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Dramatic final hearing for Minton's project

Original post made on Mar 24, 2010

It was a house divided in a packed City Council chambers Tuesday night, as supporters and opponents clashed over a proposed 203-unit development project on the site of Minton's Lumber and Supply.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 3:24 PM

Comments (40)

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Posted by MV citizen
a resident of Castro City
on Mar 24, 2010 at 4:09 pm

So they want to turn the Minton site into high density housing. High density housing can lead to the problems of Los Angeles. Putting housing next to public transportation will not solve the car problem. These people will need to buy groceries, etc. in areas that are not served by public transportaion.


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Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Say goodbye to the old charm of Old Mountain View. Developers will rape the community if given the chance.


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Posted by localmom
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 24, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Here's my perspective after 10 years of watching multiple moderately high density projects go up around the city: I have seen absolutely NO benefit whatsoever for the people who already live here. Beware of the promise of "developers fees" and "increased revenues" or "tax dollars". It all just seems to disappear in new hires at the City or MVPD level!!! Palo Alto Daily just reported that the City of MV is now up to 32 people per YEAR in 2009 who earned over $200K. This is YOUR money people. We don't need more residents in the city. Whatever they "contribute", or the developers will have to pay in one-time fees, will be eaten up by the city-machine of tax-devouring dollars. And our Council NEVER thinks of the repercussions for entities NOT funded by the city such as, ahem, THE SCHOOLS! Which are overcrowded and facing multi-million dollar deficits.
Brings me back to the Shoreline fees. Give them to the schools if there is to be any further development and families are brought into the area. Or just give the $$ to the schools, period. Those homes won't sell for nearly as much as the developers promise if our schools are failing.
I also agree with the 2 previous comments that these residents STILL will need to drive to Safeway, Rite Aid, restaurants, and probably half of them (or more) won't have any intention of taking Caltrain anyway. Oh yeah, not to mention that they will have to drive their kids to the MV schools!! The number of auto trips will be in the 1,000/day level I'm guessing.


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Posted by localmom
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 24, 2010 at 8:32 pm

BTW, my estimate of 1,000 car trips/day is based on a traffic study done in my area many years back; that's probably conservative. It assumes that each car leaves and comes back 2-3 times/day from each home, and I believe there are over 200 homes planned.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I'm all for putting housing near transit hubs but I don't see how they can even be HAVING this conversation when there is no supermarket downtown.

I'd love to live someplace where I wouldn't have to drive everywhere. Downtown residents can walk to the bank, walk to the library, walk to the drugstore, walk to the theater, walk to restaurants, walk to farmer's market, walk to Landels and Graham....we need a supermarket before we can talk about people doing without cars.


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Posted by Ronnie Falcao
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 1:01 am

Living car free in Old Mountain View is remarkably easy; I did it for about five years, before my job required that I have immediate access to personal transportation with significant hauling capability. I had a bike trailer and could haul six bags of groceries when needed. Mostly I just put a couple of bags in my bike basket and carried any excess in my backpack. Some of our lovely older neighbors walk over to Nob Hill with those wire racks on wheels. And I believe there is a plan to have a car-share capability so that people would have access to cars when they considered it necessary.
I'd still love to have a real grocery store downtown, or even a real deli, but you can live here car free without those.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 2:32 am

@localmom did you know that only 60% of education funds in CA go to the classroom? That is a 40% G & A overhead!! Is it any surprise we are ranked 48th nationwide?

As far as pub transp goes. For the most part it is a major inconvenience in the Bay Area. You really have to be dedicated to it which is admirable for those folks who can and do use it

I however will be sticking with my two cars: SUV for hauling & going to Tahoe, and my convertible for those great sunny N. Cal days! :-)


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Posted by Grocery store argument
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 7:05 am

So a recurring theme here is that there needs to be a grocery store downtown BEFORE this project (or a project like it) is approved.

If you genuinely believe that housing near transit & services like this project is needed but really want to see a grocery store downtown too (as perhaps 'parent' believes), why wouldn't you also support this project? Grocery stores need a certain number of potential customers living within a given radius to be economically feasible -- and as the City's efforts to attract a grocer downtown recently have indicated, that market does not exist yet downtown. Adding housing to increase the number of customers will help eventually make a downtown grocery economically feasible. Another way of going about it is to subsidize a grocery with free rent, property tax waivers, etc -- but I'll bet 'localmom' and others would jump all over that one.

