After years of controversy and grief over the loss of the city's beloved pumpkin patch, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved 53 new homes on the site of the former Grant Road farm. It would have been a relatively calm vote, too, if not for a last-minute blitz from Los Altos over perceived traffic impacts.
Residents and officials from the neighboring city, including city manager Douglas Schmitz and Los Altos City Council member David Casas, stood before the Mountain View council to decry a design they said would result in traffic problems for Los Altos on Covington Road.
Specifically, they disliked a proposed four-way intersection which would move Levin Avenue south to connect it with Covington Road across Grant Road, a street layout originally planned in 1984.
"The intersection takes Mountain View's growth and throws it directly onto Los Altos," said Los Altos resident John Bear. "There is a point when the proverbial straw breaks the camel's back. I would recommend Mountain View be a good neighbor to Los Altos and be a part of the solution not part of the problem."
Casas, the Los Altos council member, appeared to think the proposed design was flawed and would require "traffic calming" on Covington. Even so, he acknowledged, "Realigning Levin is a rational thing from a design standpoint." He went on to admit that the Los Altos neighbors closest to the intersection did not oppose it, but those near Miramonte Avenue did.
Mountain View's traffic engineers estimate that the 53 new homes will generate an average of 530 new car trips a day, or 10 per household. Only about 222 of those trips would go down Covington, the city estimates.
"Even if it's double that, is it really going to make a difference?" asked council member Jac Siegel "It's going to help Grant Road -- we have a traffic problem there we are trying to solve. A lot of Los Altos people are driving down Grant Road."
Covington Road resident Paul Marco said he was one of the Los Altos residents "implored" to attend the meeting. He said traffic was already bad, and expressed concern about the kids walking or biking to Blach Middle School on Covington. He added that he was not aware of Los Altos taking any action to slow traffic on the street.
An elderly Los Altos resident said he had a hard time backing out of his home on Covington, and a hard time turning onto Grant Road. He said a traffic increase would make it even harder.
Los Altos speakers also said the Mountain View traffic study was flawed. But the City Council and several Mountain View neighbors of the site dismissed the complaints.
"I didn't hear one cogent argument on what was flawed," said council member Tom Means.
A handful of Mountain View neighbors actually urged the council to approve the project.
"Two hundred trips a day -- I don't think it will make any significant impact whatsoever," said Tom Holmes, a Preston Drive resident. "This is kind of a no-brainer decision for you guys. Let's move on."
The owners of the Grant Road farm property, Betty Moore and Pauline King, said they were pleased with the project's design. In the past they had been criticized for not working with a local group that wanted to preserve a portion of the 15 acres as a heritage farm.
"Connecting Levin with Covington, it creates a much safer way for neighbors to exit onto Grant Road," Moore said. She added that the "orchard planting" along Grant Road "will be a beautiful entry" into the new neighborhood.
"I admit to being one of those crazy people that wanted the heritage farm," said council member Laura Macias. "What a beautiful project. Integration with an older neighborhood -- you don't see that very often."
SummerHill Homes also will widen Grant Road to two northbound lanes in front of the project to help alleviate the significant congestion on Grant Road during rush hour. Council member Mike Kasperzak asked Casas what Los Altos was doing to alleviate significant traffic congestion on its two-lane portions of Grant Road out to Foothill Expressway.
"We are primarily concerned with bike pedestrian safety, not throughput," Casas replied. "Throughput is not something we look at as very attractive."
Los Altos has also asked Mountain View to close off Preston Drive at Grant Road, which Mountain View city staffers oppose.
"Traffic is an issue all over," Macias said. "It is an inevitability in terms of growth. At this point if we started limiting throughput nobody's getting anywhere."
Means said he couldn't think of any reason why Mountain View residents would drive down Covington. "If people want to go to a theater, they go to Mountain View," he said. The same went for going to a golf course or a restaurant, he said. "I was trying to think of why people would go down Covington when there would be a lot of better options down Grant Road."
As to the project itself, a mix of one- and two-story homes in six different floor plans that are estimated to sell for $1.8 million each, Siegel summarized the council's opinion by calling them "a real wonderful addition to our city." Council member Means and several others said they would be interested in buying one.