News

Urban design critic joins debate over city's development

Council member, critic respond about call for housing in North Bayshore

Google's hometown of Mountain View has become a flash point for the debate over Silicon Valley's resistance to allowing new housing for its exploding workforce, and on Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle entered the fray.

In a column by respected urban design columnist John King, it is noted that Mountain View is home to a thriving downtown and many of the country's most "innovative addresses" such as LinkedIn and Google, but King says "when it comes to mapping a future with housing options for the talented people who work within its boundaries, the South Bay city of 75,000 is stuck in the past."

At the heart of his front-page piece is Mountain View and Silicon Valley's housing shortage. King notes that Google's hometown is planning for 8,000 new homes and 20,000 new jobs by 2030, according to Mountain View's 2012 general plan, (though he doesn't mention that much more than that is in the planning pipeline). There is growing concern that all the job growth -- without commensurate housing growth -- is driving up housing costs and causing more commuter traffic.

King cuts to a major issue many have had with Mountain View the city's refusal to build housing aimed at Google employees near its campus north of Highway 101. He writes that "when the city had the chance to strike out in a new direction, it froze." What he's referring to is the 2012 City Council vote against housing along North Shoreline Boulevard.

The council voted against what King describes as "a mixed-use corridor with 1,100 housing units above shops and cafes. The idea was to add a human scale to the clogged artery while creating housing options for younger workers who wouldn't mind small units if they were close to their jobs, with things to do downstairs." Planning director Randy Tsuda is quoted calling it an opportunity to "prove the concept, see if it can expand."

While many tech employees might prefer to live in a more urban setting near their jobs rather than commute to and from San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose, City Council members Ronit Bryant, Jac Siegel, Laura Macias and Margaret Abe-Koga opposed the North Bayshore housing plan in a 4-3 vote in 2012.

King calls on Mountain View to change course, to be a model for the rest of Silicon Valley's more suburban cities, by building "engaging, inclusive twists on the suburban norm that other regions will seek to emulate -- rather than traffic-choked, expensive enclaves that show the perils of sticking our heads in the sand."

King's column did not sit well with council member Ronit Bryant, who was spurred to write an op-ed in response, published in the Voice opinion section this week.

"While he has good things to say about our city, Mr. King is unhappy that we are not planning to build housing in North Bayshore, which he (and others) seem to see as some kind of panacea for the housing problems of the Bay Area," Bryant writes.

"Could we in Mountain View ever build enough to lower housing costs on the Peninsula?" Bryant writes. "I doubt it very much."

Bryant suggests that North Bayshore housing would drive away Mountain View's tech companies, though Google strongly supported the original North Bayshore housing plan. "Could we encourage businesses to leave or to stop adding jobs and then flood North Bayshore with housing instead?" she writes. "Perhaps. Would that be good for Mountain View or for our region? I don't think so."

Bryant concludes by saying that the council's chosen North Bayshore plan, without housing, is "more innovative: a magical place along a restored Bay and under the migratory birds' Pacific Flyway, where the landscape and the wildlife are protected and enhanced and high-tech individuals are inspired to greater creativity," She adds, "It will be a place where residents and employees find respite from the built environment" and that employees there will be connected to "services-rich" residential neighborhoods by new bike and pedestrian buildings and transit services.

In response to Bryant's op-ed, King said in an email "why is it an either/or? Why can't you have the flyway and open space AND interesting housing along Shoreline?"

"The reason I selected Mountain View for the piece is that Mountain View is a city that really does seem to have such a remarkable set of opportunities," King said in a phone interview. "It does have the transit access, it does have the Bayshore access, it does have a desirability and creativity (to be both) suburban and settled but also be varied and dynamic with lots of places to live and explore."

"Mountain View with North Bayshore has a chance to pull the residential city into the business zone and at the same time use that as a mechanism to restore and improve the Shoreline as habitat," King told the Voice.

King suggested that the city reconsider "the idea that we have our life, which is the the way Mountain View has been and always should be, and then there is this thing on the other side of the 101 that generates lots of tax money, and that's terrific, but we'd just assume it isn't there."