I suspect, however, that some of the folks crying about the grocery store issue with regard to this project are just using it as a convenient excuse to oppose the project (a la 'MV Citizen). Because if you really believed this project had merit and thought about how many day-to-day trips can be accomplished without driving at this location (as 'parent' and Ronnie point out), you would realize this -- Some people will choose a housing development like this one proposed at Minton's JUST so they can live a greener lifestyle, and get most of their trips done without a car. If they need to drive once a week or even twice a week to buy groceries but are walking, biking, and taking transit for most of their other trips, they're doing a hell of a lot better than most people in reducing their carbon footprint, gas consumption, etc -- and shouldn't we support that?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 25, 2010 at 8:17 am

to Grocery store argument,

Nobody is crying and nobody is making excuses. I fully support the concept of higher density housing near transit hubs and near downtown, and simply asked about the fact that there is no grocery store within walking distance. If more housing will bring a grocery store, that's great. Does a grocery store bring housing or does housing bring a grocery store? The chicken or the egg, I'm not sure which comes first.

I think you should adopt a more polite tone in this discussion. You sound a little ticked off.


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Posted by Grocery store argument
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 9:00 am

@parent - I appreciate your comment and it sounds like you are honestly wrestling with the chicken-and-egg problem of housing/density vs. other services. That's why I responded to your post first (not in my point about excuse-making), in what I believe was a constructive way.

Regarding my tone, I believe I was quite civil and measured, in comparison to the first two posters, tossing around hyperbole about this project turning us into Los Angeles, or developers raping our community. Having just sat through the City Council hearing on this last night, I've also heard a lot of sensational, exaggerated arguments about this project, such as that this project will attract a bunch of "transients" or somehow lead to the fall of our entire American way of life. Maybe if MIRNA and other project opponents would tone down their rhetoric we could have a more polite discourse on this project.


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Posted by Megan Fluke
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

In order to get the services we want as downtown residents, we need people to sustain those services. I support complete communities with homes, jobs, and shops near transit. Long term, it creates more healthy, walkable communities with less traffic and homes we can all afford.


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Posted by Caltrain Rider
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:41 am

@Grocery Store,

Your tone is neither measured nor civil. Please don't use the poor behavior of another to justify your own bad acts, it's silly. When people talk about "transient populations," they are not talking about homeless people. This term refers to city residents that move in and out of the city with a high degree of frequency and are therefore not heavily invested in our community, generally renters. A high ratio of owner occupied housing is clearly a benefit in any community, and in fact is incentivized at the federal, state, and municipal levels through a volume of legislation far too large to discuss in this forum. Mountain View's highly transient population is one of, if not the most serious, challenge facing our school district. Don't take my word for it, ask a local teacher, or better yet, check out the metrics used in the Academic Performance Index. The proposed development is actually going to go a step further through their plan to lease the land instead of purchasing it. This will maintain a lower property tax payment, and deprive the school system of the natural funding that should necessarily accompany new developments. This is the developer and the city planning department jobbing the school district, which is a seperate government entity, [sic] not their problem. Developers should not expect to add 200 or so housing units to an already taxed school system, and then try to increase profit margins by avoiding paying into the system that gives their development value in the first place.


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Posted by Don Frances
Mountain View Voice Editor
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:23 am

Don Frances is a registered user.

Caltrain Rider,

It's good -- these comments are all fine. Don't expect the Harvard debate team on an online message board.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:41 am

"This is the developer and the city planning department jobbing the school district, which is a seperate government entity, [sic] not their problem. Developers should not expect to add 200 or so housing units to an already taxed school system, and then try to increase profit margins by avoiding paying into the system that gives their development value in the first place." I thought I read in an earlier article that it was Minton's owners who did not want to sell the land, but lease it to the developer? Perhaps I misunderstood that part, it was a while ago.


