up from the roughly 20 people that used to work on the property, and that doing so would only exacerbate the city's poor jobs-housing balance. Former council member Lenny Siegel said the project's proposed housing fees, about $2.5 million, can barely cover the cost of three subsidized apartments and falls well short of a counterbalance for the increased housing demand. He said the council should be wary of approving the project until the city completes its zoning update for the downtown area.

"Mountain View should move more quickly to update our Downtown Precise Plan to acknowledge that we have too many jobs here for our housing and services," Siegel wrote in a letter. "Let's start by sending this project back to the drawing board."

IdaRose Sylvester, writing on behalf of the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, described the project as a missed opportunity to build housing in an area that is near jobs, services and public transit.

Residents also flagged concerns that the environmental impacts of the office project weren't studied – the proposal is exempt from environmental review under state law – and that the city and developer failed to solicit enough community feedback. There was one public meeting in October 2021 in which five people attended, none of whom raised concerns about the project, according to a city staff report.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox in our Express newsletter.

Former City Council member Ronit Bryant said the public has had little chance to comment on the "basic nature" of the development, and that the October meeting sounds like it was not sufficiently publicized if only five people showed up. Siegel said few were aware it even happened.

"No one that I've asked – people who follow such proposals – was aware of that meeting, unlike public meetings Sobrato has convened for other projects. At the very least, approval of this project should be delayed until there is genuine public outreach and feedback," he said.

At the April 12 City Council meeting, Mayor Lucas Ramirez announced that the public hearing for the project would be continued to a new hearing date on Tuesday, May 24.

Kevin Forestieri
Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Stay informed on important city government news. Sign up for our FREE daily Express newsletter.

Decision delayed on controversial downtown Mountain View office project

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Apr 13, 2022, 1:35 pm

The Mountain View City Council will decide next month whether to approve a four-story office project next door to City Hall, a proposal that has generated significant objections from residents opposed to further office growth in the city's downtown.

The project was supposed to be up for approval at the Tuesday, April 12, City Council meeting, but was pulled from the agenda at the request of the developer, Sobrato.

Under the plan, Sobrato would demolish the commercial property at 590 Castro Street – previously home to a Wells Fargo – and replace it with 102,000 square feet of offices. Though ground-floor retail is standard for the area, Sobrato is asking for a provisional use permit to build a mix of both offices and retail space on the first floor.

Rather than ride right up against Mountain View's Civic Center Plaza to the north, Sobrato is proposing a 50-foot-wide paseo dividing the office project from the city property, creating a strip of open space leading to Pioneer Park.

Aside from the ground-floor offices and a request for a parking reduction from 312 spaces to 255, Sobrato's project meets all of the zoning requirements for the property.

Yet as the Tuesday meeting approached, numerous residents raised concerns about flooding Castro Street with even more offices, and the potential for creating long stretches of "dead zones" that deter shoppers and pedestrian foot traffic.

Several residents suggested that the project's square footage would add anywhere from 400 to 500 new jobs, up from the roughly 20 people that used to work on the property, and that doing so would only exacerbate the city's poor jobs-housing balance. Former council member Lenny Siegel said the project's proposed housing fees, about $2.5 million, can barely cover the cost of three subsidized apartments and falls well short of a counterbalance for the increased housing demand. He said the council should be wary of approving the project until the city completes its zoning update for the downtown area.

"Mountain View should move more quickly to update our Downtown Precise Plan to acknowledge that we have too many jobs here for our housing and services," Siegel wrote in a letter. "Let's start by sending this project back to the drawing board."

IdaRose Sylvester, writing on behalf of the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, described the project as a missed opportunity to build housing in an area that is near jobs, services and public transit.

Residents also flagged concerns that the environmental impacts of the office project weren't studied – the proposal is exempt from environmental review under state law – and that the city and developer failed to solicit enough community feedback. There was one public meeting in October 2021 in which five people attended, none of whom raised concerns about the project, according to a city staff report.

Former City Council member Ronit Bryant said the public has had little chance to comment on the "basic nature" of the development, and that the October meeting sounds like it was not sufficiently publicized if only five people showed up. Siegel said few were aware it even happened.

