"I didn't think I was going to like it but I like it," said Mayor Jac Siegel of the bridge architecture renderings, echoing a sentiment shared by other council members during the study session. "I thought it was going to look overwhelming."
Council members indicated in May that they would be very sensitive to bridge design and how it impacted the city's nearby wetlands and cherished Stevens Creek trail, which the bridges would tower over. Perhaps it helped that Google's real estate and construction manager John Igoe said in April's "civility roundtable" that "enhancing the environment ... enhancing the wetlands ... is the responsibility of the company."
The bridges — three have been proposed — connect Google headquarters with an isolated NASA Ames Research Center property at the north end of RT Jones Road near the Bay. Google has signed a lease with NASA for the property to build a yet-to-be designed 1.2-million-square-foot campus for Google's "Planetary Ventures" division with 5,000 employees, recreation facilities and possibly 175,000 square feet of housing.
The bridges would be privately owned by Google for 50 years before they revert to the city. In the meantime, agreements would limit public access to walkers, bicyclists, public transit buses and police and fire trucks. Google would pay to maintain the bridge and regular automobile traffic would be prohibited. Google's private shuttles would have access to the bridges, but Google employees are primarily going to be using bicycles, Igoe said.
Council members said the new design would improve pedestrian and bike access onto smaller bridges between the levees on each side of the creek. One would be new, near Charleston Road, while another already exists near Crittenden Lane.
Council members were not convinced that Google needed a pair of vehicle bridges, which Google's architects said would allow more "flexibility" in accessing or maybe even evacuating the new campus, with one at the end of Charleston Road and the other at the end of Crittenden Lane.
"Purely from a technical standpoint, we don't see anything that justifies two bridges," said Community Development Director Randy Tsuda.
Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, said the Crittenden Lane bridge would put a driveway across an important wildlife buffer zone on the east side of the creek. "For us, the fewer bridges the better," she said.
There was also concern about a tree nursery that exists alongside the trail south of Charleston Road, but council members were assured by Google consultant Peter Ingram that the bridge "would not necessarily interrupt the nursery or its operation."
On Tuesday Google's Igoe added that there will also be a park with public access just south of the campus along the creek.
"We have an obligation in our lease with NASA to have a park there," Igoe said. "It won't be a city park but it will have public access to it, that's my understanding."
Council members were told that without the bridges, it would take firefighters responding to medical and fire emergencies an extra four minutes to reach the new Google campus, which is the only part of NASA Ames within city limits. County funding of $300,000 is in jeopardy if first responders can't make it to the scene of an emergency in less thanr eight minutes, according to an agreement with the county mentioned in a city staff report.
Tsuda estimated that the city could see as much as $700,000 in new property tax revenue once the campus is built, which is several years off.