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Posted by Seamus
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:53 am

@Parent: you are correct about the Minton family trust not wanting to sell. That's what makes moot the argument put forth by Laura Lewis and her followers regarding lease vs. sale of the underlying property. The trustee for the Minton family has made it clear that they have no interest in selling their property; comrade Lewis and her follwers cannot force them to do so, much as they might like to. Besides, as Councilmember Means pointed out on Tuesday, the construction of new buildings on the site will generate new property tax revenues, even without the sale of the underlying property.

With regard to arguments over tone in a tone-less forum I would suggest that people "hear" the tone they want to hear when reading black & white text. Tone is completely lost in this forum and accusing someone of taking a "tone" you don't like simply reveals your bias for their comments and your eagerness to take offense.


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Posted by Grocery store argument
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 12:21 pm

@Caltrain Rider --
I understand the semantic difference in the use of the word 'transients' in this context. However, hearing some of the statements by project opponents last night about renters, their tone indicated that some of them consider renters to be about the same as homeless people, and unwanted in our community. As a renter, downtown resident, and someone who is heavily invested in our community, I take offense at this characterization.

I acknowledge your point about the challenges faced by our schools due to the transient nature of our city's population. But let's look at the big picture and the trend. The Minton's proposal would be the first market-rate rental project to be built in our city since 2001 (Avalon Towers). Considering that this project, if approved, would open in 2012 or 2013 at the soonest, that's a long time between constructing new projects. In the same span, we have constructed hundreds upon hundreds of ownership housing units citywide, and more (e.g., Mondrian, South Whisman, Mayfield) are approved and in the pipeline.

And regarding the incentivization of owner-occupied housing at the federal, state, and municipal level -- the over-exuberance to get people into ownership housing over the past 10-15 years was one of the biggest drivers of the subprime mortgage disaster and the subsequent economic fallout we're still suffering through. I'd say that economic destruction -- with its implications on everything from city budgets to school districts to social services -- is also one of the most serious challenges facing our community today.


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Posted by Caltrain Rider
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Of course the trustees don't want to sell the land if they can get a 60 year land lease. The lease is probably more valuable than the sale, they avoid capital gains taxes, and don't lose control of their asset. Changing the calculus of this sweetheart deal is the whole point.

If the land is developed on a land lease, there will be an increased tax assessment on the structures. However, unlike many parts of the country, in the Bay Area, land is usually much more valuable than the improvements. We are talking big fish and little fish. Developments are like employees, they have to produce more benefit than cost, or they have no purpose.

Grocery Store, again I am sorry that you feel slighted by how some community members may have characterized you, but it's not a reason to behave in the same manner, and ultimately, why do you care what they say? If you want to really feel slighted, directly pay a property tax bill.

I'm not sure how elapsed time between developments is a valuable statistic. Frequency of supply has to relate to some demand metric to have any meaning, by my understanding.

As someone who is personally invested, and makes my living in the Bay Area real estate market, I can tell you that the "hundreds and hundreds of ownership housing units citywide" are performing quite well when compared to neighboring communities, not to mention the nationwide stats. Mountain View has a significantly lower owner occupied ratio than most comparable cities, and new construction of single family homes and condos is probably the most effective way to change that. No one I have heard is advocating a zero rental zone. Rental properties are a necessary component of any community. But the ratio in our city is out of whack, and this causes undeniable problems.

The current economic crisis was not caused by government promotion of homeownership through the tax code, which is the lion's share of what I was referring to. The secondary mortgage market institutions', i.e. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, willingness to buy whatever junk loans banks made is what drove this problem. The loosening of the purse strings by these entities was a political move, made by people interested in getting reelected, not in helping distribute wealth among a greater percentage of the population, which is the driver of the theory. Bankers that were unwilling to make risky subprime loans became less profitable than ones that were, and eventually had to choose between making bad loans or being put out of business. And now you get to pay for it through the idiotic TARP legislation, another political move. If you want to increase funding for services, having long term landlords with very low property tax payments is a poor way of accomplishing the feat.


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Posted by Robert Cox
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 2:31 pm

As a downtown resident, I would welcome a traditional grocery store in the downtown area. One question I put to a member of Mountain View's Environmental Planning Commission was, "How many more people would we need to add to the downtown area to support a grocery store?" His answer was, "Maybe 5 to 10 thousand more."

