Unfortunately, the center's current make-over by Merlone Geier includes shopping as an afterthought, something to squeeze in among the apartments, office buildings and hotel that will dominate the roughly 21 acres of this storied property when the San Francisco firm completes its makeover in the next few years.
The latest example is the company's request to build a 12-story, 167-foot-tall office building in Phase 2 of its plan for the northeast end of the property at San Antonio Road and California Street. The proposed 741,000 square feet of offices would dwarf the 66,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space facing a slim, 1-acre park built over the Hetch Hetchy right of way, which could not be developed anyway. A 150- to 200-room, six-story hotel and parking for 2,858 cars is also part of the proposal that was presented to the Environmental Planning Commission May 16.
The commissioners were rightly skeptical of the plan.
"To realize we're potentially constructing the tallest structure in Mountain View, I was pretty surprised by that," said Environmental Planning Commissioner Chris Clark.
More concerning, in our view, is the charge that on the evening of May 10, without warning, Merlone Geier decided to erect a temporary fence behind the five buildings it is attempting to purchase along San Antonio Road and California Street. The owners say it is simply a way to pressure them to sell out. And already the owners of the Barron Park Plumbing Supply building are under contract to sell. The others, including the popular Milk Pail Market, which has a contract for some parking in the center for the next few years, are not interested now, but even though the city forced the fence to come down, the company is using security guards to shoo unwanted vehicles away.
Meanwhile, work continues on the first phase of the project at the old Sears site, where Merlone Geier is making room for more retail shopping, with a Safeway store and several large and small retail spaces, but the landscape is dominated by three apartment buildings and lots of parking.
In our view, the City Council should not accept Merlone Geier's 12-story office building and parking garage that could be sited anywhere in the city. And the same goes for the eight-story hotel. This corner of the property should welcome shoppers, not office workers.
Owning about a third of the 56-acre center, Merlone Geier apparently has dropped any effort to lure more retail stores to this busy venue. Why? With the right configuration, retailers should flock to this busy location at the confluence of Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos. It makes no sense to waste this property on office space and a hotel. It is time to send Merlone Geier a message that "shopping" is the best use of this space.