Council balks at OK of "Village at San Antonio Center"


The City Council decided not to give final approval of a major redevelopment project at San Antonio Shopping Center Tuesday, saying that the design had clearly not been finished.

City Council members said they weren't interested in approving the project Tuesday after a representative for the developer read a long list of changes that they wanted to be made to the project. The changes made it "as clear as mud" what the project would be, said council member Ronit Bryant. City staff had also proposed a number of changes to the project just days before the meeting.

The developer nearly talked the council into approving the project, saying the changes could be worked out with city staff after the project's approval.

"What you are asking is for the council to "give carte blanche to staff" said Mayor Jac Siegel. Council member Ronit Bryant was also opposed. "The worst thing is to vote on something and we don't know what we are voting on," Bryant said. "That I will not do."

In the most ambitious redevelopment of San Antonio Shopping Center since it was built in the 1950s, San Francisco-based Merlone Geier has proposed the redevelopment of one-third of the 56-acre shopping center, a 16.3-acre portion that extends from Sears to Rite Aid at the corner of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real.

The "Village at San Antonio Center" would include a one-acre park, 325 to 350 rental apartments and 311,000 square feet of retail space, including a new Safeway grocery store. It was announced Tuesday that Rite Aid is no longer part of the project.

In the last 40 minutes of the four-hour discussion, at around 11 p.m., council members gave some feedback on the project, adjusting building locations and street frontages, moving driveways and increasing park and sidewalk space, but not making the fundamental changes to the design that a number of residents suggested.

"We feel the project has been really poorly designed and mismanaged," said Forrest Linebarger, CEO of Vox Design Group, calling the project "another strip mall" dominated by parking lots and cars. Another resident said the city could expect as much traffic from the project as the parking lots could accommodate and another praised the council for making "walkability and bikeability" a priority. Council members have also been less than enthusiastic about the large parking lot Safeway requires right at the "gateway" corner of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real.

Steve Rasmussen, owner of the nearby Milk Pail market, said he was worried about being squeezed out of business by major parking restrictions, as overflow parking could take up the spaces his customers use.

Resident Sandy Berry advocated for the newer-style Safeway as a cheaper alternative to driving to various specialty stores. She said she didn't "have that kind of time" to not drive a car to the supermarket. She urged the council to listen to the developer and the retailers because "they are the experts." In response to calls for a wider sidewalk and building frontages along El Camino Real, she said "I don't care what anybody says, El Camino Real will never be a nice place to walk."

"El Camino Real can be a perfectly pleasant place," Bryant said, citing a popular cafe in Menlo Park as an example. "Saying this is the way it will always be... will not work."

Several council members supported an opportunity to implement the "Grand Boulevard" vision for a walkable El Camino Real with a 15 foot wide sidewalk along the project's shops, replacing the less-than-10-foot-wide sidewalk proposed. Resident Jarrett Mullen suggested a 24-foot-wide sidewalk.

A 54-inch high wall at San Antonio Road and El Camino Real, designed to enclose a seating area from the busy intersection, was noted by Abe-Koga to be about as tall as she was. "Frankly, I think that's offensive," Bryant said of the height. "Three feet should do it."

Council members also supported an Environmental Planning Commission recommendation for shop entrances along El Camino Real, or at the very least, "something alive" such as store display windows, Bryant said.

The project includes three, five-story apartment buildings, with either parking or retail on the first floor and with recreation areas in each building. The developer proposed on Tuesday to rent 3 percent of the units at below market rate, less than the 10 percent the city required before such "inclusionary zoning" was ruled illegal in Palmer vs. the City of Los Angeles. It was noted that Prometheus Real Estate Group eventually agreed to include below market rate units in the Minton's redevelopment through the use of a development agreement.

In return for the 10 below-market-rate apartments offered, the developer requested that the city reimburse 100 percent of the value of the one-acre public park in the project, rather than the typical 50 percent. That could lower the $5.5 million park in-lieu fee that would otherwise be required.

The one-acre park, dubbed "San Antonio Green," would bisect the property into northern and southern halves. The developer claims there is space in the park for a farmers market, a dog park, bike paths and a bocce ball court.

Abe-Koga and others questioned the need for a one-way driveway circulating around the park, which several members said would not encourage use of the park. Some called for a two-way driveway on one side of it.

