News

New zoning could redraw the map in Mtn. View

City officials agree to double building densities allowed on El Camino Real, North Bayshore

It appears that dramatic increases in the size of buildings allowed in North Bayshore and on El Camino Real — and a corresponding increase in population densities there — are in the cards for Mountain View following a breakthrough General Plan discussion at Tuesday night's council meeting.

The growth of the city has been stagnant during the recession, but officials said changes in zoning could spur new development.

"The possibility of development on El Camino Real has been there and nothing has happened," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Maybe permitting five-story mixed-use buildings will provide an incentive."

During Tuesday's meeting, held for the second week in a row at the Senior Center, the council and Planning Commission jointly discussed building densities and land uses for three of nine "focus areas" where new development would be concentrated: El Camino Real, North Bayshore and the San Antonio shopping center.

The city has dubbed the process the "2030 General Plan Update," resulting in a document intended to guide Mountain View's development over the next 20 years. Although decisions made Tuesday weren't binding, they indicated the direction the city almost certainly is headed.

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To prepare for Tuesday's meeting, the city spent a year gathering input from residents and other stakeholders who wanted to focus development on particular areas while maintaining the city's character. After four hours of discussion Tuesday, the council and commission — 14 members in total — had supported four- and five-story buildings along El Camino Real and significantly increasing the size of buildings allowed at San Antonio shopping center and throughout North Bayshore.

Council members noted that just increasing a property's allowed building density does not guarantee projects will be approved at that density by the city. Instead, they said, it would allow the city some "flexibility" for future development. Nevertheless, council members Laura Macias and Jac Siegel opposed higher density options (known as "Option B") for El Camino Real.

If the higher density options for each focus area are selected, the city will be on track to increase its population to 98,900 residents by 2030, consultants said. Lower density "Option A" would lead to an estimated 87,900 residents by 2030. If the city were to make no change to its 1992 General Plan, the city would have 80,300 residents in 2030. The current population is 73,000.

Consultants said that by encouraging growth, the city would see increased sales and property tax revenue. They estimated a 2030 General Fund balance of $29.9 million under Option B, $24.3 million under Option A, and $16.6 million under the 1992 General Plan. The numbers were for purposes of comparison only, consultants said.

The city currently faces a $5 million general fund deficit, which the city finance director says will continue to worsen indefinitely without new revenues or major budget cuts.

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The city officials supported tripling the building density allowed for most businesses in North Bayshore, which include Google, by increasing allowed floor area ratios from 0.3 and 0.5 to 1.0.

An option to allow new homes in North Bayshore as part of mixed-use development along Shoreline Boulevard — an attempt to reduce car trips into the area and meet requests from Google — found little support. Council member Tom Means said new residents would block future development in the area, while Macias said pharmaceutical and biotech companies would be wary of locating near residents.

Siegel and Commissioner John McAllister said increased development, especially on El Camino Real, would lead to gridlock traffic. But others said it would be possible to mitigate traffic through creative restrictions and an increased need for public transit, which has a "symbiotic relationship with development," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "It's not all doom and gloom. Great transportations systems in the word exist because there are people there to use them."

Held up as a model for traffic reduction was Stanford University, which has capped car trips at 1989 levels despite expansive growth. Stanford uses shuttles and actually pays those who do not drive, which is cheaper than building parking structures.

For San Antonio shopping center the group supported a higher density option allowing commercial buildings with a 0.75 floor area ratio and housing at 60 units per acre. But the group said a closer look will be given to surrounding areas slated for three-story mixed use.

All half dozen public speakers supported "Option B," though environmentalists Bruce Karney and Bruce England said it did not allow enough housing to match the number of jobs in the city. Karney said the city should strive to be "independent" in that regard, the same way people talk about "energy independence."

Council member Macias said she supported the two to three story buildings allowed for El Camino Real in the 1992 General Plan, with some exceptions. She said the city would "pay" for the increased zoning when the Association of Bay Area Governments uses it to calculate the region's housing needs that should be met by Mountain View. But failing to meet ABAG's housing requirements in prior years has not led to any real consequences.

