City imagines its future
Officials mull World's Fair site, new growth, train stations and pot clubs in 2010
It was a year for futuristic visions for the city.
A car-less Googletopia surrounding the headquarters of Google was envisioned along with a 2020 World's Fair at Moffett Field showcasing Silicon Valley's cutting edge.
But it wasn't always dreamy. The city also survived major budget cuts, a City Council election, a battle with an unwelcome marijuana dispensary and requests from the school district for the city to share Google's tax revenue.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself used his star power to back the idea of having the 2020 World's Fair in Silicon Valley at Moffett Field, with major implications for Mountain View. Dreams for what it could do to spur the redevelopment of the former Navy base soon followed in the form of an attractive rendered image that included a ferry terminal on the bay. A college campus could be left behind when the fair closed its gates, long sought after by the University of California and other universities.
Google would surely have its own pavilion at the World' Fair, but it also worked on a vision for its Mountain View headquarters next door to Moffett Field which included as many as 1,500 homes amid new shops and restaurants on Shoreline Boulevard. The City Council discussed going completely car-less in Google's neighborhood in a discussion that pleased Google employees. Council members wrestled with the drawbacks of allowing Google's industrial land to become housing, but decided to study the idea anyway.
The city's general plan update took shape as well, and while not yet approved, the city is on track to allow buildings up to five stories on much of El Camino Real, and double the densities allowed for businesses in the Whisman and North Bayshore areas, including Google. Also part of the city's new future was a proposal to redevelop a large portion of San Antonio Shopping Center with a new Safeway and 350 homes. The design was disappointing to some, who wanted more of a Santana Row feel in Mountain View.
The City Council took up the issue of whether to allow medical marijuana to be sold in Mountain View in February, and a short time later battled with Buddy's, a marijuana dispensary that opened up before the city could come up with regulations.
A judge eventually ordered Buddy's to close its Bayshore Parkway location, and it left Mountain View despite threats from Buddy's operator, lawyer Matt Lucero, to bring a lawsuit against the city to the state Supreme Court.
Regardless of the trouble with Buddy's, five of seven council members expressed support for sale of medical marijuana in Mountain View, but the idea could be threatened by the unwillingness to compromise over how heavily to regulate the dispensaries. A draft ordinance is set for a council vote in February.
Birds and ball fields
The city finally got a handle on some bird problems that have plagued Shoreline Park for years, namely Canada Geese, American Coots and the poop the birds leave everywhere, annoying golfers and park users.
After trying a wide range of scare tactics, including remote-controlled boats and fake alligator heads, to frighten the geese away from the Shoreline Golf Links freshwater ponds, the city decided to drain most of the ponds to get rid of the geese. That happens to also provide additional hunting grounds for the rare burrowing owl, which is declining in numbers at Shoreline Park, and would lose foraging ground to the new playing fields planned next door.
But the plan for new fields at Shoreline had neighbors of McKelvey Park saying that park no longer needed to be dominated by youth sports, and they called on the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the city to turn it into more of a neighborhood playground when it is modified to double as a flood basin for Permanente Creek.
After a year of running a structural deficit, the city was able to close a $4.6 million budget deficit in its $87 million general fund budget. City officials spent a year hammering out a budget that spread the pain with $1 million in fee hikes for almost all city services, the elimination of 11 vacant employee positions, a restructuring of the police department and reducing equipment costs and city vehicle use, among other things.
The city's tight fiscal situation made a request by the Mountain View Whisman School District for more money all the more stressful for city officials who said they felt blindsided by it. Facing their own budget problems, the city's elementary schools want the city to share more of the property taxes Google and other companies pay exclusively to the city as part of the unique 1969 Shoreline tax district, which funds Shoreline Park and the redevelopment of Google's neighborhood.
The school district says it is missing out on $5 million a year because of the Shoreline tax district's existence, but the city points to over $2 million in programs and services it provides for the district, such as field maintenance and after school programs.
Some of those Shoreline property taxes could have gone to subsidize a long-desired boutique hotel and conference center next to Google headquarters, but after lengthy negotiations council members decided to call off the deal, saying the city's subsidy was too large and its return in the form of land lease payments too risky.
A train runs through it
The possibility of building a new station in downtown Mountain View for high-speed trains wasn't the only major development considered along the Caltrain corridor this year. The council approved a 203-unit apartment building to be built across the street from the train station on the site of Minton's Lumber and Supply, which closed its doors in November.
The city also approved a new 50-unit affordable housing development across the street from the train tracks at Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street, and a new four-story office building on the corner one block east of it on Evelyn Avenue.
Further up the tracks at San Antonio Road, there was big news in August about the massive Mayfield housing development, which was reduced in size from 436 to 253 units — to the chagrin of housing advocates but pleasing to neighbors worried about traffic. Developer Summit Land Partners said larger buildings would have been too large an investment in the shaky housing market.
While the council had supported a study of a large downtown station for high-speed trains last year, members decided this year to say no to building the depot in the city, as did Palo Alto. And in design workshops, residents stated a preference for building the tracks below ground level, either in a trench or tunnel, if the fast trains come to Mountain View's train corridor.
Incumbents survive council election
It seemed there wasn't much excitement in store when election season started this year, but the city was in for a surprise when three newcomers decided to file papers to challenge council members Ronit Bryant, Margaret Abe-Koga and Jac Siegel.
Longtime resident Greg David and Google employees Dan Waylonis and Aaron Jabbari lost to the incumbents, but they said they were proud to have provided a "legitimate challenge," raising issues about the city budget, the money-losing golf course and city employee compensation costs.
Meanwhile the city's phone tax was expanded to include broadband, national and international calls, thanks to an overwhelming approval by city residents. There was some controversy however, about whether an assistant to the city manger was too involved in the campaign to pass the phone tax, Measure T.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at email@example.com