It has been suggested that Target may wish to move from Showers Drive into the northern portion of the site, where there would otherwise be space for three, 40,000 square foot retailer stores above a street-level parking garage.

There was intense discussion about how to direct pedestrians through the Safeway parking lot, which had the developer defending a sidewalk-free design in the name of pedestrian safety, while some council members said there was room to remove a few parking spots to allow for pedestrians to comfortably walk through. Abe-Koga and others noted that the project already had more parking than the city requires. The Safeway would also have rooftop parking.

The manager of Safeway on California Street said their land lease ends in 2016, and the store is counting on the new location. Resident Doug Delong said it made more sense, traffic-wise, for Safeway to move to the California Street side of the shopping center, and said there was no good reason to have Safeway in the project, it just happened to be a place where a piece of real estate became available. Several union representatives and Safeway employees were there to defend the 200 "good jobs" slated for the new Safeway, an increase from the current 120 jobs at the California Avenue store.

Merlone Geier said the new development would employ 900 people, and provide a "net increase" to the city's sales tax revenue of $1.2 million. All of those employees would receive subsidized transit passes for three years from Merlone Geier.


Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm

We'll see what happens when the economy goes into total meltdown sometime in the next 18 months.

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Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Since Safeway on California street will lose their land lease in 2016, the City Council needs to decide something for the San Antonio Center. But then Safeway has 4-1/2 more years in which to move. So I guess the city council has and needs more time to discuss the issue of what it wants to do with the redevelopement project.

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Posted by Susan H
a resident of Castro City
on Apr 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I attended the first part of the meeting and it really felt like the developers thought that we are chumps who would simply love their new approach. THEN they magnimously offered 10 below-market units...out of 325-350 units total?!?! That is ridiculous in a city where "affordable" housing is sadly not very available. About 1/3 of the units will be studios! How many "families" will that serve? I did not stay for the hashing over details but this is one that bears watching!

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Posted by ann
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2011 at 2:48 pm

ronit bryant...good for you....too bad you weren't in congress when pelosi rammed the healthcare down our throats.

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Posted by phm
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Thank you Ronit! Thank you Jac! I'll be happy to have a big new Safeway in walking distance of my house but happier if the walk is safe and pleasant. And thank you MVV for reporting on this. I didn't see anything about it in the SJMN today. And 10 below-market-rate apartments is way too few with 80 new jobs just at Safeway, many of them low-paid. I'm for more jobs and less traffic and that requires more affordable housing.

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Posted by Anna Campagnolo
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 27, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I am very disappointed in the coucil's decision not to approve the project. This project would bring jobs to MV, bring up our failing housing market, create more opportunities for people to "walk" and not drive. What is wrong with our council? I think the "people" should have the vote, not the council making decisions as to what is right or wrong for OUR neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by Safe routes to school
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm

What strikes me is the lack of consideration for the neighborhood kids commutes.

Kids in the San Antonio center units (as well as in the Crossings and along Showers drive) will go to schools in Los Altos (Covington/Almond/Bullis Charter School for elementary, Egan for middle school and Los Altos High for high school).

The council should use the redesign as an opportunity to provide a Safe Route to schools for these kids. The council should work on improving safety (special lights, better marked crosswalks, safer median islands ....) to cross El Camino but also provide a safe walking/biking path (along San Antonio or through the new Center) from the Crossings to these crosswalks.

As some council members pointed out, the new Center will be here for the next 40-50 years, let's make sure our Mountain View kids don't have to wait that long to finally get a Safe Route to their schools.

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Posted by Organic_Nuts
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 27, 2011 at 5:05 pm

M.V. should issue GO or tax revenue bonds for this and finance it since it has AAA ratings!

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Posted by Spaghetti Freddie
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 27, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Safe Routes- While I applaud your intent, there is never going to be a safe route across El Camino Real. I just don't see a way to make what is essentially a freeway pedestrian safe, and nothing anyone does to it is going to make me willing to let my child cross that street every morning by themselves.

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Posted by Safe routes to school
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2011 at 5:53 pm

@Spaghetti Freddie - I would never consider letting a young child commute by himself/herself either even in the safest environment. Parents should bike or walk with them no matter how safe their commutes would be.