Bryant disagreed with Macias, saying five stories might even be too limited on El Camino.

"I feel strange saying in 2030 we're going to have five story buildings," Bryant said. "I don't want to tell people in 2030 what to do."

A concern for some was how to make sure that those who work in Mountain View are also able to live here in the future, when higher gas prices make commuting costly. Some pointed out the significantly higher number of car trips into Mountain View every morning compared to those leaving. Several residents said the city had already lost much of its diversity in recent years and that the city "job profile" needed to be matched by its "housing profile" though more housing production.

Without decreasing housing prices by increasing supply, "at some point we'll be like Los Altos: If you have enough income, you can live here," said Means, an economics professor at San Jose State University.

Focus areas to be discussed at a future meeting include Old Middlefield Way (two- to three-story mixed-use proposed on key intersections), the Whisman area (higher density office is proposed) and Moffett Boulevard, where four story housing with retail on the ground floor is proposed between Central Expressway and Middlefield Road.

More information can be found at www.mountainview2030.com.

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New zoning could redraw the map in Mtn. View

City officials agree to double building densities allowed on El Camino Real, North Bayshore

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Feb 4, 2010, 4:24 pm

It appears that dramatic increases in the size of buildings allowed in North Bayshore and on El Camino Real — and a corresponding increase in population densities there — are in the cards for Mountain View following a breakthrough General Plan discussion at Tuesday night's council meeting.

The growth of the city has been stagnant during the recession, but officials said changes in zoning could spur new development.

"The possibility of development on El Camino Real has been there and nothing has happened," said council member Ronit Bryant. "Maybe permitting five-story mixed-use buildings will provide an incentive."

During Tuesday's meeting, held for the second week in a row at the Senior Center, the council and Planning Commission jointly discussed building densities and land uses for three of nine "focus areas" where new development would be concentrated: El Camino Real, North Bayshore and the San Antonio shopping center.

The city has dubbed the process the "2030 General Plan Update," resulting in a document intended to guide Mountain View's development over the next 20 years. Although decisions made Tuesday weren't binding, they indicated the direction the city almost certainly is headed.

To prepare for Tuesday's meeting, the city spent a year gathering input from residents and other stakeholders who wanted to focus development on particular areas while maintaining the city's character. After four hours of discussion Tuesday, the council and commission — 14 members in total — had supported four- and five-story buildings along El Camino Real and significantly increasing the size of buildings allowed at San Antonio shopping center and throughout North Bayshore.

Council members noted that just increasing a property's allowed building density does not guarantee projects will be approved at that density by the city. Instead, they said, it would allow the city some "flexibility" for future development. Nevertheless, council members Laura Macias and Jac Siegel opposed higher density options (known as "Option B") for El Camino Real.

If the higher density options for each focus area are selected, the city will be on track to increase its population to 98,900 residents by 2030, consultants said. Lower density "Option A" would lead to an estimated 87,900 residents by 2030. If the city were to make no change to its 1992 General Plan, the city would have 80,300 residents in 2030. The current population is 73,000.

Consultants said that by encouraging growth, the city would see increased sales and property tax revenue. They estimated a 2030 General Fund balance of $29.9 million under Option B, $24.3 million under Option A, and $16.6 million under the 1992 General Plan. The numbers were for purposes of comparison only, consultants said.

The city currently faces a $5 million general fund deficit, which the city finance director says will continue to worsen indefinitely without new revenues or major budget cuts.

The city officials supported tripling the building density allowed for most businesses in North Bayshore, which include Google, by increasing allowed floor area ratios from 0.3 and 0.5 to 1.0.

An option to allow new homes in North Bayshore as part of mixed-use development along Shoreline Boulevard — an attempt to reduce car trips into the area and meet requests from Google — found little support. Council member Tom Means said new residents would block future development in the area, while Macias said pharmaceutical and biotech companies would be wary of locating near residents.

Siegel and Commissioner John McAllister said increased development, especially on El Camino Real, would lead to gridlock traffic. But others said it would be possible to mitigate traffic through creative restrictions and an increased need for public transit, which has a "symbiotic relationship with development," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "It's not all doom and gloom. Great transportations systems in the word exist because there are people there to use them."

