Mountain View Voice

News - March 7, 2014

Google Town: imaging housing for all employees

by Daniel DeBolt

If you've ever wondered what Mountain View might look like if there was enough housing for all of Google's local employees, you aren't alone.

Berkeley-based designer Alfred Twu wondered the same thing. He created a digital rendering of what 10,040 apartments (800 square-feet each) could look like if built on the parking lots of Google's headquarters at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View. Housing everyone required 39 high-rise buildings, ranging in height from seven to 50 stories tall.

Twu explained his motivation for creating the image: "The booming tech industry has created huge demand for housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, driving up housing costs and leading to long commutes," he writes on his website, google.com/site/techcampushousing, where he also posts images of housing for other major valley employers.

Mountain View is under increasing pressure to do something about Google's growth. Twu noted recent protests in San Francisco have targeted Google's iconic white commuter shuttles, now a symbol for the Bay Area's soaring housing prices and spiking commuter traffic.

Twu says the renderings are not a serious proposal, just a way to visualize how much housing might be needed. A more realistic plan could make use of Google's many other properties nearby, including the vacant 18-acre "Charleston East" lot next door, for example.

"I simply matched the number of jobs to housing to show how much housing a certain amount of office space requires," Twu writes.

While striking, the image does not capture the full picture. City officials estimated last year that Google actually has around 20,000 employees in Mountain View, double what Twu's rendering accommodates. Only about 2,000 of those employees live within city limits, according to the estimates.

In July of 2012, the City Council decided against North Bayshore housing proposed by Google, voting 4-3 to remove zoning for 1,100 Google homes north of Highway 101 from a new city general plan.

Instead of housing, council members gave a preliminary OK to six- and eight-story offices for Shoreline Boulevard last week as a "precise plan" for the area is developed this year. The offices would be built above ground-floor retail in a transit-oriented downtown-like corridor north of Highway 101 and south of Charleston Road where the Google housing had also been slated. The plan makes room for an additional 15,000 to 20,000 employees by 2030 (many more are planned elsewhere in Mountain View), though the city's new general plan will allow for fewer than 7,000 new homes elsewhere in Mountain View — likely making the city's jobs-housing imbalance much worse.

Council members Ronit Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga supported the office concept last week, along with Mayor Chris Clark and Mike Kasperzak. Members John McAlister and John Inks thought the plan was too restrictive on office growth. The move wasn't unusual. The council has approved well over a million square feet of new offices in recent years.

"It's hard to blame the city for doing that because of the state's tax policies," Twu said. "It's in every city's interest to have as few residents as possible and as many businesses as possible. So to really solve the Bay Area's housing problem would take something from the state level."

In their opposition to Google housing north of Highway 101, council members expressed fears about feral cats and stray dogs endangering the rare burrowing owl at Shoreline Park, and compared the idea to Chinese factory dorms where workers do not live "happily ever after." Voting against new North Bayshore housing were members Jac Siegel, Ronit Bryant, Margaret Abe-Koga and Laura Macias (Macias termed out shortly after.)

As candidates line up to replace Abe-Koga, Bryant and Jac Siegel this fall, there's increased questioning of the council's position against North Bayshore housing while supporting so much office growth.

"I don't understand the comments about housing in North Bayshore resulting in insular, private towns, and comparisons to Chinese workers, coal towns, 'needing to grow up and get out' and so on," wrote one commenter on the Voice's Town Square reader forum. "Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought that employees who live on military bases (like Moffett Field), students who live on college campuses (like Davis, Chico, San Luis Obispo) and even seniors in retirement communities do lots of shopping, eating, and participating in the local community. Everyone I know who works at Google is married with kids who attend public school in MV. Google already provides their employees with numerous on-site amenities, but getting there causes the huge traffic mess."

Twu says the image may be surprising because the Valley's job growth has happened in such a small footprint, and inside low-rise buildings. Computer programmers don't use much office space, he said.

He explained his focus on company parking lots: "Right now in the Bay Area we have situation where we don't want to build on open space and generally don't want to build in existing residential areas either — or existing industrial areas," Twu said. "So that really leaves the parking lots."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Cuesta Resident, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Please, please build LOTS of housing north of bayshore. It would reduce traffic and help to slow down rent increases in the rest of Mountain View.

If Council won't do that, then go the other way - cut WAY WAY back on office space and put in policies that REDUCES Google employee headcount. Again, this would help reduce traffic and keep rent and housing more affordable here.


Posted by MVResident67, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 6, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Here's a link to this digital rendering:

Web Link



The link below is to an enlarged view of just the "googleplex" rendering:

Web Link


Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 6, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Readers should keep in mind that those are just the visions of a single designer and not what Google actually proposing.

If one was to look at designers, they should look at what Israeli architect Hillel Schocken proposed for Apple (a totally opposite gorgeous vision of an tech residential community)
Link: Web Link

Or another approach, micro apartments that are actually being built in Brazil for their their tech residential community (which includes Google Sao Paulo): Web Link


Posted by Moffett Resident, a resident of Willowgate
on Mar 6, 2014 at 11:42 pm

What a depressing vision. According to the article, "Twu says the renderings are not a serious proposal, just a way to visualize how much housing might be needed." Still, the pictures are instructive:

As bad as it looks, this representation only shows what it would take to house 10,000 employees. According to the article, Google has 20,000 at present. Add to that another 20,000 new employees proposed for North Bayshore by 2030 (much sooner, I think), and thousands more in other areas of MV.

