Google housing axed in city's general plan
Council members were not moved Tuesday night by last-minute efforts by the Chamber of Commerce and the mayor to keep housing as an option for future development of Google's neighborhood north of Highway 101.
Council members voted 6-1 in a final approval of Mountain View's 2030 general plan, a kind of road map for redevelopment in key areas of the city and the culmination of four years of meetings, and a "community visioning" process in 2008.
Largely by increasing allowed building densities and heights, it encourages redevelopment along El Camino Real, in the East Whisman area, North Bayshore (north of Highway 101), Moffett Boulevard and the San Antonio Shopping Center area.
Council members removed an allowance for as many as 1,100 apartments along Shoreline Boulevard between Highway 101 and Charleston Road. The housing would likely have been used by employees of Google and other tech companies in the area and was supported strongly by the Chamber of Commerce, which posted a YouTube video promoting the idea and whose members largely support North Bayshore housing, said president Oscar Garcia.
Council member Tom Means was the sole opponent to the general plan adoption. Mayor Mike Kasperzak and John Inks supported the motion although they opposed the removal of housing in North Bayshore.
A company town
Council members had some fiery comments after having been called on by residents to explain their position against housing in North Bayshore.
"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."
"Housing by companies went out with the mining towns," said member Jac Siegel. "That just went away a long time ago. This is not a university. People need to grow up and they need to go out" of where they work.
While the discussion focused almost entirely on North Bayshore, there was dissent on the council about other parts of the general plan as well, most notably the council's move in April to allow much higher densities for key El Camino Real intersections (up to a 3.0 floor area ratio) that could mean more than the five-story buildings residents said they supported, Siegel said.
Environmentalists were split over the pitch for new housing in North Bayshore, with supporters saying it would reduce greenhouse gasses from commuters and wildlife preservationists saying it would encroach on wildlife in Shoreline Park.
"We have an increasing imbalance of more jobs and less housing," said Aaron Grossman of the Coalition for Sustainable Planning, calling for the housing. He said protests from preservationists were "long on emotion, short on vision."
"Somebody needs to tell wildlife that greenhouse gas reduction is more important than their habitat," said Siegel.
Siegel and member Laura Macias said the housing would introduce dogs and cats to prey on sensitive species at Shoreline, including the rare burrowing owl, which lives in holes dug by ground squirrels. Siegel said Highway 101 would no longer be a barrier for wildlife and new residents could not be expected to not have pets.
"We need to respect nature and allow it room to grow," Macias said. "There are over 22 endangered species at Shoreline and North Bayshore. We've provided this wonderful barrier that gives a home to wildlife there." She added that she was shocked to see the largest colony of egrets in the South Bay living in the middle of an office park at the end of Charleston Road.
Macias read a letter from Glen Lisles, the city manager during Shoreline's formative years. He called it "a special place where the lights need to be turned off at night."
"We've spent so much time trying to make it the best place we possibly can," Macias said. "We can't love it to death by building every square inch."
Siegel applauded Google's interest in general plan provisions that will allow the company to transfer development rights for the edges of North Bayshore to build more densely in the center of the area, away from wildlife.
Council members said the 1,100 homes proposed would be found to be inadequate for supporting the sort of second downtown neighborhood some said they wanted there. Members Siegel and Margaret Abe-Koga said they've been told many times that 5,000 homes would be needed in any neighborhood to support basic retail services such as a grocery store, a number not yet hit even on Castro Street. Siegel said it was "impossible," adding, "I believe it would make more traffic there."
Prior to the meeting Mayor Kasperzak made headlines by proposing a pod car system as a fix to the traffic problem, connecting the 1,100 homes and nearby offices to downtown services. He said it could be made a requirement of housing and that it would spur North Bayhore companies to implement such a system, which council members unanimously supported as a concept in 2010. He had written a memo to council members on the topic, which wasn't technically a violation of the Brown Act, but miffed other members nonetheless.
"I was very disappointed to get an open letter from the mayor rather than discuss it in a meeting where I could respond to it," Bryant said.
"I did not expect that reaction," Kasperzak said. "I did want to get an idea out in front of you. I did not think that through clearly enough."
Council members still expressed support for the pod car system to connect North Bayshore to downtown.
Siegel said that as a mediator of neighborhood disputes, he was familiar with fair housing laws, and that there were no guarantees that the North Bayshore homes wouldn't house families that would act as opponents to future commercial development and require new school facilities in the area, which could eat into lands reserved for wildlife.
"I really believe you create conflict when you put housing right with commercial," Siegel said. "I know fair housing laws. You can't not rent to people with many people in the family."
Means agreed on that point, saying "I witnessed a lot of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) disguised under various things." He said new office projects in North Bayshore, which could more than double the density of existing buildings and increase employee count there from 17,000 to nearly 30,000, would have seen opposition "as soon as we put in the first units."
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