"No one that I've asked – people who follow such proposals – was aware of that meeting, unlike public meetings Sobrato has convened for other projects. At the very least, approval of this project should be delayed until there is genuine public outreach and feedback," he said.

At the April 12 City Council meeting, Mayor Lucas Ramirez announced that the public hearing for the project would be continued to a new hearing date on Tuesday, May 24.

Comments

MyOpinion
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Apr 13, 2022 at 2:38 pm
MyOpinion, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2022 at 2:38 pm

Like ALL of these projects, the promise of ground floor retail/restaurants seems to vaporize when the rubber hits the road. "Aside from the ground-floor offices and a request for a parking reduction from 312 spaces to 255, Sobrato's project meets all of the zoning requirements for the property." that is a 'BIG ASIDE'. The Saint Joseph's project by Sobrato, also promised ground floor retail, and restaurant space, and we end up with Wells Fargo (a bank guilty of creating millions of fraudulent savings and checking accounts on behalf of Wells Fargo clients without their consent.) If Sobrato gets his way again, he clearly has the council in his back pocket. And BTW the opposite corner has office space as well, (Quora), another prime spot on Castro restricted to private use.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 13, 2022 at 3:16 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2022 at 3:16 pm

""Mountain View should move more quickly to update our Downtown Precise Plan to acknowledge that we have too many jobs here for our housing and services," Siegel wrote in a letter. "Let's start by sending this project back to the drawing board.""

I don't always agree with Mr. Siegel, but It's nice to see him agreeing that a big problem is not simply the SUPPLY of housing, but the DEMAND for housing. Increasing the number of high-paying jobs in MV increases DEMAND, which then raises housing costs (as highly paid persons compete for housing units).

Adding more office space at this point in time would simply drive the cost of housing even higher.


Johnny Yuma
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Apr 13, 2022 at 3:21 pm
Johnny Yuma, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2022 at 3:21 pm

I’m fed up with uncontrolled growth in Mountain View. Drive to the intersection of El Camino Real and Grant Road at 3 p.m. for a taste of gridlock. When is enough enough?

I wish that the council would focus more of its time on the “quality of life” in this town. The past and current crop of council representatives are “pro-growth,” with the intention of driving more tax revenue. It’s up to Mountain View voters to change this trend.


Free Speech
Registered user
Martens-Carmelita
on Apr 13, 2022 at 4:39 pm
Free Speech, Martens-Carmelita
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2022 at 4:39 pm

I am strongly behind Johnny Yuma on this. The city, once celebrated for its abundance of mature trees, is rapidly becoming a concrete wasteland with its pro-growth council. Their mantra of "more jobs, more housing, repeat..." has allowed Mountain View to fall prey to every developer in the nation. These days, all residents and workers suffer traffic gridlock, constant construction and increased noise levels. Mountain View is rapidly becoming an unpleasant, albeit expensive, place to call home. Even the logo on city staff outgoing emails, which used to sport three trees, now has only one. Vote them all out, and until we can, may our objections be heard. Are you reading this, council members?


DEWT
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Apr 13, 2022 at 5:58 pm
DEWT, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2022 at 5:58 pm

I agree with Johnny Yuma and Free Speech. When will all this office building development stop? For that and all the new housing, where is the water coming from? Has anyone in city hall remembered that we are in a drought? The city has changed its character over the past few years and certainly not for the better. Remember when heritage trees mattered!!!


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2022 at 7:21 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2022 at 7:21 pm

To those opposed: would you support stacking 500 apartments on top of this building to fix the jobs-housing balance?


Lenny Siegel2
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 13, 2022 at 8:26 pm
Lenny Siegel2, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2022 at 8:26 pm

@ivg - I support the linkage concept, as written into the East Whisman Precise Plan. New office space must be accompanied by housing construction to quantitatively accommodate the number of new employees. That would take significantly more acreage than the proposed office building.

But I would be happy to see no new offices downtown.


bluesjr
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Apr 14, 2022 at 12:24 pm
bluesjr, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Apr 14, 2022 at 12:24 pm

I'll be succinct. We have enough office space in this town! This will just create more outcry for housing. Rezone downtown for lower density to limit what developers can do.


Add Housing
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2022 at 3:21 pm
Add Housing, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 14, 2022 at 3:21 pm

I think they ought to allow it if they are willing to build several stories of apartments on top. The ultimate live, work, retail space that will keep jobs close to housing. 1 story of retail, 2 stories of office, and 5 more stories of apartments.