Hmm ... doubling the population of the downtown area? To get a grocery store?

While I would like to be able to walk to get to groceries, I'll gladly take my one trip per week to the corner of San Antonio Rd. and California St. once a week to shop at Milk Pail, Trader Joe's, Dittmer's and Safeway, and take advantage of the variety and price competition. As long as Old Mountain View is at least a shadow of what it is today.

If I wanted to live in San Francisco, I'd live in San Francisco.

-- Robert Cox (MiRNA Coordinator)


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Posted by MaybeaCPA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 2:34 pm

@Caltrain Rider

I believe I may have done a little more research than the OMVNA's MiRNA group, led by Laura Lewis, has apparently done...

Did you know that CA law provides that a lease for a term of more than 35 years is a change of ownership for property tax reassessment purposes...?

The tax difference should be pretty neutral to the City at the end of the day for a ground lease of the length you mention vs. a sale of the property. In addition, as someone else pointed out you will also get the tax benefits of the improvements to the land, not to mention sales taxes from the residents' patronage to local businesses, etc.

By the way I checked with the City, as anyone could have done, and at the current school fee rates it looks like the developer will be required to pay almost a half a million dollars to the School district in much needed fees alone; not insignificant by any stretch...

Hope this furthers the discussion. I personally think it is a great idea to have more dense housing next to transit.


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Posted by Bush St. Bob
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Before making my point, I'd just like to thank Seamus for slipping in his 'comrade Lewis' remark. It made it that much easier for me to completely disregard any point he was trying to make.

I really believe that most OMV residents accept the fact that higher density housing is a good thing for the Minton's location. It's the incredibly high level of density that is the issue. A four story block of housing is orders of magnitude larger than anything in the area. Scaling the project back to 3 stories would probably have a minimal effect on the number of residents that would use public transit, would still show Google and MS that we are growing housing for their employees, and would significantly lessen the impact on the existing neighborhood. If Prometheus can't live with that, fine. I'm sure there are other developers waiting to step in.

Is that so unrealistic?


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Posted by Concerned MV resident
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 25, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Let's see:

- Let me collect crazy rents in MV forever
- Let me not pay any taxes on the land I use
- Pay the owners of the land, which by the way are descendants of the original owners, big bucks for the use of the land of which their taxes are small
- Let me build an enormous buiulding(s) to shadow other homes that have been here for decades

I want to be that guy/company.

This is another way to make money off others who work/life and have invested in their community. So I'll keep paying my taxes to keep MV clean and desirable while others trash my investment.

As for Google...not one of these folks will catch the train to go to Google, the Google campus is not on the train route...duh!

MV has enough apartments...let's put a stop to this before it begins....again!


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Posted by Another Caltrain rider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I attended and listened to the speakers. Though some might like to take it differently, the mentions of renters by Laura Lewis and others entailed no disrespect whatever, she was just citing statistics that many people ignore: MV is near the top in the county's housing density already, MV has much more rental property than average, and rental populations tend to turn over faster, especially corporate rentals by the way, already heavy in complexes like Prometheus's existing Park Place, and likely to be heavy in this proposed "luxury development" of "high-end homes" (quoted from Prometheus's marketing Web site).

Another factor I've noticed: the passionate assertions (or assumptions) that transit-proximate housing will attract disproportionately low car usage, or that rail commuting is a "choice" anyone can make, come mainly from individuals who themselves are not car commuters. They use rail transit, work at home, or are able to walk or bike. (Some speakers with this idea are not even local, they are organized via pressure groups like the mvcoalitionsp "sustainable planning" mailing list, which lists a physical address on Howard St. in San Francisco.)

When we asked locally, not long ago, how many daily commuters were able to use Caltrain or VTA light rail, the answer was a tiny minority. Not all of them seem to realize how rare they are (people extrapolate from their own situation) and therefore how few of their neighbors actually can even "choose" to rail-commute. The core constraint in our local rail transit is routing: VTA's trains (with the lowest ridership numbers of comparable systems nationwide, in VTA's own comparison data) just don't connect to where most of the jobs are. Or they get there in 95 minutes where a carpool does it in 12.

