Mountain View Voice

Opinion - February 1, 2013

Council needs to take lead on Google plan

Google's David Radcliffe, vice president for real estate and development, said many of the right things while presenting a new development plan for the company's North Bayshore campus to the City Council last week.

State-of-the-art, energy efficient buildings are planned, as are parks and trails that employees can negotiate by bike or on foot, where cars will not be permitted. Old buildings will come down and as new ones go up, space will be made for parks and buffers against sensitive wildlife habitat. Google notes that the city's general plan allows a net increase of up to 3.7 million square feet of new offices in North Bayshore, room for over 12,000 additional workers. (Google may double its workforce there.)

But a key request that Radcliffe said is very important to Google — quick approval of plans to build a bridge over Stevens Creek — left most council members feeling that the pressure to approve the bridge right away is going too far. Most are inclined to wait until a new transportation study is released Feb. 5. And even then, the council should steer the bridge development away from Google's preferred site, at the end of Charleston Road, near a magnificent colony of egrets.

Instead, the council should persuade Google to move the bridge to La Avenida, a more environmentally friendly site which Google's John Igoe said is worth studying. We agree with council member Margaret Abe-Koga, who believes the council promised earlier that it would hold off on the bridge study until considering the transportation study. That study could assess whether the bridge will be be accessible for regular car traffic or just pedestrians, bicyclists and buses, as Google proposes. The bridge will link Google's campus with a new 1-million-square-foot building for up to 4,000 employees on NASA-Ames property that is set to begin construction this year.

Beyond the relatively small bridge, we believe the council must make a strong case for Google to help build a publicly accessible transit system between downtown and North Bayshore. No discussion about providing more space for workers at Shoreline should ignore the importance of moving large numbers of people — Googlers as well as the general public — into and out of an area where bumper-to-bumper traffic could become the norm during rush hour.

But unfortunately, Google has not mentioned any interest in such a publicly accessible system. Instead it wants to use its recent successful experiments with driverless vehicles to solve the transportation problem. A dedicated mass transit system "is hard to move" once it is in place, Radcliffe said. He said the company is excited about a "shuttle program enabled with the technology from our autonomous vehicle program. Basically, a PRT system without the rails. I think that's the future for North Bayshore."

Certainly an autonomous shuttle, if it can be tested and proven workable reasonably soon, might help alleviate one of the city's major impacts from the huge development underway now in the North Bayshore. But council members should be firm and require the company to meet deadlines to develop such a system or move on to a more tried-and-true option. The council should not forget that once they give the green light to Google on this development plan it may be years before another opportunity comes to oversee what is done in this vibrant commercial district. Luckily for the city, Google appears eager to be a good corporate citizen and has the wherewithal to create a campus that incorporates the latest technology and architecture into its low-impact buildings.

In many ways, Google should be commended for taking its stewardship of the North Bayshore so seriously. But regardless of the company's best intentions, it is up to the City Council to make the final decisions on a new development plan, with an eye to what best serves the entire city, not just the North Bayshore. As council member Ronit Bryant said at last week's meeting, "We have a lot of talking to do on what we want in the North Bayshore," indicating her view that the council, not Google, should set the agenda for North Bayshore development.

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