Though it might stop them from meeting goals for keeping cars out of North Bayshore, a slim majority of council members are so dead-set against building a shuttle bridge over Stevens Creek that they refuse to allow a study of its environmental impacts.
Council members argued about the bridge late into the night Tuesday, Dec. 10, in a study session on land use and transportation plans for the North Bayshore area north of Highway 101.
Originally, the bridge was proposed by Google to connect the east end of Chareslton Road across Stevens Creek to a new Google campus at NASA Ames Research Center. The bridge was touted Tuesday as one of the keys to getting North Bayshore employees out of their cars if it were restricted to shuttles, cyclists and pedestrians -- no cars allowed.
The bridge would provide a connection from the heart of North Bayshore to downtown Mountain View and Highway 101 along Moffett Boulevard -- bypassing Shoreline Boulevard gridlock.
Opposing the study of the bridge's environmental and traffic impacts were members Ronit Bryant, Jac Siegel, Margaret Abe-Koga and John McAlister, arguing it would ruin the "character" of North Bayshore that draws businesses there, and impact wildlife habitat in the area.
"As someone who likes to make fact-based decisions, that really bugs me," said council member Chris Clark, calling it a "mistake" to not study the bridge. A study would find out how effective it would be, he said. "And if it's going to be effective, what are the environmental costs?"
"It's obvious this bridge touches us in places we really care about," said council member Bryant, who noted that it was the third meeting in which council members opposed the bridge. "My vision for North Bayshore is nature and high tech together in a campus-like environment. The mode share (car traffic reduction) is a tool. If that tool degrades the environment, even if it's the most efficient tool possible, it's not for me."
The council was reminded by consultant Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson Nygaard that they would have to make use of all the best options available to them to reduce vehicle traffic. Planning Director Randy Tusda said the bridge may be needed to reach the council's goal of reducing the percentage of North Bayshore employees using cars to only 45 percent. Google has already taken aggressive measures in this regard, and has 61 percent of employees driving cars.
"It's already an aggressive target -- our concern is we are not going to be able to meet it" without the Charleston Road bridge, Tsuda said. He reminded council that they had decided against a "hard cap" on vehicle trips into North Bayshore, like Stanford University's cap that restricts car traffic to 1989 levels.
Despite repeated assurances that the bridge was not being proposed for car travel -- as that would hurt the council's goals -- Bryant said a future City Council could change that. "These are the same arguments used to build freeways through cities -- to bring freeways through Greenwich Village," she said.
Former city manager Bruce Liedstrand also called on the council to study housing, something in the environmental study for North Bayshore that a majority of the council oppose. Housing in North Bayshore would be another way to reduce commuter traffic, he said.
"A failure to include it prevents informed decision-making and public participation," Liedstrand said. "It could put the project at legal risk."
New Highway 101 bridge
A plan came into focus Tuesday for building a bypass along the west side of gridlocked Shoreline Boulevard for shuttles, bicyclists and pedestrians. It would include a bridge that would cross Highway 101 from a site on Terra Bella Avenue, and then either directly connect to Shoreline Boulevard north of the freeway or connect with Joaquin Avenue to the north. It would either cut through the movie theater property and an adjacent property or go around the western edge of the theater site.
"If it were seen as valuable to those property owners, it could go through the middle of those properties," Tumlin said of the bypass, adding that the movie theater property owners might "embrace having this connection through to downtown." He added that to "orient development around it would help those properties best achieve their mode split (traffic reduction) goals."
Consultants said Tuesday that all employers would be asked to meet the goal of having only 45 percent of employees driving to work alone in cars, including the movie theater and other restaurants and retailers. Tumlin said his group was even considering how a "cap and trade" system could allow employers to be able to buy such car trips from other employers if they were unable to meet the target.
"We do have concerns with any proposed alignment that would result in bifurcation of our property," said Bill Vierra of SyWest Development, which owns the theater property and wants to redevelop it with a new Century theater and spa, which the company would run. "It would pose challenges in designing our site."
The City Council rejected a request earlier this year from SyWest to redevelop the site ahead of the precise plan for North Bayshore which has put major redevelopment of the area by Google and others on hold.