Mountain View Voice

News - July 13, 2012

Google housing axed in city's general plan

by Daniel DeBolt

Council members were not moved Tuesday night by last-minute efforts by the Chamber of Commerce and the mayor to keep housing as an option for future development of Google's neighborhood north of Highway 101.

Council members voted 6-1 in a final approval of Mountain View's 2030 general plan, a kind of road map for redevelopment in key areas of the city and the culmination of four years of meetings, and a "community visioning" process in 2008.

Largely by increasing allowed building densities and heights, it encourages redevelopment along El Camino Real, in the East Whisman area, North Bayshore (north of Highway 101), Moffett Boulevard and the San Antonio Shopping Center area.

Council members removed an allowance for as many as 1,100 apartments along Shoreline Boulevard between Highway 101 and Charleston Road. The housing would likely have been used by employees of Google and other tech companies in the area and was supported strongly by the Chamber of Commerce, which posted a YouTube video promoting the idea and whose members largely support North Bayshore housing, said president Oscar Garcia.

Council member Tom Means was the sole opponent to the general plan adoption. Mayor Mike Kasperzak and John Inks supported the motion although they opposed the removal of housing in North Bayshore.

A company town

Council members had some fiery comments after having been called on by residents to explain their position against housing in North Bayshore.

"One thousand units of single-occupancy rooms, that's not a community, that's dorms," said council member Ronit Bryant. "It's done a lot in China. Huge factories, huge apartment blocks, I don't think everyone lives happily ever after."

"Housing by companies went out with the mining towns," said member Jac Siegel. "That just went away a long time ago. This is not a university. People need to grow up and they need to go out" of where they work.

While the discussion focused almost entirely on North Bayshore, there was dissent on the council about other parts of the general plan as well, most notably the council's move in April to allow much higher densities for key El Camino Real intersections (up to a 3.0 floor area ratio) that could mean more than the five-story buildings residents said they supported, Siegel said.

Environmentalists were split over the pitch for new housing in North Bayshore, with supporters saying it would reduce greenhouse gasses from commuters and wildlife preservationists saying it would encroach on wildlife in Shoreline Park.

"We have an increasing imbalance of more jobs and less housing," said Aaron Grossman of the Coalition for Sustainable Planning, calling for the housing. He said protests from preservationists were "long on emotion, short on vision."

"Somebody needs to tell wildlife that greenhouse gas reduction is more important than their habitat," said Siegel.

'Respect nature'

Siegel and member Laura Macias said the housing would introduce dogs and cats to prey on sensitive species at Shoreline, including the rare burrowing owl, which lives in holes dug by ground squirrels. Siegel said Highway 101 would no longer be a barrier for wildlife and new residents could not be expected to not have pets.

"We need to respect nature and allow it room to grow," Macias said. "There are over 22 endangered species at Shoreline and North Bayshore. We've provided this wonderful barrier that gives a home to wildlife there." She added that she was shocked to see the largest colony of egrets in the South Bay living in the middle of an office park at the end of Charleston Road.

Macias read a letter from Glen Lisles, the city manager during Shoreline's formative years. He called it "a special place where the lights need to be turned off at night."

"We've spent so much time trying to make it the best place we possibly can," Macias said. "We can't love it to death by building every square inch."

Siegel applauded Google's interest in general plan provisions that will allow the company to transfer development rights for the edges of North Bayshore to build more densely in the center of the area, away from wildlife.

Pod cars

Council members said the 1,100 homes proposed would be found to be inadequate for supporting the sort of second downtown neighborhood some said they wanted there. Members Siegel and Margaret Abe-Koga said they've been told many times that 5,000 homes would be needed in any neighborhood to support basic retail services such as a grocery store, a number not yet hit even on Castro Street. Siegel said it was "impossible," adding, "I believe it would make more traffic there."

Prior to the meeting Mayor Kasperzak made headlines by proposing a pod car system as a fix to the traffic problem, connecting the 1,100 homes and nearby offices to downtown services. He said it could be made a requirement of housing and that it would spur North Bayhore companies to implement such a system, which council members unanimously supported as a concept in 2010. He had written a memo to council members on the topic, which wasn't technically a violation of the Brown Act, but miffed other members nonetheless.

"I was very disappointed to get an open letter from the mayor rather than discuss it in a meeting where I could respond to it," Bryant said.

"I did not expect that reaction," Kasperzak said. "I did want to get an idea out in front of you. I did not think that through clearly enough."

Council members still expressed support for the pod car system to connect North Bayshore to downtown.

Siegel said that as a mediator of neighborhood disputes, he was familiar with fair housing laws, and that there were no guarantees that the North Bayshore homes wouldn't house families that would act as opponents to future commercial development and require new school facilities in the area, which could eat into lands reserved for wildlife.

"I really believe you create conflict when you put housing right with commercial," Siegel said. "I know fair housing laws. You can't not rent to people with many people in the family."

Means agreed on that point, saying "I witnessed a lot of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) disguised under various things." He said new office projects in North Bayshore, which could more than double the density of existing buildings and increase employee count there from 17,000 to nearly 30,000, would have seen opposition "as soon as we put in the first units."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Steve, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jul 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Google has been a good neighbor, but they have to remember that, regardless of how large they grow, this is still a town of the people of Mountain View, not of the company. WE still live here too (some, like me, our entire lives), and don't wish to be crowded out by high-tech workers bought in from overseas.

Let them commute here. That's what we have buses, light rail and Cal-Train for.


