The key ingredient the city could provide is simply using its zoning power to make it possible for developers to build up to 1,500 units of new housing, which so far has been strictly off limits in the Bayshore area, which is mostly occupied by Google, some small tech startups and 165 other small businesses.
But as the plans unfold, many small businesses in the area raised a caution flag to point out their need for affordable rental space, which they hope will not be overlooked in planning to accommodate the growing demand for more high-tech office space.
During a recent City Council meeting, some small businesses said they don't want to be wiped out by the voracious appetite of firms like Google to expand their presence in the Bayshore area. They said they want to hold on to their rental units if and when a new downtown-type district materializes along North Shoreline Boulevard in the years ahead. It is a valid request that the city and Google, which owns a building now occupied by the Pear Avenue Theatre and Center of Balance, a yoga and pilates studio, should not ignore.
If a new North Bayshore zoning map is drawn up and adopted as part of the city's new 2030 General Plan, "We want affordable space to be designated for businesses like ours to help us survive this" redevelopment, said Karen deMoor, co-owner of the yoga/pilates studio, which serves 350 people a week.
Numerous small businesses, including many tech start-ups, dot the landscape around North Bayshore. Most are eager to be in the Google neighborhood and also close to downtown and Castro Street, a mecca for tech employees who like the wide variety of restaurants and vibrant atmosphere within a mile of their workplaces.
If the current thinking holds, Mountain View would develop a second downtown in the Bayshore area, complete with office buildings. But the question is, in such a high-powered environment, can small companies expect to enjoy the low rent and large spaces that they do now? The need for such space is obvious, but how much can the city dictate to landlords who may want to cash in on a big bubble driven by Google, one of the world's largest technology companies?
If such space is developed, transportation will be a key factor in bringing customers and workers to the area, which now is choked with traffic due to its single access route on North Shoreline Boulevard and Amphitheatre Parkway. One scenario offered by the city's Planning Director Randy Tsuda could restrict auto access at some point and require drivers to walk, bike or take local transit once inside the district. Mayor Mike Kasperzak and several other City Council members have shown an interest in a unique personal rapid transit system that would have a network of guided pod cars running on an elevated rail connecting the Bayshore area with the downtown train station. A less flashy but less expensive alternative would be a system of public shuttle buses that could make the short trip from the downtown rail depot in about 15 minutes.
Whatever happens, it is exciting to see work beginning on how to finally develop stronger links between the downtown and Bayshore, even though it might involve creating a separate neighborhood to house employees who work there. But as the process unfolds, the city should make sure that the same mix of large and small businesses that are there now will have a place in the next Bayshore plan.