Seth Neumann
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Apr 14, 2022 at 8:30 pm
Seth Neumann, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Apr 14, 2022 at 8:30 pm

why not build a multi story parking garage on top with high ceilings and sewage, water and electrical hooks ups so the the RV dwellers have somewhere to live? We could put social services and a laundromat and showers in the ground floor office space.


Polomom
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Apr 17, 2022 at 11:55 am
Polomom, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Apr 17, 2022 at 11:55 am

30 years ago our architectural unique complex of City Hall and Performing Arts Center was opened. A beautiful addition to our downtown. Putting a cookie cutter office complex right next to it would be awful. The WF site has beautiful natural surroundings. If we have to add more commercial real estate keep it on Castro and develop the back side for housing. Pioneer Park tree canopy should not be touched. We are losing Heritage trees at an alarming rate.


Billy Spear
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 17, 2022 at 12:16 pm
Billy Spear, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 17, 2022 at 12:16 pm

Stop Gentrification and support small businesses in Mountain View-Open Castro at Alma NOW!

Web Link


Cfrink
Registered user
Willowgate
on Apr 17, 2022 at 9:28 pm
Cfrink, Willowgate
Registered user
on Apr 17, 2022 at 9:28 pm

I could be wrong here but I read in the story that aside from a couple of major details, the project met all zoning requirements. This means that the city really can’t stop the development as I understand it. They can’t say no just because folks are mad about more hug paying jobs (never mind the obvious privilege of high paid workers complaining about other high paid workers joining them in our city)

I appreciate the interest in creating a clear path for more retail on Castro and I believe that section could use an infusion of quality restaurant and retail space. More housing doesn’t seem really feasible without barging over the building height limits. This project is going to happen. But they should get the retail right so that it further strengthens the current retail and restaurant operations on Castro.

If we can find a way to create some housing along the way, seems like everyone would support that.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Apr 18, 2022 at 7:40 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2022 at 7:40 am

+1 to cfrink

Sounds like a case where the project matches the Precise Plan to a T (including the paseo to the Chamber of Commerce) but the Precise plan .... no longer matches what Mountain View residents want downtown?

Do I wish the precise plan favored more housing , more retail on ground floors? Yes, but we can't rewrite the precise plan on the fly for a specific project.

My main gripes with the project are:
- the street parking on Castro: angled parking is dangerous and should be removed.
- surface parking in the back for the Chamber of Commerce. No need to preserve it, espcially since it would result in removing one heritage tree and encroaching on Pioneer Park.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 18, 2022 at 12:40 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2022 at 12:40 pm

Either one believes that there is a housing crisis in Mountain View, or one does not.

To complain about the jobs/housing imbalance as the key reason for the housing crisis, and then to advocate for a project that will increase the jobs/housing imbalance is deeply hypocritical.

What do the words "jobs/housing imbalance" mean? Doesn't it mean there isn't enough housing for those who have jobs here? If we approve development that creates even more jobs, will that imbalance improve or become worse?

"I could be wrong here but I read in the story that aside from a couple of major details, the project met all zoning requirements."

"Aside from a couple of major details", lol. In other words, the project DOES NOT MEET all zoning requirements.

"Sounds like a case where the project matches the Precise Plan to a T (including the paseo to the Chamber of Commerce) but the Precise plan .... no longer matches what Mountain View residents want downtown?"

Nope, go back and read the article again, the project DOES NOT MEET all zoning requirements.

But the last part of that comment is what alarms me most. Shouldn't ALL zoning laws match what the residents of a community want (except those that are legally discriminatory)? This attitude that the wishes of "job creators" are more important than the wishes of voters in the community ... that is not democracy. Seems to me that those on the Red Team seem to hold those beliefs more than those on the Blue Team. "Job creators" historically have fought for the right to poison a community and not clean up their messes in the name of profit. Isn't increasing the jobs/housing imbalance just a different way of "poisoning" MV?