Even hard data show very limited impact on real car usage. At the recent Council meeting, Robert Swierk, from VTA, acknowledged the county's current TIA Guidelines predicting 9% reduction in car trips when housing complexes locate near rail stations. He mentioned a 2008 study finding that some such housing complexes see up to a 44% reduction, but he failed to mention the specific traffic study Mountain View commisisoned at about the same time, finding the reduction was again 9% at an existing local housing complex, nor did he mention the large Canadian university study slightly earlier, finding an average of 10% reduction. (A local Robert Swierk is also on record, in November, publicly supporting the Prometheus proposal.) VTA, desperate for riders and with its limited routes, is evidently not an impartial source and can even be seen as part of the problem here.


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Posted by Caltrain Rider
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 25, 2010 at 3:23 pm

MaybeaCPA-

I don't know Laura Lewis, nor am I in any way affiliated with any of these groups, so I am not sure why you are addressing me while shooting at them.

Options, rights of first refusal, dummy corporations, etc..., there are so many ways around the 35 year rule that it is a non-issue. The developers and land owners involved didn't fall off a turnip truck on the way to city hall. If the developer plans on paying an increased rent to cover the property tax increase that you assume, than it is because he is willing to pay a tidy sum to secure the 60 year term, or he doesn't know what he is doing, (likely the former). I have trouble believing either party will willingly pay large reaccuring sums of cash to the government to fix an issue that can easily be worked around. The fact is that the most financially sophisticated people in the room are probably the developer and land owner, and wealthy people don't get that way by writing a lot of checks. If you are confident that these people will willingly pay an increase, get them to sign a contract obligating them to it prior to final approval. You may find it harder than you think.

In your research did you note how much sales tax revenue goes to school funding?

A one time fee of a half million dollars? Are you kidding? Thirty two MV city employees make over $200,000 a year. A $500,000 payment covers a handful of administrator's for a year. The new housing will create demand on the school district indefinitely.

I am not opposed to housing density near transportation, the green movement, renter's rights, or any other specific theologies involved. The bottom line is that the deal has to make sense for the developer, the land owner, and the city (people). Cities have zoning powers and a building/planning dept. for a reason.


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Posted by MaybeaCPA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm

@Caltrain Rider

Didn't mean to lump you in with our local neighborhood MiRNA group, sorry.

However, I think you may be ill-informed on this particular tax rule, as they are, and I encourage you to do a little more research or talk to your own CPA instead of making wild assumptions.


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Posted by Caltrain Rider
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 25, 2010 at 6:26 pm

@ MaybeaCPA

I am talking application, not theory here, and the last thing I need is a CPA. If my CPA told me that a tax law was impossible to defeat, I would find a better CPA. The whole idea is to write an agreement that lasts as long as the principles need it to, without falling into the accounting rules you describe. I have no doubt you are a wonderful CPA with a wealth of knowledge well beyond anything I will ever have, but defeating taxation is and will always be a booming business.

Out of curiosity, what means do you plan on using to force disclosure of contract terms between two private parties? What a developer says at a council meeting is hardly binding.

Ok, I'm done. I think I have abused the board enough on an issue I didn't feel that strongly about when I started this morning. :)


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Posted by LSA Consultant
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Completion/Adoption of the Negative Declaration: For private projects involving the issuance of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use by one or more public agencies, the negative declaration must be completed and adopted within 180 days from the date the lead agency accepted the application as complete (PRC Section 21151.5 and Guidelines Section 151107).
so Lets see Here.
The activity started on January 27 2009
it is now:
March 25 2010
It is 420 days from the start date to the end
so let make a simple subtraction
420
180-
=240 days late, no adopted MND to date.
This is CEQA violation of the state PRC code by the city of MV if they vote the project to go forward now. I do not make the laws, however everyone is supposed to obey the laws in good faith.