Held up as a model for traffic reduction was Stanford University, which has capped car trips at 1989 levels despite expansive growth. Stanford uses shuttles and actually pays those who do not drive, which is cheaper than building parking structures.

For San Antonio shopping center the group supported a higher density option allowing commercial buildings with a 0.75 floor area ratio and housing at 60 units per acre. But the group said a closer look will be given to surrounding areas slated for three-story mixed use.

All half dozen public speakers supported "Option B," though environmentalists Bruce Karney and Bruce England said it did not allow enough housing to match the number of jobs in the city. Karney said the city should strive to be "independent" in that regard, the same way people talk about "energy independence."

Council member Macias said she supported the two to three story buildings allowed for El Camino Real in the 1992 General Plan, with some exceptions. She said the city would "pay" for the increased zoning when the Association of Bay Area Governments uses it to calculate the region's housing needs that should be met by Mountain View. But failing to meet ABAG's housing requirements in prior years has not led to any real consequences.

Bryant disagreed with Macias, saying five stories might even be too limited on El Camino.

"I feel strange saying in 2030 we're going to have five story buildings," Bryant said. "I don't want to tell people in 2030 what to do."

A concern for some was how to make sure that those who work in Mountain View are also able to live here in the future, when higher gas prices make commuting costly. Some pointed out the significantly higher number of car trips into Mountain View every morning compared to those leaving. Several residents said the city had already lost much of its diversity in recent years and that the city "job profile" needed to be matched by its "housing profile" though more housing production.

Without decreasing housing prices by increasing supply, "at some point we'll be like Los Altos: If you have enough income, you can live here," said Means, an economics professor at San Jose State University.

Focus areas to be discussed at a future meeting include Old Middlefield Way (two- to three-story mixed-use proposed on key intersections), the Whisman area (higher density office is proposed) and Moffett Boulevard, where four story housing with retail on the ground floor is proposed between Central Expressway and Middlefield Road.

More information can be found at www.mountainview2030.com.

Comments

Brian
Old Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2010 at 8:24 pm
Brian, Old Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Governments keep thinking they can grow their way out of deficit spending which is a false assumption. The over-reliance on real estate to fund general operations should be a warning bell that in 2030 when the community reaches the new growth caps we'll be hearing the same, tired refrain that we need more growth to support the increased need for police, fire and other services. The real estate merry-go-round has to stop and a real assessment made of what residents are willing to pay for and what they are willing to go without. Only then will the general fund have a snow ball's chance of being brought in alignment with revenues.


moneymoneymoneyMONey
Blossom Valley
on Feb 4, 2010 at 9:34 pm
moneymoneymoneyMONey, Blossom Valley
on Feb 4, 2010 at 9:34 pm

They sure know where to maximize property tax... largest chunks of 5 story mixed use zoning on ECR? right at San Antonio. one guess which elementary district that is in ;) I mean, we all know San Antonio is not busy enough during rush hour! And what exactly is wrong with increasing affluence in the community?


Old Ben
Shoreline West
on Feb 4, 2010 at 11:59 pm
Old Ben, Shoreline West
on Feb 4, 2010 at 11:59 pm

You can always tell when a politician is lying: his/her mouth is moving.


Where are your ideas?
Old Mountain View
on Feb 5, 2010 at 7:37 am
Where are your ideas?, Old Mountain View
on Feb 5, 2010 at 7:37 am

You can always tell when Old Ben (or folks like him) are going to post some trite, cynical, simple-minded comment -- look for the articles about tough issues facing our city.

So Old Ben, what do you suggest we do about the challenges facing our city? How should we try to stay competitive to keep the Googles and VeriSigns from eventually fleeing to greener pastures? How should we tackle our budget deficit? How should we respond when a land owner in the city wants to do something different with their property - and balance property rights with the city's interests?

Where are your ideas?


eric
another community
on Feb 5, 2010 at 9:12 am
eric, another community
on Feb 5, 2010 at 9:12 am

My god-- who are these people? Who in town wants Mtn View to become as dense and trafficked as Sunnyvale or San Mateo (both crowded cities with FAILED downtowns, for the record)?