Posted by R, a resident of North Whisman
on Jul 13, 2012 at 8:32 am

Great news. I would have dreaded the flux of techies acting as tourists in our city. Not to mention that Google employees are trained in the art of jaywalking.


Posted by Kathy, a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm

I lived in Mountain View for 10 years and still am nearby; I am really surprised that MVers and city council are opposed to Google housing "on campus"! Hasn't anyone else gotten stuck in that horrendous Shoreline traffic that backs up both 101 and 85?? Wouldn't putting in small apartments (which would not bring in kids for schools I assume or other non-working adults) would keep hundreds and hundreds of cars off the road and encourage those employees to bike and walk to work. Not only that, they would hardly then be interlopers or "foreign workers", but Mountain View residents who spend money and pay taxes locally, strengthening the city in the end, and cutting down enormously on greenhouse gases and congestion!


Posted by Monica, a resident of North Whisman
on Jul 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm

We live in a Google household. We pay local taxes and spend locally. Having more high income engineers move in and do the same can only benefit Mountain View.

Not to mention that it's insulting to imply that we're not "real" Mountain View residents because a family member works at the biggest local company, which incidentally also pays tons of taxes.


Posted by Marcin, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm

This is a very disappointing decision by the city council. We've got severe housing pressure in Mountain View, and allowing housing closer to the big employers in North Bayshore would have relieved some of it. I used to work at SGI and Google in North Bayshore, and the morning traffic is really intense. Allowing a few thousand people to live near work would have been beneficial in many ways; traffic, spending at the few businesses on that side of 101, etc.

It's sad to see NIMBY-ism being this strong.


Posted by Moffett Resident, a resident of Willowgate
on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:53 pm

@Marcin - For a while I thought that maybe a little dense housing in North Bayshore would be a good idea, but after thinking it through, I'm very much against it.

From the article:

"One thousand units of single-occupancy rooms, that's not a community, that's dorms," said council member Ronit Bryant. "It's done a lot in China. Huge factories, huge apartment blocks, I don't think everyone lives happily ever after."

"Housing by companies went out with the mining towns," said member Jac Siegel. "That just went away a long time ago. This is not a university. People need to grow up and they need to go out" of where they work.

"We need to respect nature and allow it room to grow," Macias said. "There are over 22 endangered species at Shoreline and North Bayshore. We've provided this wonderful barrier that gives a home to wildlife there." She added that she was shocked to see the largest colony of egrets in the South Bay living in the middle of an office park at the end of Charleston Road.

For once, in this case the City Council got something right. And I'm sorry, "NIMBY" name-calling doesn't really fit this situation.

A better way to keep the congestion from getting worse: Let's reduce the planned office development, and reduce the housing density.


Posted by David, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2014 at 12:48 am

I think that is very much a misperception and a stereotype to compare these small studio apartments to dorms. It is a reality that the cost of housing in this area is increasing. Smaller apartments is a natural evolution. When the city of Mountain View approves 1 bedroom apartment construction where the rent for a unit will be $4000 per month, you can darn well bet that a good number of these units will be shared by 2 people. What's the difference between 2 people sharing an 800 sq ft apartment and 1 person each in a 400 sq ft studio apartment? A lot depends on the amenities provided in the couplex and the rental rate, which is what determines the type of community. If these are nice units filled with workers who have jobs in the area, this will be an upscale apartment complex, and not dorms. Mountain VIew is missing a bet and creating extra traffic by not permitting housing in that area. It makes zero sense.


Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Castro City
on Jan 18, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Actually, the letters here sound like the usual game Peninsula cities have been playing for decades now. Build as much business near freeway entrances as possible to expand the tax base. Then restrict housing as much as possible to keep house prices as high as possible. Where the employees live is someone else's problem. To ice the cake, through traffic is to be eliminated if possible. In spite of the game it's someone else's problem.

But the traffic and density in the most of the West Bay has gotten to a point where the old game is not sustainable any more. Perhaps we need metro government on the Peninsula.

Google may be running into a growing fault line even though they are good corporate citizens in general. While most voters focus on "amnesty" in immigration bills, corporations, famously Facebook, have been lobbying to slip in many hundreds of thousands of new visa workers from hi-tech to no tech. That would include hundreds of thousands of H1-B visa workers. While it's a privilege to brain-drain the world and get numbers of excellent colleagues and good neighbors as we meet here in Mountain View, the devil is in the details for anything coming from Washington lobbying.

We note that corporations aren't going for the Green Card stapled to a Master's degree idea, they go for mass numbers of H1-B indentured workers instead. The time to Green Card has lengthened to many years and fewer and fewer of the workers elect to stay. Further, realistically most in such mass numbers are nice, but average tech workers. A result of such mass programs is also to make it a bad idea for US citizens to go anywhere near engineering or Computer Science in general. Many such students now get Masters in business or marketing as a course correction. There's no "technical track" any more. Further, US workers must compete with the world, but no one can compete with indenture. Of course, the more US students bail on tech majors that will not give them any career path the more H1-B's the corporations lobby for.

There is a trend to micro-apartments in some US cities given the cost of rents, so it is impossible to read Google's intentions in this. They spend enough on transporting people as it is. Having workers closer than commuting from the East Bay, say, seems reasonable for them. But dorms to route temp workers through does nothing for the city or the area. ???


Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Castro City
on Jan 18, 2014 at 7:56 pm

ps - I live in downtown Mountain View. Is that "Castro City"?


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