"Mountain View has the chance in the North Bayshore area to really create an attractive, exciting sustainable and ecologically cool 21st century version of suburbia," King said. "Why not take the chance to see if it works?"

Lenny Siegel of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View has personally known Bryant for years, but said her op-ed "misses the point" and took issue with many of her assertions

"It's no surprise that people elsewhere in the Bay Area are upset at Mountain View," Siegel said. "I believe the council's overall planning strategy dumps problems created in Mountain View elsewhere in the Bay Area. It sends well paid employees to neighborhoods in San Francisco and the East Bay, causing gentrification."

"It's not just other people (from other cities) being hurt," Siegel said. "People in Mountain View are being driven out or forced to live in overcrowded situations."

Siegel also took issue with Bryant's statement that the city is losing diversity simply because "Mountain View became such an attractive place to live."

"It's so attractive in the sense that it's a place where jobs are," Siegel said. "People will pay a lot of money to live close to where their jobs are. The council isn't hearing the community's concern that our quality of life is not just being undermined, but destroyed."

Bryant also says the North Bayshore housing did not include enough homes to support a grocery store and other services, which is often said to require a community of 5,000 homes. She calls the smaller number of homes in the 2012 plan a recipe for "temporary" housing. At the time, Bryant didn't stress this concern, but did compare the homes to factory dorm housing in China, where employees "do not live happily ever after."

"If indeed the number of housing units proposed for North Bayshore was too few, then they should have considered an option for more, not just less, and considered the environmental and social impacts of it," Siegel said.

Comments

Posted by Gardener, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Gardener is a registered user.

Ronit Bryant and the rest of the City Council entirely miss the point. They refuse to approve housing growth in proportion to jobs growth, thereby causing increased housing rental and purchase costs and increased traffic. The former hurts everyone who is a renter, from long-time residents to newly arriving residents and the latter hurts absolutely everyone.

It's not surprising that everyone on the City Council already is a homeowner. They have no reason to care about rental costs and they actually win by driving up housing prices.

Can we agree that it's far past time to replace the City Council with people who care about quality of life for all people who live and work in Mountain View?


Posted by fair and balanced?, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Daniel, you seem to have taken a position of advocacy here. You have written an article about an article. King's piece is pretty one-sided, as is your presentation. I'm not so sure that this is the way that journalism should work.

I'll look forward to seeing Ms. Bryant's op-ed; it does not seem to be on this site yet.


Posted by MV resident, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm

I work in Sunnyvale and live in MV. Building less offices and more houses in MV is not a panacea. Are you going to solve the problem that affects the whole Silicon Valley? Offices will be built in Sunnyvale instead. And MV will need to spend money to provide schools and other services to serve the newly acquired population.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I read that article, I enjoy reading John King and what he has to sign. I don't expect Mountain View to solve the area housing problem but only add housing, different kind of housing and blends. Mixed Use is great along El Camino instead of miles of old strip mall locations.

California Street with all those ugly apartments building can show grew promise in the future with mixed use rental and ownership homes.

Don't need to be miles of single family homes or massive amounts of high density all over El Camino, you are still going to need offices, retail and service based businesses.

Not every site can become development, you need parking lots, parks, open space in private projects, and schools (private or public).


Posted by Putting it all together, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 5, 2014 at 2:05 pm

"Bryant also says the North Bayshore housing did not include enough homes to support a grocery store and other services, which is often said to require a community of 5,000 homes."

I thought this was the main reason the housing was not approved. There wouldn't be the needed threshold to support basic services (groceries, pharmacy, doctors, schools, etc), and who wants to live out there when you have to come back into MV for everything you need (even if you do work out there)? That just creates more traffic on Shoreline.

Also, with Google giving away free lunches, do you really think 1100 new housing units (of people who may work elsewhere) are really going to help keep existing services open, or are these 1100 houses going to be without even the few restaurants currently out there once they have to close? There's a chance those houses could help support the restaurants, but maybe not as much as you think.