So let's do a little math. If you subscribe to the fantasy of trying to house these 40,000+ employees in MV to remedy the job/housing imbalance, you would be looking at - according to this architect - 160 "high-rise buildings, ranging in height from seven to fifty stories tall."

Obviously, trying to house this many employees in MV is an insane idea. There will be a drastic housing shortage no matter what. New construction will continue to be the sort that will generate maximum profits - in other words, more Madera-type apartments.

We can just drop the idea that MV is somehow obligated to provide more and more office space, and then house these new employees.

How to deal with this situation? Keep new office space to a minimum. That would help a little. Allow some new development, but only at a relatively low density. That would help a little. Encourage ownership housing, not Madera-type profiteering. That would help a little. Rent control? Probably a good idea, but unlikely to happen.

At the top of my list, though, is electing three new city council members this November, who will pay some attention to preserving residents' quality of life.


Posted by Scott Lamb, a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 7, 2014 at 11:02 am

Moffett Resident: It's an artist's illustration. A serious proposal would be pretty different:

* It'd be spread over more land than Google's parking lot.

* One person per household? Try 3.2 instead. Web Link

* The more land we use for housing, the less we use for offices. We don't have to house the 40,000 employees you mentioned.

* I don't think Mountain View needs to completely solve the housing crisis on its own. I'd just like to see improvement rather than the opposite.

What about 5,000 apartments in 10-story buildings, averaging 1,000 square feet per apartment? 16,000 people in 11 acres of land for living space. You'd also need land for hallways, stairways and elevators, not to mention new parks, trails, light rail tracks, schools, fire stations, grocery stores, and such. I don't have numbers for those. In any case, it'd be a radical change from what the city council is doing now, but not so impossible.


Posted by Maksym Taran, a resident of Willowgate
on Mar 7, 2014 at 5:15 pm

The buildings in the rendering are all squeezed into the territory of Google's four central buildings (the green rectangle between Charleston and Amphitheatre in this map of Google's real estate Web Link). Per that map, Google owns at least ten times more land around the area so even "parking lot developments" like this would be reduced in height by a similar amount if the design included the parking lots in the rest of Google's territory.

Of course realism wasn't the point. But it's still misleading to say that this is built on "the parking lots of Google's headquarters" when it actually uses only a small fraction of the parking lots.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 10, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Honestly, when was the last time we made a mistake and built an apartment complex that was too big? Let's err on that side for a change.


Posted by PeopleArePollution, a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Cuesta Resident, What makes you think adding more houses will cut down on traffic?
If we add housing in North Bay shore, lets say mostly google people will likely move in
One spouse working at Google, one working someplace else.... so instead of one car comming to Mountain View, we have one leaving Mountain View. The children get packed into our already over crowded schools....(we are not building any new schools are we?)
Then first spouse gets a new job, say in Sunnyvale.... do they move? No! of course not! That would disrupt schooling, and it is an easy commute..... Now what does it do to cost? Do you think it is possible to build enough housing to make it so everyone that wants to move to Mountain View can? It has not worked yet for New York, Hong Kong, Shanghi.... How much housing shall we build for this experement? Have things gotten better or worse by adding more housing and more jobs? Twice the people behaving just the same.... Twice the cars, twice the impact on schools.

The myth that adding more houseing will make ANYTHING beter is just a myth made by people that build and rent housing! Stop dumping a City in my town! If you want to live in a city, move to one! Don't destroy my town with your social experements to try to prove a theory that has been disproven all over the world!

The very best thing Google could do for Mountain View is move to San Francisco or San Jose or any other CITY before they destroy our town with their growth.


Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 10, 2014 at 4:55 pm

If every nearby town refused to build housing, people will be pushed to drive further, live further beyond their means, or pack into existing housing and surrounding infrastructure not designed for high density.

By ignoring housing, the problem doesn't disappear, it just manifests itself in traffic, stress, and secretly packed housing among existing supply. How are those manifestations any better for -our- town?

Hoping for that Google will leave just creates a new set of more severe problems. Anyone been to a town hit with underwater mortgages, vacant offices, and high unemployment?

Want to prevent extra traffic from housing in North Bayshore? Just don't build parking/or making parking costly in any new development. Unlike the rest of Mountain View, where that just severely impacts the adjacent neighborhood, North the 101, that's not a problem. It's not like someone will park their car on the other side of the 101. Better yet, allow development conditional to private investments in mass transit infrastructure finally connecting North Bayshore to Caltrains/VTA.

Even better yet, those who would live under such car restrictions could take advantage of biking to work on the Baylands bike paths if they weren't local. The most beautiful part of our town by the water is surrounded by offices, while we live in a sea of concrete.

We innovate all type of solutions in our life, yet we continue to view urban planning in the 20th century suburban context (big house, drive to work) that sits on a carbon footprint unconscionable for the 21st century.


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