It's time to dramatically change the makeup of the city council. This group does NOT reflect what our city wants.


USA
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Feb 5, 2010 at 2:50 pm
USA, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 5, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Eric, I agree. The city should do what's best for the current residents, not what's best for the developers or potential new residents. With many small houses going for more than a million dollars, it is obvious that Mountain View certainly does not have trouble attracting residents.


Dave
The Crossings
on Feb 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm
Dave, The Crossings
on Feb 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I live in one of the few new residences built in Mtn View and am thankful for that opportunity. We have an obligation to build homes for our seniors and our kids. El Camino seems a great place to do it, and as some one pointed out - we are talking about the Future.


eric
another community
on Feb 6, 2010 at 1:41 am
eric, another community
on Feb 6, 2010 at 1:41 am

So, its OK for our kids to crawl up El Camino at 5 mph, Dave, just so long YOU dont have to?

How many city councilmembers live west of El Camino? Not many, I think. Clogging El Camino is someone else's problem in their mind, I guess.

(If USA and I agree on something, it is inarguably correct, by the way)


kathy-sylvanpark
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Feb 6, 2010 at 10:34 am
kathy-sylvanpark, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Feb 6, 2010 at 10:34 am

Downtown Sunnyvale used to be a model municipality in the late 80's, now it is a ghost town of 5 story buildings, is that where we are headed?

Building high density housing and 5 story buildings is not going to make Mountain View more affordable, it will just make it less desirable. It sounds like the developers have the city council in their back pocket.




Jarrett
Castro City
on Feb 6, 2010 at 2:39 pm
Jarrett, Castro City
on Feb 6, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Eric,

The idea is future generations won't necessarily have to drive and "crawl" to access El Camino. I know it's difficult to imagine the current traffic sewer being more pedestrian and transit friendly, but allowing some growth that supports car-light living can change the status quo. The City made it very clear that were new development to be allowed, there would have to be some Transportation Management to avoid congestion. This would include a new municipal transit system, and developer funded programs to discourage auto congestion.

Kathy,

I don't think it's fair to assume 5 stories = bad, but I can understand that standpoint since many people associate density with awful tenement buildings and monolithic concrete boxes from the 60's. It doesn't have to be that way. Just look at our own city. On the corner of Castro and California, there's a 5 story mixed-use office building with several restaurants on the ground floor. The building has been designed with street-level setbacks and upper floors are stepped back to give the building a more human scale.

Here's the building on Google Street View:

Web Link

This is the kind of development that Mountain View should allow, and this is what the General Plan update is proposing. This kind of development would be situated around transit, to discourage car trips. One thing that was made very clear in the General Plan was that many people didn't want the existing neighborhoods to be redeveloped. Therefore, this new development would be situated on vacant or underutilized parking lots, which in my opinion, make the city less desirable.


Jarrett
Castro City
on Feb 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm
Jarrett, Castro City
on Feb 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm

To All:

Please participate in the General Plan update when meetings come up. The planning process is much more open than it was in the past, and these land use options are a direct result of community outreach. In fact, there will be an General Plan update open house at City Hall on February 11th from 4-7pm. It's an informal event where you can drop by and ask questions about the process thus far.

Also, there will be a presentation titled "Delightful Density" on February 18th at the Rengstorff Community center from 7-830pm. A planner from Redwood City will speak on the benefits, challenges, and some of the misconceptions regarding density. So if you're concerned about higher densities, come check this out. It's free!


Nick
another community
on Feb 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm
Nick, another community
on Feb 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Eric & Kathy - you both bring up Downtown Sunnyvale. Whereas Mountain View's leaders took an incremental approach to redeveloping our downtown, Sunnyvale's leaders decided to demolish almost all of Murphy Street in the 1970s, and replace it with a mall. Sure, the Sunnyvale Town Center was successful for a decade or so, but now it's looked back upon as a text-book example of bad urban renewal. Hardly a model municipality. Downtown Sunnyvale is a mess today not because they built some 5-story office buildings a few years ago, but because the mall site has been a construction zone for nearly a decade. They're trying to rebuild - from scratch - the kind of vibrant mixed use downtown that Mountain View was able to grow organically over time...and they're trying to do it during a terrible economic recession.