Plus, there's no way to guarantee people living in any North Bayshore housing would have jobs there. Maybe only 30% would actually work in North Bayshore, and the other 70% would then be commuting to PA or Facebook. So most of those people could add even more traffic on 101 in either direction to get to their jobs. I don't see how this helps anything.

Plus, from a previous article I understand that in 30 years all of this land will be subject to flooding due to rising tides from global warming. Bad enough if businesses have to deal with flooding, but it's much worse if it's someones home. Do we really want homes out there?

Maybe we slow down the office building. I don't think the solution is building more of both. Last point, what about more building (office and homes) in Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Los Altos? Why is Mountain View the easy target? Other cities have big corp offices too. Los Altos is no where near as crowded as Mountain View, and we all know lots of people who live there and work here. Maybe they should approve more office and housing projects to help alleviate this regional problem. (Hint: It's not just MV!)

Has John King really been following this debate for years like I have, or is he just jumping on the bandwagon, making comments about a situation where he knows very little? I know he's an urban designer, but it doesn't sound like he has all the history here.


Posted by Local, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 5, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I read Ronit Bryant's op-ed before seeing this online Voice piece (the Voice issue with the op-ed hit the streets this morning before Daniel DeBolt's article appeared here on the website).

Read the actual op-ed: it's only quoted selectively above. It reviews background about Mountain View that (Bryant implies) King neglected, like having one of the peninsula's highest population densities already, and areas that demonstrate exactly the "engaging neighborhoods" King tried to contrast as goals.

Recent outside journalistic attention to peninsula jobs-housing issues has brought reporting that's either carelessly researched or polemically biased in its characterizations of peninsula towns. In April, Kim-Mai Cutler's long and popular TechCrunch piece contained wide-ranging analysis, but also Junior-Moment historical gaffes and glib, armchair explanations of some peninsula city policies -- raising questions (to those who spotted these defects, anyway) about the rest of the article's research. Get set for more outside critiques of this kind.


Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 5, 2014 at 3:06 pm

"Almost every municipality in Silicon Valley wants to grab a share of the tech economy while pretending the workers don't need a place to live."
-Silicon Valley Community Foundation

So Mountain View can't house every worker, so do nothing meaningful? I suppose we should stop caring about global warming since our local actions can't change the climate? The fact our single city can't change the world or regional housing problems alone does not absolve us of a moral duty to try something regardless of what other city's do or don't do.

Just look at El Camino or Shoreline at 5pm and you'll see some of that hardship. There is a real cost to the environment, health, and well being of so many workers being on the road, away from their families. What does it say of us as a community if we do not care if our neighbors are being pushed out?

How can we accept mottoes like: They should have known better, or not everyone can live comfortably, so let them suffer.

Rather: What is right is not always what is most comfortable. We sacrifice to build a better community because that is what humanity at its best does for each other.

And I'm not convinced what is right must be all that uncomfortable. Why not hold a design competition to see if a carbon neutral housing community can be created in North Bayshore in lieu of some of the planned office development? So no net loss of open space, no cars added to our congested streets. This doesn't have to appeal to everyone, but there are many who would happily give up their car to live by work (or willing to bike on work), having the most beautiful part of the Bay Area at their door to walk and bike, and freeing up the most precious resource: time. We all benefit if some tech workers are off our roads and not escalating demand for housing outside of North Bayshore.

Examples of carbon neutral micro housing, Web Link
Dallas' ecological urban design competition: Web Link


Posted by OMV Resident, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 5, 2014 at 3:14 pm

@Local - "In April, Kim-Mai Cutler's long and popular TechCrunch piece contained wide-ranging analysis, but also Junior-Moment historical gaffes and glib, armchair explanations of some peninsula city policies -- raising questions (to those who spotted these defects, anyway) about the rest of the article's research."

I'm curious what historical gaffes and glib, armchair explanations of peninsula policies you believe this article contained? It's a long article, so specific references would be helpful.

