In the first real City Council meeting of the year, members found themselves wrestling with a monstrous task -- how to use a precise plan to manage the explosive office growth that is waiting in the wings for the North Bayshore area.
"This is really important stuff to be fiddling with late at night," said council member Mike Kapserzak. "This is so visual. I'm trying to visualize what this could look like over 15 years. It's really hard to imagine all of this and we're all struggling with that."
Council members were tasked with where to put 3.4 million square feet of new offices north of Highway 101 by 2030 -- room for 15,000 to 20,000 new employees -- with buildings up to eight stories tall along Highway 101 and Shoreline Boulevard and a three-story maximum along the edges of Shoreline Park and Stevens Creek.
Council members apparently were worried that there would be pressure to develop more than 3.4 million square feet as soon as the North Bayshore precise plan is finished at the end of the year. It wouldn't be a first. Last year office development proposals quickly exceeded the 1.1 million square feet allocated in the 2030 general plan for the Whisman Area.
"I know everybody wants to get it done," Kasperzak said of all the landowners, developers and companies like Google with plans for rapid expansion. "But we're talking about a 15-year plan here."
With job growth clearly outpacing housing growth in Mountain View and causing traffic jams on Highway 101 and Shoreline Boulevard, council members and residents are very worried about making the situation worse.
"What most people are talking about is they don't believe this level of office growth works or can be dealt with in this traffic situation," said one resident. "People are talking about whether it's time to move."
"I strongly encourage you to allow a few hundred housing units there" in North Bayshore said resident Chris Carpenter, addressing the council's rejection of plans to build 1,000 homes in North Bayshore for tech employees. "We have a very serious housing problem. San Francisco is going to get on our case if we don't provide housing for people that work here."
In contrast to all the job growth planned, the city's new general plan allows up to 6,539 new homes in the city by 2030.
Consultant Matt Raimi revealed that if all of North Bayshore were allowed to develop at a maximum allowed density in the new 2030 general plan, 26 million square feet of new office space would be built. At 200 square feet per employee, that means potentially adding 130,000 employees. Today, 7.6 million square feet of office exists in North Bayshore.
In an effort to not exceed 3.4 million square feet, Kasperzak raised the possibility of a lottery for office developers to enter in which the only the best project are periodically selected for approval. Raimi said such ideas were being considered for the draft North Bayshore precise plan to be presented to the council in June.
Council member Margaret Abe-Koga said it was comforting to know that a North Bayshore traffic study will be presented to the council in April to help determine what will be needed to manage the area's traffic. "How many more shuttle buses can you even accommodate?" she asked, referring to the scores of white buses that bring Google employees from all over the Bay Area to Mountain View.
City planners say a large array of options will have to be utilized to fix North Bayshore's traffic problem, from new pedestrian and bike paths to dedicated shuttle lanes and new transit lines.
"We have the numbers (of commuters) to increase or improve our transportation system as is," Abe-Koga said. "The real crux is, how do we get the investment to do that? Maybe we have to require that investment up front."
"Where did the 3.4 million square foot number come from?" said council member Jac Siegel, to which planning director Randy Tsuda answered that it came from an economic forecast done during the general plan process.
"I don't see the need for eight-story buildings," said council member Ronit Bryant. "The new five story office on Middlefield Road and Logue Avenue -- that's really, really big. We will run out of development space really, really quickly. I think it's silly."
Bryant said she wanted North Bayshore to look like Stanford, a place where "there is actually a lot of development" though it doesn't feel that way. Others noted how streets inside Stanford were closed to car traffic and where bicycles are the norm, and expressed a desire that such be duplicated in North Bayshore.
"The idea of tall towers in wide open spaces has been tried and has failed because people don't like living like that." Bryant said. Projects "left open green spaces which were supposed to be wonderful and were absolutely awful. I don't want to look across the (Shoreline) lake and see eight-story buildings there."
The plan so far includes a walkable "core" along Shoreline Boulevard north of the highway with ground floor retail, although council members questioned its viability, given the number of restaurants and other business in North Bayshore who say they haven't been able to compete with Google's free food and other amenities.
"The chances for retail not being particularly good right now makes the idea of the walkable area not really credible," Byrant said. "Do we really even need a core?"
"For many of the employees out there, it is more convenient for them to go out to the cafeteria than to get in their car and drive out to restaurant, plus it's free," Raimi said. "We believe there are many people who would happily leave the confines of the campus if (retail and restaurants) were easier to get to."
Google's John Igoe had brief comments about the planning effort.
"We are very much in favor of most of the principles of the precise plan," said Igoe, real estate director for Google. "It's our belief the precise plan be as consistent with the general plan as much as possible. A lot of community input and a lot of hard work went into it. We look for to continuing to work with the city."