As Mountain View continues to reevaluate its development options for the next 20 years as part of its General Plan update, one Bay Area environmental group believes it has some sensible ideas for the city to consider.
Greenbelt Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates centralized "smart growth" as an alternative to subdividing open space, says Mountain View, like much of the Bay Area, has plenty of buildings and parcels ripe for redevelopment. While the city is already doing quite well from the group's perspective, ranking eighth among Bay Area cities in 2006 on its "Smart Growth Scorecard," the group believes it still has one glaring problem.
Mountain View, they say, requires an unusually large number of parking spaces for its new developments.
This policy, the group says, hurts Mountain View's ability to create an urban environment of the type that more and more people are seeking, where walking, bicycling and mass transit are convenient and enjoyable alternatives to driving.
Such ideas are a hard sell to current residents, however, as evidenced in most public hearings on new developments, where residents often say there isn't enough parking downtown, and already too much traffic.
Elizabeth Stampe, communications director for Greenbelt Alliance, explains the sentiment this way: "People don't really like change very much."
People on the Peninsula like to say their cities are already "built out," Stampe said. "We hear that a lot. But think about Paris. They've been building and rebuilding Paris for hundreds of years."
Stampe said Mountain View's other land use policies, such as zoning requirements for offices and residential areas, are relatively good. But in a study comparing different cities' parking policies, Mountain View scored 22.5 on a scale of 100 — one of the lowest in the Bay Area.
In Mountain View, an average of 2.3 parking spaces per housing unit are required — a relatively high proportion, Stampe says. In a hypothetical downtown development of 25 two-bedroom units, Mountain View would require 57 spaces, one of the highest requirements in the Bay Area. Other cities call for as few as 25 spaces for similar complexes in their downtown areas.
Mountain View could also do better by allowing the "unbundling" of parking spaces from the cost of a building, Stampe says. For example, if someone were to buy a home or business building, the parking spaces created with it could be sold separately. This could save money for those homebuyers who would rather not have a car, and at the very least creates an awareness of how much the small pieces of real estate are worth.
Randy Tsuda, the city's planning director, said Mountain View would likely study its parking requirements after its General Plan update is completed. He noted that reductions to that requirement are currently allowed for senior housing, affordable housing and transit-oriented development, such as the apartment complex proposed for the Minton's Lumber site at 455 W. Evelyn Ave. (Stampe acknowledged that the Greenbelt Alliance scorecard did not reflect those policies.)
By 2035, the Bay Area's population of seven million is expected to grow by another two million. Last month, Greenbelt Alliance released a report titled Grow Smart Bay Area that is optimistic about accommodating all those people.
With the help of a UC Berkeley database, the group identified 40,000 parcels of land in the Bay Area that are worth more than the buildings that occupy them. And through further calculations and closer examination of each property, Greenbelt Alliance came to the conclusion that, with proper planning, there is plenty of room for another two million people to live and work.
As part of its report, the group "reimagined" a few areas in Mountain View that could be redeveloped, including a set of office buildings at the north end of Bernardo Avenue near Central Expressway, which Greenbelt Alliance hopes will be made into a walkable mixed-use community.
The purpose of the renderings is to "draw attention to that fact that office parks don't use land in a smart way," Stampe said. "It's just these big low buildings surrounded by seas of parking lots and big streets that don't feel safe to walk on. There is nothing within walking distance. You have to drive to get lunch.
"It doesn't have to be like that," she continued. "It can be a very jobs-oriented place, but it can also be place where people can walk around and get lunch."