For those who haven't seen it, here's the link: Web Link


Posted by Shonda Ranson, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 5, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Whether you agree with Daniel's recent articles, John's Chronicle editorial, Ronit's and Betsy Collard's rebuttals, or even the Tom's opinion piece rolled into this latest (and somewhat targeted) edition of the MV-Voice, the upside to all of it is that we're talking about it as a community.

Where everyone seems to agree, at least, is that there is not a simple, quick or easy solution. But we're talking about it, and it's not an after-thought -- and Daniel is one of the voices making that happen. So I'd like to ask you to be respectful, whether or not you agree with how he presents the information. Understand that he is keeping the conversation going.

And while it may seem that the City staff is overwhelmed at only working on office developments because those developments make the news (tech real estate is nationally a hot topic, and my phone is buzzing and ringing constantly from reporters trying to get the latest breaking news on it before their rivals), there's also the planning projects update list that was posted this afternoon, showing of the 70 active projects (not including 3 Precise Plans wrapping up at the end of the year), 42 of them are housing, two more are assisted living and there's even five hotels in the mix. Web Link

We are moving forward. We are doing something. And we are looking at where we can do more. The City has been open and transparent about all of these things and have been available for questions, comments and responses to the MV-Voice and any other outlet who has asked. We will continue to do so.

So thank you for taking the time to read this article and the supporting articles to get to know more about what's happening. We encourage you to look at multiple sources of information (just as we do), and to keep the public input coming. Mountain View is filled with intelligent, innovative and diverse free-thinkers. Let's keep the dialogue going and welcome other perspectives.

-Shonda Ranson
Communications Coordinator
City of Mountain View


Posted by Complex Issues!, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 5, 2014 at 8:23 pm

@OMV Resident
I scanned that long TechCrunch article a while back. I remember being put off by the title's reference to burrowing owls and its implication that the MV City Council was a bunch of older property-owning NIMBY's who used the burrowing owl as a disingenuous reason to reject additional housing in North Bayshore. Actually, there are some progressive members on the City Council who have supported higher density housing near transit including higher density multi-family housing in on El Camino, the (politically poisonous) BRT, and denser San Antonio Center development. Bryant and Abe Koga have been strong supporters of affordable housing and residential development in Mountain View but rejected North Bayshore housing because they consider it sprawl. It's not realistic to manufacture a whole community in North Bayshore with housing, retail, schools. Those residents will have to drive everywhere especially those who don't actually work in North Bayshore. In the past Mountain View tried building a bunch of housing in East Whisman neighborhood but no retail followed and the elementary school was even shut down for low enrollment. Before taking the convenient route by building out in North Bayshore open space where there are no NIMBY's to fight, I support taking the longer-term and smarter path by filling in existing areas of Mountain View proper and make them more pedestrian friendly and vibrant so that there is a true benefit to existing residents. I welcome more residential development in my neighborhood, Shoreline West, which is near transit and I'm glad that the East Whisman Precise Plan is gearing up too.

The Voice's article about North Bayshore have entirely ignored arguments that North Bayshore residential development are a form of sprawl but have repeatedly (I've literally lost count) of the references to Ronit's "not happily ever-after" dormitory quote.

@Shonda: I love your spirit and your articulate defense of civil conversation, but the I must say that the Voice, an institution that I deeply appreciate for keeping our community informed and enlightened, should have a higher standard of objectivity.

Daniel: I admire your reporting, especially the series on affordable housing last year! But please try to seek out some other voices on the North Bayshore issue!

BTW, I'm a renter in Mountain View who lives in insecurity about rent increases also.


Posted by Yawning Resident, a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 5, 2014 at 9:01 pm

After looking at the list of planning projects posted today, the thing is that I have to agree with Christopher Chiang in terms of design/environmental impact. Most of these housing developments are SO boring, and I'm not sure they're pushing the envelope on environmental conservation. It would just be nice to see the City embrace the idea of being a city where we want everyone to look at us and say, "Wow, now that's something new and inventive!" and really problem-solving, rather than the sense I get, at least from the MV's reporting on the Council, that they just freeze and wring their hands whenever a problem comes up they can't face. I don't know the logistics or legalities of design competitions, or forcing developers to meet a certain aesthetic standard, but I feel like we are losing the battle to other areas of the North Bay that put these things first.


