As city manager in the early 1980s, Bruce Liedstrand helped lead efforts to transform the city's downtown and create a vision for the North Bayshore area that's now home to Google. But mistakes were made, he says, and he hopes the city doesn't pass on an opportunity to create an "innovation village" in North Bayshore for Google employees and others.
"It seemed great at the time," Liedstrand said of North Bayshore's development. But the low office buildings and sprawling parking lots indicate the flaw that underpinned the whole design: the assumption that our dependency on cars would never change.
Residents and North Bayshore employees had similar opinions during general plan meetings in 2009 and 2010 in which a new vision was sought for North Bayshore and other key neighborhoods in the city. The idea of creating "another vibrant Castro Street" on Shoreline Boulevard north of Highway 101 appeared to have support from most participants. Housing, retail and other services should be allowed in the neighborhood, participants said, so office workers would not have to commute in and out of the area as much.
Now the city is looking to refine that vision in gathering input on a new draft of the city's new 2030 general plan, a blueprint for the future development of key neighborhoods. Input is coming from unusual places for North Bayshore, including a city-sponsored "town hall" website for gathering input on North Bayshore planning and from little-known workshops for Googlers and other North Bayshore employees organized by Sustainable Silicon Valley.
On Jan. 27 some outside-of-the-box ideas came from a workshop Sustainable Silicon Valley held for businesses in North Bayshore at Intuit headquarters. According to the notes from the meeting, participants called for living buildings with zero impact on the environment, on-site renewable energy sources, inexpensive office space for small businesses and startups, high-density residential buildings, increased car sharing services and a shared shuttle service operated by a coalition of North Bayshore companies. Someone even suggested a museum exhibit featuring future energy technologies.
Online, users of the city-sponsored website northbayshorepreciseplan.org have discussed over 30 different ideas for the future of Google's neighborhood. Ideas include a grocery store, small dog and children's parks, outdoor cafes, and clusters of retail services no more than a half-mile from any workplace.
To gauge popularity of an idea, the website allows people to "second" their favorites. The most popular suggestion so far is for a light rail extension from downtown Mountain View to North Bayshore.
"In beautiful Mountain View weather we should be spending more time outside instead of air-conditioned buildings," said one popular post advocating for outdoor cafes and even outdoor movie theaters. Others topics include calls for paved trails along the Bay to Sunnyvale and special street intersections and crosswalks that favor bicyclists and pedestrians.
If online forums are the future of community planning, times have changed. Liedstrand recalled the methods for envisioning Castro Street. A task force of stakeholders was assembled, trips were made to inspiring places, experts talked and soon "everybody was on the same page" with a plan supported by the whole community. He noted that cities often forget the importance of education during such a process.
"Let's understand the younger generation and make it good for them," Liedstrand said of North Bayshore, saying that it should be a place where people find pleasure spending time. He also mentioned that focusing on a single facet, such as housing, could bring controversy and deter efforts. He did say that "the key is to put so many units in there that they can afford to live there."
Liedstrand still lives in Mountain View and has high praise for the city's potential.
"To me this area has the potential to be absolutely great, one of the best places in the whole world."
And that's coming from a guy who has a second home in Paris.
For more information of the city's general plan update: visit mountainview2030.com