This is the biggest and stupidest mistake I have every seen. Look it was the consultant that told us it was OK ??? see??? I trained you all in exceptions and waiver to avoid public input and we can just ignore what the public thinks just like it works for the Infill exception. It works just fine in Palo Alto.
21151.5. (a) (1) For projects described in subdivision (c) of
Section 21065, each local agency shall establish, by ordinance or
resolution, time limits that do not exceed the following:
(A) One year for completing and certifying environmental impact
reports.
(B) One hundred eighty days for completing and adopting negative
declarations.
There was no time limit established
The application was complete January 27 2009

No CEQA MND can be adopted, the time limit has expired, the proposal cannot move forward, Game over!
look it up
Web Link
Ask the AG
Web Link


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Posted by Kevin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I've noticed a few people have suggested that there is no grocery store within walking distance of Minton's. In fact, the Safeway on Shoreline is only .73 miles from Minton's. Central Expressway is a psychological barrier, but it's interesting how our dependence on cars has progressed to the point where a 1.5 mile round trip seems an insurmountable obstacle. People will drive to the gym for a 1 hour workout, but don't think they have the time to walk to the grocery store. For anyone who has not see the site, I recommend walkscore.com -- the Minton's address gets a score of 89/100 or Very Walkable.
Web Link

I'm not a supporter of the development -- I'm skeptical of claims where development = environmental good. And I'm not judging those who drive to the grocery store -- I often do that too. Just making an observation and pointing to a resource for those looking for walkable places to live. Walkscore considers things walkable if they are within 1 mile.


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Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Being near the train station will be used over and over again until the downtown area is packed. The new residents will not be using the train very often just like the rest of us and we will be stuck with more people and more cars. We need to elect city leaders to stop all of this and toss the currents who vote for this out on their ears.


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Posted by localmom
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:40 pm

My main issue, as you all know, is school funding and how new kids will impact overcrowded, underfunded MV schools. Caltrain Rider asked what kind of $$ a new development brings in. I was unaware of any $500K fee. That is surely to be a one-time deal, and may go into a special fund (i.e. facilities only---any school Board or other knowledegable people out there??), but on a regular basis, families moving into the district do not cover their own costs. This is due to many reasons, lots of it having to do w/Sacramento siphoning off large %age of tax dollars, and I would imagine too that if Minton's owners don't actually "sell" then the assessed value will stay at the incredbily LOW 1978 value (Prop 13) and NO additional tax revenue will accrue to the city/district over whatever paltry sum they are paying now. This would be tragic if dozens of new kids move in who need to be educated in Mountain View; it is simply a drain on the already limited resources available.
In addition, walking 1.5 miles round trip w/groceries to and from Safeway is not really feasible if you have kids :)!


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Posted by Robert Swierk
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2010 at 12:45 am

I would like to respond to 'Another Caltrain rider' regarding my remarks at the City Council hearing on Tuesday night. I am a planner at VTA, involved in the review of environmental documents and transportation studies for projects around Santa Clara County. I am also an Old Mountain View resident, living close to El Camino but commuting via the Transit Center on a daily basis.

At Tuesday's Council meeting, at the start of my remarks, I clearly identified that I was a Mountain View resident but representing VTA at the meeting. I provided highlights of a letter VTA sent to the City on February 4, 2010 regarding the Mitigated Negative Declaration and Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA) for the project. VTA reviewed these documents in its capacity as the Congestion Management Agency (CMA) and transit agency for Santa Clara County. A copy of VTA's letter can be found on the City website here:
Web Link

On Tuesday, I noted that VTA's TIA Guidelines allow a 9% reduction in automobile trip generation rates (versus standard national rates) for housing within 2,000 feet of a rail station. However, there are numerous studies on this topic that have been published in recent years, and actual reductions can vary greatly by location, development type, and transit service. A 2008 study (cited in VTA's letter) showed that 17 residential projects near transit stations around the country demonstrated _on average_ a 44% reduction in auto trip generation; reductions at 5 projects in the East Bay ranged from 19% to 63%. It is my understanding that the recent Mountain View study was conducted at the Whisman light rail station; while the 9% figure may indicate a typical reduction for a neighborhood with a light rail station and few services within walking distance, it is likely to be greater at the Minton's site, which in addition to light rail is near Caltrain Baby Bullet and local service, three bus routes, numerous employer shuttles, and a host of restaurants, shops and services. In my remarks, I noted that the 9% figure is therefore well justified for the Minton's site, but could actually be an underestimate.

