In a 4-2 straw vote, the Council indicated in a study session that the Merlone Geier proposal would continue to be processed by city staff instead of delaying it for up to two years to create a comprehensive plan for the area. Members Jac Siegel and John McAlister were opposed. Mayor John Inks had to step off the dais because he owns property nearby.
Explaining his vote, Siegel noted the 350 signatures the council received asking for a precise plan first and said "we basically have not listened to you," adding that the density of development proposed for the area is something "the city has not seen before."
McAlister agreed, recalling his election campaign call for "residents first." He said residents "are going to be impacted by the traffic, by the noise, by the air" pollution. He called for a large park to come with the project.
Merlone Geier vice president Mike Grehl argued that it was sufficient that his project complied with the city's new general plan, a less-detailed blueprint for development than the precise plan. Replacing Ross and BevMo!, it will include an eight-screen theater on California Street, a 165-room, seven-story hotel, 500,000 square feet of office in a pair of six-story buildings on San Antonio Road, a large garage and ground-floor shops and restaurants.
Several residents spoke in favor of not delaying the Merlone Geier project, some praising its conveniently located movie theater, among other things.
"I see value will be created when you increase density," said Doug Smith, a Los Altos School District board member. "I'm a proponent of increased density and growth. It needs to be done. People feel a good sense of community in those environments."
Council members didn't prioritize a long list of "public benefits" for the city that could be extracted from developers of the shopping center and surrounding area, including bike and pedestrian improvements, park space, higher-than-normal affordable housing fees, a community-wide shuttle service and improvements to the city's recreation facilities. Such improvements don't necessarily have to be in or immediately next to the shopping center.
"Do I think a large shopping center needs a park in the middle? Not really," said council member Ronit Bryant. "I'd rather see a park in the neighborhoods." It was later noted that the surrounding neighborhoods have been labeled park space-deficient by the city.
Council members also did not address Merlone Geier's planned demolition of 391 San Antonio Road, the vacant grocery store known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley. William Shockley had his lab there in the late 1950s, and it was there that the "traitorous eight" who would later go on to start the Valley's first silicon chip maker, Fairchild Semiconductor, first met. Several speakers asked that it be saved or commemorated somehow. Grehl said a display commemorating the site would be part of the Merlone Geier project.
"We would like to see the Shockley Lab site memorialized," said Dick Ahrens of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which he said has 14,000 members in the Valley. "Not to memorialize William Shockley, (who later became known for publicly espousing racist views) but to memorialize the birthplace of Silicon Valley. This was where the transistor came from Bell Labs in New Jersey. If it didn't come, where would the Valley be today?"
The building itself isn't much to see compared to other landmarks. "We don't have 200 year old buildings or famous battles" in Mountain View, "we have offices," said one resident. "That is where the future happens."
Elizabeth Alexis called on the city be clear not to allow a demolition permit for 391 San Antonio Road. She said the "traitorous eight" should be memorialized, including Intel's Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce, and said it would be wrong "to ignore their contribution just because Shockley said some shocking things."
Milk Pail market threatened
Several residents spoke in favor of the Milk Pail market, which Merlone Geier wants to buy and demolish at the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road. The developer has said an agreement to share parking — that the market has relied on to meet city requirements — won't be renewed.
"It's absolutely one of the best things in Mountain View," said one resident of the quirky open air market. "It can't be squished out by big money."
"All the cheering, it makes me feel really good after 39 years," said Milk Pail owner Steve Rasmussen about the audience's support. He presented the council with a document indicating that shared parking was expected during plans for phase one of the Merlone Geier project, which includes over 300 apartments and a Safeway, nearly complete.
Council members also heard from parents in the Los Altos School district, which serves the area, about helping to build a school to serve students who are expected to move into more than 1,000 new homes in the pipeline for the San Antonio area, although one Bullis charter school parent was skeptical that the school district couldn't meet new demand on its existing properties.
"I believe LASD does have the space throughout their district, they just need to allocate it properly," said resident and Bullis parent Matt Raschke.
Students of the district who reside in Los Altos "enjoy walking and biking — not so for our Mountain View residents," said LASD board member Pablo Luther, who urged the council to help "create a school site in the Mountain View area so our Mountain View students can have the same benefits."