Community organizers are seeking to stop Merlone Geier's redevelopment of San Antonio Shopping Center this summer.
The Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View has taken issue with developer Merlone Geier's proposal to build large office buildings without adding any housing in its second phase of the major redevelopment of the shopping center. The group has also taken issue with the developer's treatment of the Milk Pail Market, which may be forced out without an agreement with Merlone Geier for parking for the store.
The group unanimously voted Monday evening to collect at least 3,240 signatures from registered Mountain View voters in July to put the project up for a city-wide vote -- if the City Council approves the project before summer break. Voters would be asked to simply reject the project as it has been proposed, potentially putting the project in the hands of a newly elected City Council next year.
"We don't really want to do a referendum in July, but we will if we have to," said campaign founder Lenny Siegel, a Mountain View resident since the 1970s and director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight.
To members of the group, the major planning issue of the day is a growing imbalance of housing in the face of skyrocketing job growth and office development, which has driven up rents and worsened commuter traffic. The campaign's membership includes everyone from younger residents facing the possibility of being pushed out by high rents to longtime residents like Betsy Collard, a resident of Mountain View for 45 years and former board member of the old Mountain View School District.
"I see so many people who grew up in Mountain View who have lived here all their lives being forced out because of the rising rent," Collard said. "We may not be able to do as much as we'd like about that, but we certainly don't need to make the problem worse by building more office space before we build housing."
After founding the group earlier this year, Siegel had been pushing for housing in North Bayshore, but "people at the meeting were pretty excited about this, I was surprised," Siegel said of the new focus on the San Antonio center. "This has not been on my personal radar screen."
Members of the group say they would like to see homes built instead of the pair of six-story office buildings totaling 397,000 square feet that Merlone Geier has proposed. Merlone Geier's proposed offices would make room for 2,000 to 4,000 jobs when calculated at 100 to 200 square feet per employee. Siegel added that many people are upset that Merlone Geier appears to be pushing out the Milk Pail Market, which owns its building but doesn't own the required amount of parking to go with it.
But simply replacing the offices with homes won't be enough to please the group, which is insisting that the city follow a "precise plan" being drafted for the San Antonio Area. It is intended to be a larger plan that addresses various community needs in and around the large shopping center. It is scheduled to be complete near the end of the year.
"A lot of people want to see a lot of housing built there and for whatever is developed there to be more oriented to Caltrain," Siegel said. "But one of the key issues here is the fact there's no precise plan. Where would kids go to school? Because there's no school in that part of town. That's an issue that should be addressed in the precise plan. Mountain View has this bad habit of telling developers, 'Oh yeah, go ahead, we'll start discussing what kind of brick you are going to use,' before they've dealt with the major planning issues."
"The city appears to be rushing through final approval despite many unanswered questions on parking, circulation, transit access, and design, including shared parking for the Milk Pail Market," Siegel wrote in a letter to the City Council. "We urge you to put off consideration of this proposal until the Precise Plan is completed, and to include in Precise Plan discussions consideration of an alternative that provides a significant number of new housing units, including a substantial fraction of below-market homes, as part of a transit-oriented development."
Member Lucas Ramirez said the group may still do a referendum on the city's North Bayshore precise plan as well, but "we focused on (Merlone Geier's project) because that is likely to be approved by the council before the summer recess, and we would need to act quickly."
The North Bayshore precise plan may allow office growth for as many as 20,000 new jobs for Google and LinkedIn, among others, with no new housing in that area. That was despite a North Bayshore housing proposal supported by Google that was rejected by the City Council in 2012.
All told, the city is facing up to 6.4 million square feet of office growth in the near future, estimated as enough space for over 36,000 jobs. The city's zoning allows for an estimated 7,000 new homes by 2030, according the city's general plan adopted in 2012.
For more information on the effort, visit balancedmv.org.