A 200-unit, four-story apartment building has been proposed to replace the Sufi Coffee Shop and Cultural Center, Peet's Coffee, Le's Alterations, Tanya's Hair Design, the Rose Market and Bill the Barber, among other businesses, which residents say have become an important part of their community.
Protest organizer Linda Curtis raised fears about traffic and a towering apartment building overlooking people's backyards. Organizers said El Camino Real should not be full of five-story buildings, and that Castro Street in front of Graham Middle School should not be narrowed to prevent pedestrian deaths.
"They are taking away our neighborhood and replacing it with a citified area," said a co-organizer of the event. "Mountain View claims they are for small businesses, but here they are taking these out."
The proposed redevelopment would include only 6,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor, replacing the 23,000 square feet that exists now for seven street-front businesses at 801-819 El Camino Real, and five others at 1032 to 1062 Castro Street.
An example of what's to come?
Raising a frightening scenario, Curtis said she had spoken with Mayor John Inks who told her that the city wants single-family homes in the area torn down for development.
"He told us that in 20 years all these houses will be gone," Curtis claimed. "That's the plan."
"I don't know about you, I bought my house to live in this area until I die," said a co-organizer of the event. "If you have children and you want to leave your homes to your children, you aren't going to have the opportunity to do that if we don't speak up."
In an interview with the Voice, Mayor Inks said that wasn't what he told Curtis. Residents were not going to be forced out of the neighborhood, though land values are rising in the area so much that homeowners may want to sell to developers.
"I happen to be a policy maker that supports that," Inks said of redeveloping residential areas, though adding that neighbors had little to fear because the city's general plan, recently adopted after years of discussion, specifically excludes residential neighborhoods from "change areas" where new zoning encourages redevelopment.
"The whole theme for the General Plan is neighborhood preservation," Inks said.
When the discussion turned to criticizing the design of the four-story apartment and retail building, some residents said they actually supported it.
"I live there and I'm actually not too concerned," said a woman who lives next door to the site.
"I met with the developer. I actually feel that they are responsive and it could actually be beneficial," she said. "I'm already next to a tall building." She later added that the developers were trying to build "very high-end apartments."
Organizers acknowledged that the owners of half the project site want a high quality project and are willing to refuse to sell the land unless there is popular support. One attendee even suggested that the owners not be overwhelmed with input from the community.
Speaking about the loss of the Rose Market, Curtis said, "I want to keep my market so I can walk one block, and not get in my car and cut through the neighborhood to get into Nob Hill or Safeway."
A petition was passed around opposing the redevelopment of the corner, as well as opposing reducing lanes on Castro Street, threatening to derail demands for traffic-calming measures after several children were hit by cars there last year.
Neighbors say that traffic in the area will be "horrible" from the 200 apartments proposed for the site and narrowing Castro Street there from four lanes to two would make it worse. Some neighbors disagreed, saying residents would probably be Google employees who use shuttles and bikes to get around.
Despite the rancor among neighbors, council member Jac Siegel said it was noteworthy that such a protest occurred.
"In my memory of being in the city all these years, I can never remember a protest of people actually coming out on something like that," Siegel said. "That shows how strongly people feel about that. Mountain View is going to cease being Mountain View if we keep pushing out businesses and changing things so fast."
Just before the protest, a plea was made in a letter to the City Council and the press by a group of patrons of the Sufi coffee shop, Bill the Barber and the Rose Market.
"Places of business that the same patrons frequent on a regular basis engender their own power, the Power of Place," the letter says. "There, proprietor and patron get to know each other, shaking hands in friendship, not merely exchanging goods for money. A community is born, sustained, and fostered. In stark contrast, large apartment complexes are characterized by frequent turnover of residents, which cannot sustain the same dynamism and nourishing energy."