As a resident living within walking distance of the Minton's site, I am also personally interested in this development proposal. In November 2009, I posted to the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association email list (OMVNA-talk) twice on threads related to the Minton's project: once mentioning that my wife and I are a one-car household and suggesting that we consider providing others the option of living closer to transit, and a second time pointing out some erroneous information about the Minton's proposal (one list member was stating that the developer was proposing 270 units with no parking). I have signed none of the petitions about the Minton's proposal that have been circulated, although as an individual I would be free to do so, as any resident would. I appreciate the spirit of the activists -- both for and against the project -- who have devoted time and energy to gathering signatures, informing themselves, and speaking out on this project. They have shown a great deal of concern for their neighborhood and Mountain View as a whole, a concern which I share deeply in my personal and professional life.


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Posted by Robert Cox
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2010 at 6:00 am

More of the Wrong Kind of Housing Won't Help the Environment

When I moved to Mountain View in 1995 to work for Silicon Graphics in the North Bayshore area, I joined a group of seven engineers in their 20s and 30s who had also recently joined the company and were living in rental housing in Mountain View. Over the next four years, as those of us in the group got married and had children, we started looking for places of our own in which to live.

While all of us loved this city, five out of the seven moved out of Mountain View because of the lack of ownership housing opportunities. But all still ended up driving to work in the North Bayshore area, adding to greenhouse gas emissions and putting further pressure on our challenged environment. The two of us who remained could afford to do so (sadly) because we didn't have the added expense of raising children.

Luxury apartments like the ones that Prometheus is proposing are so expensive that they sap the economic vitality even out of people who have good paying tech jobs. They might seem like a good choice to someone moving in from out of town, but people living in them eventually wise up and go elsewhere. (The expected turnover rate for the complex proposed at the Minton's complex is 50% per year.) And when they look around and find that there is nothing affordable for them to buy in Mountain View, they go to other cities. And the environment suffers due to their long commutes.

At 57% rentals, Mountain View is far above the local avaerage of 33%.
The Mountain View General Plan supports a preference for increasing Mountain View's stock of OWNERSHIP housing. The Minton site would be developed as ownership housing if the variances are denied.

Do what is best for Mountain View and the environment, write to the council and them to deny the variances for this project.

-- Robert Cox (MiRNA Coordinator)


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Posted by Transportation consultant
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2010 at 7:11 am

@Robert Swierk
please read:
Web Link

I wish your letter and agency would have taken part in the process much earlier. Lets say Febuary 2009.

There is a school of thought that the proposal and VTA activities are seperate and different and should not be evaluted together. This comes from the city itself.

Schools, public roads, transportation, parking, visual are all impacts that did not get addresses to inform the community in a meaningful way. This is why there is a show non-support for the proposal.

The public provided input using real data, accurate visuals and sound logic on all of the above at the meeting which is not addressed in the report by the city to reflect reality.

If you think design is something you change at the last moment, removal of BMR housing, the idea the parking could be an issue, changing the building height, is good practice, it is no wonder VTA is what VTA is.

so, now that this is complete, what does VTA say on HSR through Mountain View?


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Posted by WTF?
a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

So some of you people think that a family that has worked to build a business and acquire property should be restricted as to whether or not they can lease it? I would assume they have been paying property taxes all these years and they are probably doing the right thing for their kids. Why should they be required to sell? If it was your house or land, how would you feel if you were not allowed to? I'm guessing you NIMBY's would be the first ones to cry foul.

This project is perfect for this location IMHO. Transit is the key. Looks wise, the area is somewhat blighted and this would certainly improve it. The newer housing developments that have gone in seem less like single family homes than an apartment row. The falling down duplexes and apartment complex's in the surrounding blocks are an eyesore. I was at the Tuesday meeting and I thought it was a nice design. Certainly much better than what is there now.


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Posted by MaybeaCPA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm

@localmom,

respectfully, I think you may have the same bad information that Caltrain rider did re: the tax status of this particular project...I dispute Caltrain rider's assumption that a "good" CPA could get one out of this particular requirement to reassess the property and be taxed as if it were a for sale project...fyi

@Caltrain Rider

I believe I may have done a little more research than the OMVNA's MiRNA group, led by Laura Lewis, has apparently done...

