Mountain View Voice

Opinion - July 26, 2013

A cautionary note on Plan Bay Area

We hope that Plan Bay Area, the ambitious regional planning document that assigns housing quotas for counties and cities, does not encourage communities like Mountain View to rush approval of projects that have not been well-designed and could have a negative impact on the quality of life here.

Plan Bay Area is the outcome of well-meaning federal and state legislation to combat global warming by building enough housing to accommodate the thousands of workers who are expected to take jobs at places like Google, Facebook and other high-tech firms in the job-rich Silicon Valley between now and 2040. But the Plan has run into strong criticism from people in some communities on the Peninsula and in Marin County who say they are trying to preserve a carefully nurtured quality of life that they fear would be lost if wholesale housing and office development were approved despite local efforts to slow it down.

Mountain View city officials are not in that camp; in fact recently they have been accused of giving the green light to just about any development project that comes before them. A recent meeting to protest a proposed four-story, 200-unit apartment building that would knock out the popular Rose Market and numerous other small shops at Castro Street and El Camino Real was attended by about 80 people who were asked to sign a petition opposing the project. It remains to be seen whether the council will approve it.

Mountain View's share (9,400 units) of Plan Bay Area's 660,000-unit housing quota through 2040 was approved last week at a joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments in Oakland. It calls for 9,400 new homes (more than 300 per year) and 15,640 new jobs (nearly 600 a year) through 2040. At that pace, the city could expect jobs to grow at a 33 percent clip and housing at 28 percent. Funds would be provided by the Plan to cities that approve housing along transit corridors like Caltrain and El Camino Real, an effort to boost environmentally sustainable development and prevent urban sprawl.

The city is already on that path, said planning director Randy Tsuda, given the recent approval of a new Mountain View general plan, a blueprint for development in the city that he says "aligns" with the goals of Plan Bay Area.

But even with intelligent planning, the cumulative impact of huge housing developments like the Prometheus project at the old Minton's site, and others along El Camino Real are expected to attract thousands of new residents who will add to congestion on major arterial streets, the Bayshore Freeway and Caltrain. Many residents fear the loss of the small-town feel that for years has made Mountain View one of the most charming cities on the Peninsula.

The extraordinary growth of Silicon Valley, including thousands of good-paying jobs at Google and other high-tech companies, has provided a tremendous incentive to local developers to build office and housing complexes here. And although last week Google announced that it would delay a 1.1 million-square-foot office campus on Moffett Field which has been in the works for several years, the company still intends to go ahead with the project in six months to a year. The only regulatory hurdle remaining is to obtain city approval for a vehicle-pedestrian bridge over Stevens Creek. And since the remainder of the project is on federal land, it is outside the planning jurisdiction of the city.

When fully occupied, Google's new building could house more than 3,000 workers, far exceeding the 600-a-year average job growth forecast by Plan Bay Area. And its Moffett Field location will mean workers will come by car or shuttle from Caltrain, adding a huge burden to the freeway interchanges and city's mass transit system. Accommodating this many new employees, and others who may not work at Google, will be an incredible challenge for the city and for regional transit planners as the city pushes closer to having 100,000 residents in the years ahead.

Comments

Posted by Lane Mason, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 27, 2013 at 12:07 pm

In the 1980s, when Intel wanted to expand corporate headcount to support their business successes, they expanded in Oregon and New Mexico, Arizona and Folsom, near Sacramento. Basic economics..the high cost of housing...prevented them from bringing everyone close to their HQ in Santa Clara. Many Intel Santa Clarans were transferred to Folsom, which they at first resisted..until they found that they could have a larger house, their wife (husband) did not also have to work, their kids could bike to school...safely....and the traffic was pale compared to Central Expy and The 101. LIfestyle trumped being near Home Base.

Google, FaceBook and all the other High Tech companies can learn the same lesson that the chip companies did decades ago. We should not 'force' expansion of housing and employment in SIlicon Valley" to meet some planners' current vision of 'what is destined' to happen here...Many smart, productive and valuable workers do NOT want to live here, and the rising tide of housing prices costs employers more to expand their workforce here, compared to other nice spots around the US, or within a short plane ride to SilVal for those 'must-be-there' meetings.



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