http://mv-voice.com/print/story/print/2012/12/28/2012-the-year-in-review


Mountain View Voice

News - December 28, 2012

2012: The year in review

Pedestrian deaths, bag ban, Hangar One top the news

by Daniel DeBolt

From the banning of plastic grocery bags to rejection of a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, there was no shortage of news in Mountain View in 2012. After the city approved its 2030 General Plan, without controversial North Bayshore housing for Google employees, new efforts began to make sure the city's streets are safe for bicyclists and pedestrians. The City Council went as far as to reject a Chick-Fil-A fast food restaurant because of its drive-through, the sort of "car-centric" design that the council now has little favor for on Mountain View's portion of El Camino Real. Meanwhile, the fate of a stripped Hangar One is uncertain as the entire Moffett Federal Airfield may be given up by NASA to another government agency in a lengthy property disposal process.

City gets serious about bike and ped safety

Widespread concern over a slew of pedestrian deaths made 2012 the year Mountain View began taking a serious look at making its streets safer.

Concern mounted after well-known resident William Ware was struck and killed by a speeding car while he stood at a California Street bus stop. Two other pedestrians were killed nearby, Joshua Baker on California Street and Erik Onorato on Shoreline Boulevard, both at night by cars not deemed to be speeding.

"We all saw ourselves there too," said resident Jarrett Mullen of Ware's death "We could have been the victims."

Mullen and others called for the city to reduce the width of California Street and Shoreline Boulevard to slow car traffic and make room for protected bike lanes. The Shoreline West Neighborhood Association held a meeting with city officials about the collisions. Police released data on school officials and parents became involved when three kids were injured by cars in front of Graham Middle School in October, another street that could potentially be narrowed to slow traffic and make room for protected bike lanes.

Meanwhile, in the pages of the Voice, advocates of bicycling said there was a lot that could be done to make the city's streets safer and encourage bicycling. Police began tracking data to begin addressing the most dangerous streets with enforcement and street improvements. Statistics show 357 auto collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists have occurred since September of 2007, 244 involving bicyclists and 113 involving pedestrians, causing everything from minor injuries to death. There was one such collision every five days, on average. Seven pedestrians died.

City Council members took note of it all in a study session in November, with member Ronit Bryant promising to make pedestrian and bike infrastructure a goal in January.

"If it feels comfortable to be doing 40 miles per hour, then we need to change the street, that's it," Bryant said. "We need to decide how quickly we want people to drive here and design the street accordingly. I want to see pilot projects in place this coming year," she said, referring to street narrowing. "If it doesn't work, we'll take it out and try something else."

Chick-Fil-A rejected

Urban planning-minded residents and gay rights advocates alike rejoiced in October when the City Council voted to keep fast food chain Chick Fil-A from building a restaurant in Mountain View.

While they said they could not consider the chain's funding of anti-gay rights groups, which ignited early opposition to the proposal, council members said the drive-through was in conflict with visions of a more pedestrian and bike-friendly El Camino Real.

"We just finished our General Plan," said council member Jac Siegel of the blueprint for the city's development until 2030. "It is all about sustainability. We worked on it over several years and this just flies in the face of that to me."

A few days before zoning administrator Peter Gilli initially approved the Chick-Fil-A in July, resident Ray Hixson told the Voice, "I just want everyone to realize this is a company that does spend millions of dollars on anti-gay initiatives. For me, it's just like if I knew a business funded discrimination against blacks, against women, against any minority group, I would not frequent that establishment. This to me is the same thing."

Less than two weeks later, resident David Speakman raised the $1,000 fee overnight on wepay.com to appeal Gilli's decision, citing concerns over the company's funding of anti-gay rights groups. Resident Bruce England filed the second appeal to focus squarely on land use issues, particularly the drive-through design how it didn't fit in with a vision for El Camino Real as a Grand Boulevard.

"It's not just a bigoted, evil company," Speakman said. "It's a company that wants a bad restaurant in a bad spot."

Chick-Fil-A also had supporters who said the store would provide valuable first jobs, convenience for parents with children and would have donated profits to community groups.

Moffett Airfield and Hangar One

In July, Moffett Field's landmark Hangar One was stripped to a bare frame in an environmental cleanup. According to the U.S. Navy, 1.7 million pounds of siding came off, laminated in toxic PCBs, lead and asbestos, and was trucked to Grassy Mountain landfill in Utah.