Sunnyvale wishes it had Mountain View's downtown. Castro Street is one of the most successful examples of downtown revitalization in the state. But if "Town Square" had existed back when our Downtown Plan was being drafted, I'm sure people here would be saying the same things they're saying about the 2030 General Plan. They'd say that narrowing Castro Street from four lanes to two lanes and allowing the construction of 4-6 story mixed use buildings would create a traffic nightmare that would destroy Old Mountain View. Has it? Nope. Increased density - when it's done wisely and combined with needed transit, open space, and infrastructure improvements can be a wonderful thing. Castro Street is great example of that. All the people living and working in those new mixed-use building have provided the foot traffic to keep businesses alive during this recession, and in the meantime the success of Castro Street has made Old Mountain View all the more desirable and valuable.

I see the same kind of forward thinking vision that turned Castro Street into the place it is today for streets like El Camino Real in the 2030 General Plan. I like what the city is trying to do - it's focusing growth and change so that our wonderful neighborhoods are preserved and new growth is concentrated on our aging strip-malls on streets like El Camino Real. I hope in 2030, I'll be able to take a stroll down an El Camino lined by 5 story buildings with residences above and stores and restaurants along the sidewalk.

Growth and change will always be met with skepticism, and that's only natural. Most of us moved here because we like the city just the way it is (or was). But if Mountain View's recent planning history is any indication, the changes proposed in the 2030 General Plan, I think, will only make the city a better place than it is today. I haven't been able to partake in the planning process, but to everyone who has and is reading this article/message board - I'd like to say keep up the good work!


eric
another community
on Feb 7, 2010 at 12:25 am
eric, another community
on Feb 7, 2010 at 12:25 am

Funny how you ignore the San Mateo example and miss the point of the Sunnyvale example

Jarret, its funny. Just hours ago I was thumbing through a book about the missed promises of 21st century technology, and a proven history showing just how difficult it is to retool such basic infrastructure as transportation.


Old Ben
Shoreline West
on Feb 8, 2010 at 3:06 am
Old Ben, Shoreline West
on Feb 8, 2010 at 3:06 am

In medicine, we call unlimited growth "cancer."


dfb
Shoreline West
on Feb 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm
dfb, Shoreline West
on Feb 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm

The negativity on this post is striking, alarming, and somewhat simple. As gasoline increases in price, more and more people will need to live, work, and shop in more densely populated core areas. Mountain View is and will continue to be one of those cores. Most importantly, it is a big job center in its own right, with Google, Microsoft, and many other companies large and small, a major NASA research center, and near one of the world's elite universities, Stanford. Frankly, Mountain View must accept its role or risk losing out on jobs. Many of the employers have already been saying that much.

Ultimately, increasing density along El Camino with mixed use will help to decrease the need for cars and car traffic as people work, live, and shop in the same area. It connects well with Caltrain, light rail, and major bus lines. The next step would be to make it easier and better for bicycle traffic, even if to put a bicycle boulevard along Latham Church to run parallel to El Camino.

Ben: Negativity and NIMBYism are also known as cancerous. Look at this in a positive light; it raises your property values even more. Also, consider what Nick says. It is both true and well put.


rainbow
Martens-Carmelita
on Feb 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm
rainbow, Martens-Carmelita
on Feb 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Before increasing density, Mountain View's first priority should be to provide more affordable housing - the city's record for providing this is quite poor. Being near transit is fine if transit is really available. The reality is that bus routes have been cut, the busses run less frequently, and the fares keep rising. Taller buildings mean more shadowed areas, creation of canyons that funnel winds, and a decrease in the already disappearing "mountain view". Narrow sidewalks, a lack of greenery, and poor choices in architectural design (slab buildings, etc.) would make Mountain less pleasant to live in. And the proposed high speed train would make it that much more unpleasant. This train would be better placed on the other side of the Bay.