Posted by Betsy Collard, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 6, 2014 at 8:31 am

One of the things that is very difficult about understanding all of this is that the numbers sited in various plans, etc. are not consistent. This article sites the City General Plan's number (8k housing units, 20k jobs). it also says there are numbers in the pipeline now that go beyond that. What are those numbers? What are the numbers for the San Antonio Precise Plan (housing and jobs) and where are we now in terms of numbers after Phase 1 of MG and other development in the area? How will the approval of Phase 2 further impact those numbers?

I have seen different numbers from various places and don't know which are accurate.


Does anyone know what the official numbers are? It would be very helpful to see all those numbers together in a document from the City or someone so we could know what we are dealing with in terms of development planned and the impact that current development and proposed development in SA precise plan.


Posted by CodeRed, a resident of another community
on Jun 6, 2014 at 9:05 am

@Betsy Collard,

Contrary to the city of Mountain View's claim of "transparency", obfuscation is the name of the game. Expect the following in terms of any/all EIR's: "minimal/no impact", quickly followed by the rubber stamp "approved".

Gotta feed the machine = city staff.


Posted by @ Christopher Chiang, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 6, 2014 at 9:26 am

Please clarify - I don't understand how you can be so sure that new residents in North Bayshore will not add to traffic. You imply they will ride their bikes around and not have cars. It's great if some of them can bike to work, but people need other services besides work. If there are not enough housing units out there to support the other basic services people need, these guys will still be in their cars during lunch time or morning and evening running errands (school pick-up, drop-off, groceries, gym, dry-cleaning, etc.) I don't see how just living close to work removes cars from the roads. That's not enough.

Also, what if people decide to live out there and work in another city? Is there a law that will require people to live there only if they also work in North Bayshore? I doubt it. What if someone moves there to be close to work, but then gets laid off and finds work in another city? They may not want to move, so they will commute.

You have this assumption people will live and work there, use their bikes and never get into a car and I just don't see how that's possible. But correct me if I'm wrong...

I think housing needs to be located near existing services (downtown, California Ave, and El Camino) and then we improve our public transportation lines from the local Caltrain and light rail stops, as well as add better public bus service from neighborhoods. People living outside MV and commuting in should be encouraged to take the trains. People who live and work inside MV should be encouraged to take local buses or bikes (my husband bikes) and people who live in MV and work outside should be encouraged to take the trains, and hopefully those other cities have great local buses that get them to their office.

This is the only way to minimize traffic all around in the future. I'm not opposed to more housing in MV, but where the housing is located is key, and I just don't see how housing in North Bay helps.


Posted by Robert, a resident of Slater
on Jun 6, 2014 at 10:25 am

Robert is a registered user.

I am continually puzzled by people who hold to the notion that over population in some distant country, somehow requires them to castrate themselves to make it better. The extreme think globally, act locally mindset. First and foremost, we must do what is best for Mountain View, and not expect neighboring communities or ABAG to act in Mountain View's best interest.

Firefighters don't just run blindly into the flames, they make sure that they are protected so they don't become a casualty in their efforts; an asset then becomes a liability, likewise rushing headlong to save the world by putting housing in north bayshore is a high risk proposition that a prudent Mountain View should not undertake.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jun 6, 2014 at 11:49 am

North Bayshore should have some sort of housing but tend to agree that retail and services are needed for residents. Would be a very large undertaking that might take years of planning, studies and agreements. Also nearby airports might squash houing plans, close to bay and wildlife area might squash plan.

Building along El Camino Real and California St might prove easier then trying to build a mini city


Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm

The challenge we face is that non-home owning neighbors are being priced out of Mountain View (and this region) because job growth out paces housing growth.

