Former city manager Bruce Liedstrand spent much of the 1980s running the city of Mountain View, when the downtown was being transformed into the vibrant place it is today. Now he says the city is poised to pass up on an opportunity to create "one of the best places in the world" as Google, LinkedIn and others prepare to redevelop North Bayshore -- all because the plan lacks the key ingredient of housing.
Last week the city released a draft version of the North Bayshore precise plan, a 200-page document which lays out in detail the sort of development that will be allowed in the more than 500-acre area that makes up Mountain View north of Highway 101. In the draft plan, office development is to be capped at 3.4 million square feet, space that's estimated to allow for about 20,000 new jobs.
There's a host of requirements and guidelines to create the office park of the 21st century on the cutting edge of environmental friendliness -- solar panels, electric cars, green roofs, ground-floor retail spaces, small offices for startups, strict wildlife protections, wide sidewalks, a network of new roads and pedestrian paths, and transit- and bike-oriented design.
Public meetings about the plan and its environmental review are scheduled to begin in September.
But amidst burgeoning awareness of the city's' housing shortage, a plan to add only large office buildings and no housing to a large portion of the city is a big concern to Liedstrand and others, who say it will add thousands of commuters to local freeways and drive up demand for scarce housing.
"To me that is not respectful of community opinion when you have all this outpouring of community concern about housing and traffic and then to rush this through by the old City Council, which is already prohibiting residential out there," Liesdstrand said.
There's a field of 10 City Council candidates running for three seats that will open by the end of the year, and many of them are talking about the need to correct the city's jobs-housing imbalance a lack of housing growth to keep up with a booming tech industry that's driving housing prices sky high. Meanwhile, the City Council is expected to approve the North Bayshore precise plan, without housing, by December. A slim four-person majority is likely to oppose any housing in the plan, including three members who leave office due to term limits in December: Jac Siegel, Margaret Abe-Koga and Ronit Bryant.
Council members voted 4-3 to leave housing out of the city plans for North Bayshore in 2012. The plan was to build 1,100 homes in North Bayshore along North Shoreline Boulevard, a sort of test of the concept which had the support of Google, the Chamber of Commerce and others. But a majority of council members expressed concern about impacts to wildlife in the area, namely that stray house cats could wipe out the population of rare burrowing owls in Shoreline Park, which has a host of protections in the new plan, including a requirement that buildings and light poles near Shoreline Park have "raptor perch deterrents" installed.
"I realize there are legitimate concerns about the need to protect wildlife in North Bayshore, but there are other concerns, perhaps even stronger, about the impact on traffic and housing supply if residential development is prohibited there," Liedstrand said in an email.
Liedstrand says the city needs to allow much more than 1,100 home in North Bayshore.
"The city was looking at a small amount of housing along one street, I'm talking about a whole neighborhood," Liedstrand said. "We can do some version of Castro Street out there so young people say, 'Wow, that's the best place in the South Bay to live.'"
His opinions aside, Liedstrand says that residents need to be given a chance to weigh in on the vision for North Bayshore, as most meetings having to do with it have given priority to businesses in the area.
So far, council candidate Lenny Siegel has been the most vocal of the candidates about the city's housing shortage, founding the campaign for a balanced Mountain View earlier this year to call for the construction of new neighborhoods in the city, especially North Bayshore. He envisions more than 5,000 homes there, enough to support a grocery store, a school and other services.
The North Bayshore precise plan is "fundamentally flawed, because it is enormously out of balance," Siegel said in an email. "It would allow the siting of perhaps tens of thousands of new jobs there with no new housing and very little new housing within a 5-mile radius. It will aggravate our housing shortage (thus increasing prices and rents) and exacerbate traffic congestion locally and regionally."
Siegel notes that even if the city meets its goal of having single-occupancy vehicle trips make up only 45 percent of all traffic in and out of North Bayshore (it is currently at 61 percent), plans to add up to 3.4 million square feet of new office will likely add 13,000 new commuter car trips to the local roads and highways every day. He says all the pollution from additional commuting is likely to outweigh any benefit from green building design.
According to the precise plan's environmental report, which is required by state law, there would be "significant unavoidable impacts" for three reasons: significantly increased traffic congestions at several major intersections, increased congestion along freeway sections and the resulting impact to transit vehicles, which will also be stuck in traffic. There are also "significant" environmental impacts from increased tailpipe emissions. An alternative precise plan that includes North Bayshore housing was not studied, though planning director Randy Tsuda has said the "increased housing alternative" in the 2012 general plan was found to be environmentally superior and it included the 1,100 homes in North Bayshore.
Siegel and Liedstrand expressed concern about a lack of a real transit connector, such a trolley or automated people-mover between North Bayshore and downtown Mountain View.
"Google has the financial resources, it could build the whole connector," Liesdtrand said. "It would probably cost less than couple hundred million, but in relationship to the values out there, that's affordable. The great thing we've got going for us is this is Google out there, planning its new corporate headquarters."
In an email, Siegel said "though land use is to be clustered to make transit more efficient, there is no discussion of rights-of-way for rail transit. Development under this plan could make it more difficult and costly to provide needed transit."
Siegel, whose day job is director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, added that the precise plan appears to lack requirements for safely building above toxic groundwater plumes.
"Because part of the priority development area overlies the Teledyne-Spectra Physics TCE shallow groundwater plume, construction there should be subject to the same guidelines as construction in the MEW (Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman) area," Siegel said, referring to the Superfund site in Mountain View.
To view the precise plan, go to the planning division page at mountainview.gov. Comments on the environmental report can be sent to city planner Martin Alkire until Sept. 19 at firstname.lastname@example.org. A City Council study session is set for Tuesday, Sept. 9, and an Environmental Planning Commission study session is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 3.