I would find it ironic that the new development would be called "The Village" while no kids can safely walk or bike to their schools.

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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 27, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Everyday, at least 8 kids accompanied by 1 parent from the Crossings scooter to Bullis Charter School through the current shopping center. It is an awesome sight to see.

El Camino is not a freeway. It is actually one of the least dangerous sections of the route. The worst parts are where cars zip into the shopping center at the many driveways.

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Posted by perfectTheEnemyOfGood
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:54 pm

ECR through Menlo Park is a nightmare for drivers. Menlo Park in general is a disaster to drive through... which is why the El Camino corridor is such a headache for the city, and why downtown struggles to keep businesses. It is tough to get to except by train and foot. If the city is trying to model San Antonio after the Kepler's area, the first thing they need to do is scale back their grand ambitions for the current level of tax revenues. MP is a difficult place to succeed as a business, as would MV if they adopted that model. The new Safeway in MP is great, but to believe it is anything but a big grocery store with a big parking lot in front is silly.

Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 1:07 am

"We feel the project has been really poorly designed and mismanaged," said Forrest Linebarger, CEO of Vox Design Group, calling the project "another strip mall" dominated by parking lots and cars.

- I'd like to see more information about what exactly Vox (who has my respect) sees as problematic about this project.

"...there is never going to be a safe route across El Camino Real."

- There will be a crossing guard at El Camino just like there is for all the other schools. El Camino may be wider but Grant Road is right up there in terms of traffic volume and dumb drivers. My children and many others cross Grant Road every day to walk or ride their bikes to/from Graham, and are 100% confident in their ability to be on the alert for "just turned red" light runners and distracted drivers.

- Thank you Council for refusing to approve a project until city planners and Council have had the opportunity to closely examine any further design changes. Yes, developers do have a tendency to feel they know what's best for cities in which they've never lived but hope will result in a lucrative contract.

Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 1:09 am

typo, meant to say "...and we as parents are 100% confidents in our kids ability...."

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Posted by Fix San Antonio Road
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2011 at 7:35 am

Does anybody know why San Antonio has 4 traffic lanes and a nicely landscaped median from 101 to Central Expressway and from El Camino to Foothills.... but 6 traffic lanes and a minuscule median with zero landscaping from Central Expressway to El Camino? More lanes improve traffic flow but what's the point of speeding traffic flow for such a small distance, especially with a traffic light for Fayette Drive right in the middle.

Right now, that section of San Antonio Road look like an eyesore compared to the rest of that road and even compared to El Camino (landscaped median).

As part of the redevelopment, the City should really do some work on that portion of San Antonio. Drop a pair of traffic lanes and use the reclaimed space for a larger and landscaped median, as well as larger sidewalk/bike lanes....

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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

This is the normal way the Council deals with such matters: the developer makes their grandiose proposal, the council balks, the developer cries poverty but scales it down anyway.

As for "below market" apartments--this is a sham. Below market DOES NOT mean "affordable" by normal folks--just that it's a certain percentage below the going rate. Over 300+ apartments, offering 10 at below market rates does not justify the developer asking the city to foot the bill for the greenspace.

Trust me, the developer will come around and do what the city asks within some reason. They have too much riding on it not to.

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Posted by Grand Boulevard
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm

The changes made it "as clear as mud"

City Council
"The worst thing is to vote on something and we don't know what we are voting on," Bryant said. "That I will not do." You have done this on everything you vote on, stupid is a stupid does.

Yet lets certify a EIR report as true to the county and state on a lumber yard project and approve the project design as safe and meeting city code for traffic and parking regulations in the county/state.

Which was nothing but FALSE and filled with lies! Why anyone would listen to these people is beyond common sense.

I cannot wait for an earth quake to level the structure, city hall that is.

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Posted by walker
a resident of The Crossings
on May 2, 2011 at 7:08 am

How is this just not another modern day strip mall? And what's with that ridiculous tower in the corner? What purpose does it serve? And bocce ball? Who the hec plays that? How safe is a park surrounded by a street in the middle of the largest shopping complex for miles?

I agree... pretty underwhelming all around. Good job city council.

Like this comment
Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 2, 2011 at 7:54 am

Was laughable watching this meeting on tape. Everyone is a design expert. Cant wait to see how council messes up this project.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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