Did you know that CA law provides that a lease for a term of more than 35 years is a change of ownership for property tax reassessment purposes...?

The tax difference should be pretty neutral to the City at the end of the day for a ground lease of the length you mention vs. a sale of the property. In addition, as someone else pointed out you will also get the tax benefits of the improvements to the land, not to mention sales taxes from the residents' patronage to local businesses, etc.


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Posted by DisappointedOMV
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 27, 2010 at 8:19 pm

@Robert Cox,

It is so very clear by your comments that you just don't want "apartment people" in your backyard!! I am sure your concern over property values and the "right kind" of people in what you consider to be your downtown neighborhood are at the center of your "beef" with this development. Let's have some economic and social diversity downtown, we'll all be better off for it.


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Posted by DisappointedOMV
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 27, 2010 at 8:19 pm

@Robert Cox,

It is so very clear by your comments that you just don't want "apartment people" in your backyard!! I am sure your concern over property values and the "right kind" of people in what you consider to be your downtown neighborhood are at the center of your "beef" with this development. Let's have some economic and social diversity downtown, we'll all be better off for it.


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Posted by Another Caltrain Rider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 28, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Mr. Swierk, your data are again selective. In explaining away the transit-impact study by Mountain View (which you omitted to mention to the EPC or City Council meetings), you cite differences between VTA-only and mixed rail stations, but fail to mention the county TIA document's guidance: either case gives the same 9% estimated car-usage impact for nearby housing. The only higher percentages listed occur when the new development itself contains significant mixed use (as at Santana Row, for example). That (not your personal opinion, however heartfelt) is the governing information for official planning. The problem of "over-parked" developments (excessive parking provision) is indeed serious in some sites. You have not mentioned the parallel issue of under-parked developments, prominent in some recent Bay Area housing, causing inconvenience and outrage in affected neighborhoods (one town revised its planning process in consequence). You omitted other authoritative data finding widespread car-use reduction averages near 9%.

The effect of that selectivity is a polemic rather than forensic argument. But a citizen seeking the most realistic estimate of car-trip reduction from the proposed development's transit proximity will look to the most relevant local data: the county TIA guidelines and especially the recent MV study, both estimating about 9%. (That choice of sources is shared, I understand, by the city's current Traffic Engineering department.)

I'm sure you recognize that representing your data as on behalf of VTA means that it may reflect on future information from you or VTA -- especially if the Prometheus project causes serious parking trouble. I also respectfully submit that you may someday better understand typical local commute "options" should your own work change to a location not realistically accessible by VTA or Caltrain. That's by far the more typical situation in Mountain View. I believe it's why so much rhetoric about individual transit options comes from the minority who actually have such options.


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Posted by Council action?
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 29, 2010 at 11:26 am

Does anyone know when the Council is going to make their final decision on this project? The article says April 7, but it seems like some things are still up in the air so maybe not?


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2010 at 2:52 am

I rember when they build City Centre Apts, it helped change the face of downtown, i think the new apts on the Minton Site will help even greater. Most of the people moving here will be busy working and yuppies (hate this term), but over the last 50 plus years they have been buidling apts in mtn view, i don't think it wreck my home town, building get old, tired, high end dwellings have to be built. Like all said all types of housing and where they should be built, i think this is a good place seeing that some things are going to be built. Not everyone wants to live in a house and not everyone wants to live in apt.


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Posted by Caltrain Rider
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

@ MaybeaCPA

Did you read the post I made back to you before you responded? What I am trying to say to you is that a smart CPA will tell you not to enter into a lease that results in a property tax reassessment unless this will result in more revenue than it costs, which may or may not be the case. This is the financial field known as risk management. What a developer says at a council meeting, believe it or not, may not actually reflect his true intentions. If they tell you they will sign a 60 year lease so that you will agree to their proposal, and then change their position after they get what they want and instead sign a 30 year, then the tax neutrality that you speak of will not materialize. This is one of the oldest tricks in the developer book, and they enjoy have well trained, intelligent professionals like yourself fall for it repeatedly.


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