In February, it seemed possible that Hangar One would be re-skinned soon. NASA Ames deputy director Deb Feng said "the highest levels" of the federal government were deciding whether to accept a proposal from the founders of Google to restore Hangar One at a cost estimated to be over $45 million.

"I am optimistic (that the decision) will be favorable for the whole community," Feng told the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board at its Feb. 9 meeting. "I couldn't have said that a little while ago."

Things took a turn for the worse in May when NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced that Hangar One and the runways at Moffett Field were declared "excess to the agency" and should undergo a review by the General Services Administration, putting ownership of the runways and Hangar One into question and potentially delaying any deal to save Hangar One for years.

"I am in direct contact with the White House to prevent this happening and I hope this disastrous plan will be averted," Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said in May.

The move to declare the properties excess appeared to be be spurred by the Google founders' request for a long term lease of Hangar One for their private planes, requiring the use of an airfield which NASA sees as a financial burden to operate.

Save Hangar One Committee member Lenny Siegel said this month that a decision is imminent on Hangar One and the Moffett runways now that President Obama's re-election campaign is over and he can no longer be hurt by appearing to be doing a favor for his supporters at Google. But as the New Year approaches, the federal government's next move remains unclear.

Googletopia grows in North Bayshore

In July the City Council finally approved the city's 2030 General Plan, a road-map for future development in the city. The main controversy was whether to allow 1,100 units of housing in North Bayshore. It was to help balance zoning changes that could double the office space in North Bayshore where there are now 17,000 jobs, mostly at Google headquarters.

Council members narrowly rejected the housing, citing concerns about wildlife at Shoreline (rare burrowing owls don't mix with errant cats and dogs, they said) and said the housing might be sub-par.

"One thousand units of single-occupancy rooms, that's not a community, that's dorms," said council member Ronit Bryant. "It's done a lot in China. Huge factories, huge apartment blocks, I don't think everyone lives happily ever after."

"We need to respect nature and allow it room to grow," said Council member Laura Macias. "There are over 22 endangered species at Shoreline and North Bayshore. We've provided this wonderful barrier that gives a home to wildlife there."

Wildlife advocates were pleased in April when Google announced it was scaling back plans to connect its headquarters to a planned Google campus at NASA Ames with only one bridge across Stevens Creek instead of two. Conservationists said a new auto bridge from the end of Crittenden Lane in particular would have been unnecessarily harmful to a long list of animals and birds, including the California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, two "species of concern" that have habitat nearby or have been seen in the area.

As the year comes to a close a $350,000 study is underway to look at some unconventional methods for moving traffic in and out of North Bayshore, which can only be accessed by two roads that are already near capacity. Possible fixes include new pedestrian bridges and bike lanes, new freeway on ramps and off ramps for employee shuttles, automated transit vehicles and new parking garages near the freeway to encourage people to use alternative transportation within North Bayshore.

Bans on smoking and plastic bags

Two controversial bans were approved by the Mountain View City Council in 2012, to stop smoking near publicly accessible buildings and to halt the use of plastic grocery bags.

Starting on Earth Day, April 22, plastic grocery bags will be banned in Mountain View, with a minimum charge of 10 cents per re-usable or paper bag. On March 15 a ban went into effect on smoking within 25 feet of windows and doors of publicly accessible buildings, including bars and nightclubs where owners complained about possibly losing business on smoking patios. Some bar owners complained they might have to lay off staff because business would decline. Council members expressed concern about exposing people to second-hand smoke, including bar and night club employees.

"They don't have a choice," council member Jac Siegel said. "They need a job, they are making a decision whether to have a job or to inhale second-hand smoke."

Both bans were opposed by council members Tom Means and John Inks and council candidate Jim Neal for similar reasons.

"Government consistently tries to solve problems that don't exist," Neal said of the plastic bag ban. "It would be nice to know what the actual impact is on the environment, especially animals."

Laura Kasa of Save Our Shores, a group which organizes 250 beach and waterway cleanups a year, said she noticed a dramatic decrease in plastic bags on beaches as a result of recent bans in the area. She called plastic bags, even the compostable ones, "death machines" for marine life. Siegel agreed, calling plastic bags "devastating" to wildlife.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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