Garrett
another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm
Garrett, another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

The people who will live and work on El Camino Real and all over Mtn View will choose to take public transit, ride a bike, walk or a shuttle to work, shop or fun. I like the idea of 5 floors or more in the right places will work, but only if well desgined buildings with parks and open spaces are taken in, i have traveled around, seen cities, the city i was most impressed by Cologne. A City of 3 to 7 stories buildings some of which were build on parks, good places for outdoor markets, fairs and places to meet. Short walk across the city, and lots of open spaces outside of town.


Casey
another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm
Casey, another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm

That's fine as long as Mountain View builds the schools to support the influx of new families rather than relying on other impacted communities.


Rodger
Sylvan Park
on Feb 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm
Rodger, Sylvan Park
on Feb 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Why would anyone want to increase the population of Mountain View or put higher density buildings along our major streets. Of course if you own property that will see increased value and you were selfish this would seem like a good idea but most of us do fit into this category.

We need city counsel candidates that will put a stop to this high density nonsense. Let's find them and help them win the next election.


eric
another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 8:35 pm
eric, another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 8:35 pm

All of you density advocates are blind to the facts-- suburban density does NOT lead to a reduced-car trip fantasy! The examples where this has failed miserably--and drastically INCREASED local car traffic-- abound in the immediate area. There is NO transportation infrastructure on El Camino, and the only viable methods (think light rail) are proven failures.

But dont let reality get in the way of a good pipe dream


Nick
another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm
Nick, another community
on Feb 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Eric - You are right in that density alone does not lead to a "reduced car-trip fantasy". Density must be paired with improved transit and be centrally located to jobs/services/stores/open space so trips are short. El Camino Real definitely has the centrality, but it currently does not have the transit. This is a long-range vision, so we have to look past what transit on the street is today and imagine would it could become. It's an ideal candidate for bus rapid transit lanes (just like light rail without the expense of tracks) which VTA is already studying: Web Link

But regardless, your point, for the most part, is valid. The City Council should be asking itself whether the land use policies they implement at the city-level will be met with the transit improvements such policies will demand at the county-level. A mixed-use El Camino Real must be coupled with improved VTA transit to support the added demands on the street. You should go to one of the upcoming General Plan meetings and bring this point up, or ask if it's been brought up before, as I'm betting it has.

And like I mentioned before, we need look no further than Castro Street to see that when transit and density are combined the right way, traffic nightmares are avoided and livability flourishes. In 1989 Castro Street's traffic capacity was cut in half (four lanes to two lanes). Since then around 600 housing units have been built on or just off of Castro Street. Their density have ranged from 15 units/per acre (The Classics on Evelyn Avenue) to 50 units per acre (Park Place Apartments). Meanwhile, Cal-train service was improved with the express trains, light rail was added, the Stevens Creek Trail was built, and the sidewalks were improved to make a whole host of car-free commuting options available to downtown residents/workers/visitors. Downtown is doing amazingly well, Old Mountain View is now one of the most desirable addresses in the city, and traffic is flowing around the entire area just fine.

El Camino Real can replicate our downtown's success at a larger scale. It just takes some careful planning and vision. It's easy to be a pessimist, but I think Mountain View can do it right.


Greg Perry
Cuesta Park
on Feb 10, 2010 at 3:45 pm
Greg Perry, Cuesta Park
on Feb 10, 2010 at 3:45 pm


El Camino is the small part of this story. Much of the housing growth won't happen because the land is divided among hundreds of different owners.

The office growth is the big story. Most of that land is controlled by just a few owners. If you triple the density there, it will almost all get built.

The result? We'll have to import an additional 30,000 cars every day, complete with air pollution and more CO2.


Konrad M. Sosnow
another community
on Jun 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm
Konrad M. Sosnow, another community
on Jun 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm

The City Council, with the exception of Laura Macias and Jac Siegel are in the developers pockets. They don't give a dam about the current residents of Mountain View!

As for Tom Means, he is the one who would like to destroy our Eichler neighborhood. if we had the money, we would move to Los Altos where the City Council has its head on straight.



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