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Apr 18, 2022 at 2:19 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2022 at 2:19 pm

One of the things that is interesting about this project is that the city actually owns a slice of the land. The entire project depends on using a city owned strip of land on the edge of the park as the only access to the parking garage. This lets the project be larger than it would other wise be. The city does not have to agree to that. In the new project that triangular strip of land is used much more heavily by the building than what's currently happening. Now the strip of land is a single driveway out of 3 that feed the Wells Fargo Building. In the new project, it's the only way in.

Also now, the strip has parking spaces on it for the Chamber of commerce. The developer wants the OK to also use the land currently under those parking spaces as part of the access to the new project. This is quite a significant if small amount of park land which would be dedicated to the benefit of this new building.

To me this is a bigger deal than the 2 other requested variances. But it's not the only aspect. The developer has the new building closer to the streets than other nearby buildings. It then creates a plaza essentially for the benefit of the building tenants but not really fitting in with the neighboring buildings. So that's kind of the #4 special treatment item for the project.


MyOpinion
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Apr 18, 2022 at 3:55 pm
MyOpinion, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2022 at 3:55 pm

@Lenny Why do you feel it is necessary to live AND work in the same city? Mountain View is a small city top-heavy with large corporate offices and startups, how on earth would we be able to house all of these workers within city limits? The affluent tech crowd wants OUT of Mountain View, why live in a concrete jungle when you can afford to live in leafy Los Altos or PA? MV is not a desirable place to live any longer unless you are lucky enough to live in certain areas of OMV.


Frank Richards
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 18, 2022 at 4:02 pm
Frank Richards, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2022 at 4:02 pm

@MyOpinion, if Mountain View is so undesirable to live in now, I'd be happy to take your house off your hands, at a deep discount of course. Win-win!


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Apr 18, 2022 at 5:10 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Apr 18, 2022 at 5:10 pm

Another interesting fact. That old Wells Fargo building and land was bought in 2019 for about $28 Million. It's just under 1 acre officially (0.97 acre). Land in Mountain View is therefore valued by that transaction at $28 Million per acre. Or is that some high value because the developer new a way to squeeze more office space there than would generally be the case? 440 Castro street has nicer office space density and amenities, but it lacks the view of the Park and has fewer workers per acre.


SalsaMusic
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 22, 2022 at 5:02 pm
SalsaMusic, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2022 at 5:02 pm

@seth because a garage spot costs $100K per spot to build. And that’s for cars. An RV is arguably 3x as big. My tax money is not to help people live for free. There are better ways to spend $300K to improve my community.


Lenny Siegel2
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 25, 2022 at 12:37 pm
Lenny Siegel2, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 25, 2022 at 12:37 pm

@MyOpinion I've never suggested that people have to live and work in the same city, but I believe that more people should have the opportunity to live near where they work or go to school. This would slow the increase in housing costs and limit the increased vehicle miles that congest traffic and worsen greenhouse gas and other emissions.

Many people will choose to live in Mountain View when we build the housing, but I recognize that we have to expand services, schools, and infrastructure to maintain our quality of life.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 27, 2022 at 12:45 pm
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 27, 2022 at 12:45 pm

"Many people will choose to live in Mountain View when we build the housing, but I recognize that we have to expand services, schools, and infrastructure to maintain our quality of life."

The question is, Mr. Siegel, WHO PAYS to expand services, schools, and infrastructure? And when does the expansion take place?

Clearly the developers don't want to pay, it interferes with their profits. How much pain must residents endure before we get any relief? In a recent meeting with the planning commission, several residents actually ran out of time to fully discuss their objections to new office construction on San Antonio! (see comments) - Web Link

How are we going to fund the new schools?

"The conflict brings to the forefront a nagging problem in Mountain View, namely school districts' ability to pay for the new schools and classrooms needed to serve the expected influx of students generated by the city's ambitious housing goals." - Web Link

Let's be honest. Why will people choose to live in Mountain View? They want the high-paying tech jobs that wealthy tech titans are desperate to fill. So much money swimming around, and yet so little of it has been earmarked to maintain the quality of life in our fair city.

We need URBAN PLANNING. It is ridiculous to follow a mandate to increase housing units by 32% without TYING THAT GOAL to plans to expand services, schools, and infrastructure, and identifying who will pay for that expansion.

IMHO, we need Prop 15. Big Tech needs to pay it's fair share, instead of foisting these costs onto the little people of Mountain View.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.