Mountain View Voice

Opinion - May 23, 2014

Referendum could trip up office project

A grass-roots plan to put pressure on the City Council to reduce office development plans in Phase II of the San Antonio Center project is another indicator that many city residents are not happy with the direction the City Council is taking to approve more and more office, rather than housing, projects.

Longtime resident Lenny Siegel, who founded the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View earlier this year, said this week that the group now will aim for collecting 3,240 signatures, enough to put the remaining development of the San Antonio Project up to a vote if the City Council approves the project at the start of July. If enough signatures are collected, a decision on Phase II of the shopping center may be put in the hands of a council with three new members who will be elected in November. The move would effectively halt nearly 400,000 square feet of office space at the shopping center, along with a movie theater, hotel, numerous shops and a courtyard in the second phase of the center's redevelopment.

The group also objects to the possibility that the popular Milk Pail could be forced out of the center due to the failure to reach an agreement with developer Merlone Geier for access to parking. Its current parking arrangement will run out in about two years.

Members of the group told the Voice that their main objective is to address the city's jobs-housing imbalance, which they believe is caused by the approval of job-producing office projects without a commensurate amount of housing. The group hopes to stop construction of two, six-story office buildings in the project, which at 397,000 square feet could produce an estimated 2,000-plus jobs.

The referendum on office development would be the third in just over six months by Peninsula voters who have used the initiative/referendum process to contest council zoning decisions.

In Palo Alto, residents of Barron Park managed to stop a multi-story senior housing complex in their mostly single-family home neighborhood by using a petition drive to get the question on the ballot. Despite being outspent in the hotly-contested city-wide campaign, the neighbors won and the senior housing complex was scrapped.

In Menlo Park's Allied Arts neighborhood, residents recently turned in what they hope will be more than the 1,740 signatures required to force a vote on their plan to reduce the office space component of two large projects on El Camino Real. If the county clerk approves the petitions, voters will either vote on the measure or the Menlo Park City Council will accept the initiative's requirements, giving residents what they wanted.

Siegel has been outspoken recently in support of a referendum on the North Bayshore precise plan to halt office growth for Google, LinkedIn and others. A call to build a new residential neighborhood in North Bayshore has been a central theme for the group. But members said that effort has been set aside for a few months in favor of taking on the San Antonio shopping center development.

Whether the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View succeeds or not, we believe the City Council should heed Siegel's request to delay approving Phase II until a San Antonio precise plan for the area around the shopping center is completed, probably by the end of the year.

Siegel notes that there are many unanswered questions about how the proposed development would fit in the entire neighborhood. Among questions that planners need to address, he said, are parking, including shared parking for the Milk Pail Market, traffic circulation, transit access and design. In addition, Siegel said the city should consider replacing the office space with housing, including a good number of below-market-rate units, with many near transit.

These proposals make sense and would bring the volatile jobs-housing issue into play during the upcoming election. This way, a newly constituted council will have a chance to place its own imprint on the second phase of this highly visible and important project.

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