Potentially adding space for over 17,500 new office workers, a plan is coming into focus for Google's neighborhood north of Highway 101 which could include a cap on car traffic and the development of eight-story buildings along the freeway and North Shoreline Boulevard.
Council members indicated support in a study session Tuesday for the "guiding principles" of a proposed precise plan for the area, which could add 3.5 million square feet of office space to an area where 7.5 million square feet now exists, along with a possible new hotel and entertainment venues near 101. In an effort to pull development away from wildlife habitat along Stevens Creek and the Bay, the proposal focuses development of the tallest office buildings in a "core area" of North Bayshore, where most buildings would be four to five stories, but could be as high as eight stories.
Approaching local creeks and the Bay, heights taper down so that most buildings would be no more than two to three stories stories tall.
Council members wanted to go even further in focusing development in the center of the area and closer to Highway 101.
"You go down (Highway) 101 and see the tall buildings in other cities -- I don't think that bothers a lot of folks," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga, who said she wanted to bring development in and closer to Highway 101.
Council member Ronit Bryant added, "We say we don't want a wall of buildings why not have a wall of buildings along the freeway? I see no reason not to."
Within the core area of North Bayshore, council members indicated support for a street-scape similar to downtown, where buildings come up to sidewalks and and have ground-floor retail and restaurants. Dedicated bike lanes, sidewalk cafes and ample walkways and landscaping were shown in designs.
Some members were skeptical that ground-floor retail and restaurants would work, given that Google provides free food and other services for its employees and North Bayshore restaurants say they are rapidly losing business and face closure.
"It's been suggested to me you limit the size of cafeterias or kitchen space so that by design you limit the ability of mega-employers to serve their own employees food," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "There's no way you can say it's an environment conducive to restaurants, given the model that's gone out there."
Abe-Koga said the answer to encouraging small businesses on the ground floor of new buildings is to "intensify" development in the center of North Bayshore and "make it walkable."
"Starbucks on Pear Avenue -- it's packed all afternoon," Abe-Koga said. "There's definitely some businesses that can do well. We just have to look at what those are."
There's no housing in the plan, said Mayor John Inks, referring to the council's decision to keep new housing out of the area, despite Google's support for the idea. "Can you really crunch retail and other services there when you only have half a community?"
Despite numerous proposals to reduce traffic in and out of North Bayshore -- including a new shared shuttle system, a network of bike- and pedestrian-only greenways and automated trams, council members are still concerned about existing traffic problems getting worse.
"When it took me two hours to get from downtown to the concert (at Shoreline Amphitheatre), it made me think, 'What are we doing here?'" Abe-Koga said of driving on North Shoreline Boulevard.
Some council members want a hard cap on allowed car trips that could force employers to take significant measures or face a moratorium on development, similar to what the city of Palo Alto imposed on Stanford University, which pays its employees not to drive.
"Until we do that, we're just talking," said Bryant.
Kasperzak said he agreed.
"We just have to have the determination to say a hard cap is going to have to happen," Bryant said.
"I think we should look at parking along the freeway -- certainly Intuit is looking at something along these lines," Bryant said. "Less traffic is good for wildlife and be better for all the people who work there."
The council is expected to take up the issue of traffic and transportation in North Bayshore in more detail in a future meeting, including a traffic study of a bridge over Stevens Creek to NASA Ames that would be restricted to high occupancy vehicles. Council members have resisted the bridge plan, which Google proposed along with a 1.1 million-square-foot office campus at Ames, though that project is now on hold.
Audubon Society Wildlife advocate Shani Kleinhaus spoke in support of the guiding principles of the plan, calling it "really exceptional, really wonderful" that it included expanding the habitat in the most sensitive areas near the wetlands near the detention pond and near the egret colony, she said. The area is home to the largest such bird colony in the South Bay, which inhabits the trees not far from where Google has proposed its bridge over Stevens Creek.