The second part of the challenge is that local infrastructure can't handle any more traffic. Our streets are already clogged. Nor is our public transit designed for very much more high density. Our train aren't laid out like they are in Tokyo or even NYC.

We have prices equal/higher than big cities, we have jobs equal/higher than big cities, but we aren't built like a big city.

Housing in North Bayshore by where tens of thousands of Bay Area professionals work does not need to appeal to everyone.

There are people who would trade off having a private vehicle if they have access ample bike trails and shared car services, and live right next door to work. Again, doesn't have to be everyone. One doesn't have the mandate where they work or if they own a car. You just build next to work and not build space for cars. If you did this on El Camino, that would just negatively impact everyone, there's no choice but to drive on El Camino. But in Bayshore where you can't amply park on the streets to begin with, and you are already near many companies, this is simply a lifestyle choice for those in a place to take advantage of it, it is not a legal mandate.

There are people who would cherish the time saved from commuting, and happily commit to living on a smaller carbon footprint in micro-denser green housing by and in harmony with the Baylands.

If you don't work in North Bayshore, the housing they'd seek elsewhere would be made easier by the eased demand. If you must drive to work, as I do on El Camino/Shoreline each day, our lives are made easier by the reduced traffic of the people living by work.

This is just an idea, I hope everyone is thinking of more alternative solutions that will provide housing and at the same time not destroy the livability of our city. I think the idea I'm proposing provides both housing and increases the livability for the rest of us.

We have a moral duty discuss something. Real people are suffering. Homeowners should recognize that the rising housing prices that allow homeowners to build their equity is the same market forces causing hardships to their neighbors.

Dallas held an eco-urban design challenge that drew "hundreds of entries from the world's top architecture firms and city planners in 26 countries" could you imagine the interest there would be in helping solve our challenges?
Web Link

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jun 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I think a design challenge is a great idea. Are non city planners open to the challenge.


Posted by reader, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2014 at 9:33 pm

If all 20,000 new workers all rode bikes to work in mountain view, then 20,000 more bikes on rode. one bike is about 2 meters long in traffic, maybe? So 20,000 bikes riding in single file is 40 km. long? So if only 1/4 rode bikes, then 6 miles of a line of bicycles in the morning without a break? 5000 bikes arriving in the same hour to work means more than 1 bike per second arrives at work in north shoreline on average. If 1/2 drove cars 2 to a car, 5,000 more cars--how long is this line? Then 10,000 need a shuttle/bus (or are all within walking distance?) Full bus = 40-50 people thus 200 big buses minimum. All at the same hour (more than 3 buses / min passing through to north shoreline area at peak)? Did I make a big mistake in the picture I calculate?


Posted by Please don't turn this into a renter/homeowner war, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 7, 2014 at 4:58 am

@Christopher Chiang

"We have a moral duty discuss something. Real people are suffering. Homeowners should recognize that the rising housing prices that allow homeowners to build their equity is the same market forces causing hardships to their neighbors."

It's pretty unfair to frame this as a homeowner vs renter debate. I'm a homeowner and I have a huge amount of sympathy for the renters at all levels of the income scale. I have supported more density in my neighborhood which is close to transit. I do want to create alot more housing in Mountain View, I just don't believe its the right long-term strategy to build housing in North Bayshore where it's most likely going to cause problems in the future when residents need schools for their kids and need to get to grocery stores. Let's focus on building homes where it makes sense. Rushing to try to build a futuristic eco-city in the North Bayshore area to prevent displacement is unrealistic and short sighted. The City planners don't even have the capacity to handle the current development projects. The City needs to focus making our retrofitting our existing neighborhoods to handle more density and provide access to transit. I like your idea of the micro-housing. Let's try to attract developers to build that in the core of the city where it's proximate to services and a transportation *network* not just tethered to some office buildings in North Bayshore where residents may or may not work.







Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I agree this should not be a renter vs. homeonwer war or battle. Renters become owners and in some cases owners become renters, or not. I think the whole point is that Mountain View has many styles of housing and we could build on both rental and ownership stock.

How to achieve in building many types of housing should be addressed.


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