"Moffett Gateway" site slated for office, hotel

City-owned property could bring in $2 million annually in revenue

The City Council decided Tuesday that a new hotel and office space would be the best use of a forested piece of city-owned property along Highway 101 at Moffett Boulevard.

With Mayor John Inks opposed, the council voted 6-1 to seek hotel and office development proposals for the 6.69-acre site -- which also runs along Stevens Creek. It was a Santa Clara County-owned vector control yard until it was bought by the city for $9.5 million in 2009.

The City Council has long had the goal of leasing it to a developer to pad the city's budget, which has seen costs growing faster than revenues for years.

"I just want to see the property working for us as soon as possible," said council member Jac Siegel. "It's been sitting there for many years."

Council members had the choice of selling the property for $11 million or leasing it for an estimated annual payment of $2 million a year, according to a study by Seifel Consulting, Inc. Such a lease payment could be used to finance a bond for one of several long-desired city infrastructure project, including a large new city park, council members said the previous Tuesday.

It was found that office and hotel use would bring in more income than other uses, including a big box store.

"We modeled a variety of land uses," said community development director Randy Tsuda. "A combination of hotel and office seemed to yield the highest potential return."

Some council members expressed interest in a footbridge from the site to the Stevens Creek Trail, possibly in exchange for allowing a higher density development on the site than specified in the city's general plan.

"If a developer proposed more hotel, we assume that's a possibility," Tsuda said of changing the zoning. "It doesn't seem to be the ideal location for that type of hotel -- the type of hotel that would require a higher density than what's in our general plan. It is more appropriate for a three-diamond hotel, not a four-diamond hotel."

Council members decided to add a requirement that developers "address" labor peace with unions that organize hotel workers in their development proposals, though council members were wary of making such an agreement a requirement of the project.

The developer and hotel operator "would agree to not interfere with labor and what city would get in return is there would be no labor unrest," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga.

Council members Jac Siegel, Mike Kasperzak and Mayor Inks said they wouldn't support it, having blamed such an agreement for the demise of deals to subsidize a four-star hotel on city land at Charleston Road and Shoreline Boulevard, a situation Kasperzak called a "fiasco." Member Margaret Abe-Koga blamed the recession for the failed deals -- one with Google in 2008 and another with Robert Greene in 2010 -- saying the council never came to such a conclusion in closed session meetings.

"I missed three hotel development opportunities in my time on the council, it would be nice not to miss another one," Kasperzak said.

Abe-Koga said the "flipside" to not allowing "card check neutrality" union organizing could be seen at the Hyatt hotel in Santa Clara -- years of picketing by union members.

Corner site to remain undeveloped

The city attempted to negotiate with Caltrans to buy an adjacent 3.03 acre site that had been a Highway 101 on ramp roundabout. City officials say Caltrans simply wanted too high a price for the site, $6 million -- an appraisal basing its value on its worth when assembled with the adjacent 6.69 acre parcel.

"Because of the assessed value of the Caltrans parcel and other considerations, including the fact the Moffett Gateway property can be economically developed without the Caltrans parcel, staff does not recommend acquisition of the Caltrans parcel," a city report said.

City officials said it was their belief that the Caltrans parcel would remain unable to be developed, though the city has no jurisdiction over it. There are 104 trees on the Caltrans parcel.

The city is continuing talks with Caltrans to obtain access rights through the parcel, which fronts 486 feet of Moffett Boulevard to allow a driveway through the site from Moffett Boulevard. Without it, there would only be 40 feet of access along Moffett Boulevard at the southern edge of the site, where a driveway would meet Leong Drive's stoplight.

Toxics don't prevent development

Tests found relatively small amounts of the toxic solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) in the soil and groundwater on the site, cleanup of which could be costly for the city if a polluter isn't found.

"It is believed the TCE originates from an off-site source, up gradient," said the city's property manager, Dennis Drennan. The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the source, and EPA officials said at a community meeting Tuesday night that it "appears" that such mysterious hot spots of TCE in the area have come from leaking sewer lines that run through the site and along Evandale Avenue and Leong Drive, lines which may have carried the solvent from nearby semiconductor manufacturing sites in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Fairchild Semicondictor on Whisman Road. The investigation is so far not conclusive.

"It potentially could come to the city to clean up the Moffett Gateway property," Drennan said. Without a polluter found to be a "responsible party" the "owner of the property is the responsible party." Raising some eyebrows, Drennan added that "the lessee could become the potentially responsible party" -- to which Kasperzak said developers would probably want to be "held harmless" in any development agreement.

Because of the toxics found in the soil, and the site's isolated nature, residential development was not recommended, though zoning allows up to 60 units per acre. Vapor intrusion barriers would be required under any new buildings, as TCE vapors can cause cancer and slew of other health problems from long-term exposures and defects in fetuses when pregnant mothers are exposed to certain levels over a matter of weeks.

A substantial number of trees will have to be cut down. There are 256 trees on the site, and "any viable project would require a majority of the trees be removed," said Alex Andrade, economic development manager. About 203 would have to be removed or relocated, but tree preservation will be a factor in selecting developer bids, city officials said.

The city is set to request developer bids for the site in January, 2014. Bids would be due in March 2014.


Like this comment
Posted by konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Bailey Park
on Nov 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Mountain View could use a high class hotel. The location is near NASA and Google so it will have high usage. The additional $2 million in annual revenue will be welcome.
It is good to see Jac Siegel, Mike Kasperzak and Mayor Inks in agreement. The City should keep its nose out of Management- Labor negotiations. Collective bargaining falls under the Federal National Labor Relations Act. Mountain View City Council does not have the jurisdiction to compel private businesses to acquiesce to Union demands. Margaret should stick to improving VTA performance.

Like this comment
Posted by Martin Omander
a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Konrad is right; Mountain View needs more hotel rooms. A visiting co-worker recently had to choose between staying in Oakland or Santa Cruz because all the hotel rooms around here were full. Forcing visitors to do that is not helpful to them, or good for our traffic situation.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim Neal
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 13, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Jim Neal is a registered user.

I agree that we could definitely use a few more medium to upscale hotels here in Mountain View and I think the location is excellent for that purpose. The only major concerns that I have is that there was a suggestion to connect that patch of land to the trail or perhaps even doing some work on the creek. I am not sure that these would be good ideas unless the TCE is completely removed. This early in, there is no way to know how much, if any, of the contaminated (or formerly contaminated) land would be exposed, but I think that there could be health concerns. For a project like this, I think paving and concrete are a good thing.

I also think card check would be a mistake as we lost the opportunity to have two prior hotels here for that reason. Card check takes away the ability to have a secret ballot which can make some people feel pressured or coerced.

Jim Neal
Old Mountain View

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:39 am

Mountain View could use an upscale hotel, however this site is too far from downtown to make it a plausible four-diamond hotel. A more suitable location would be downtown (like the Hotel Garden Court in Palo Alto), but there are no properties available (or no one interested in developing).

The typical Google or NASA visitor doesn't have the coin to shell out 400-500 dollars a night on a hotel room, which is why the Moffett Gateway property will probably be a three-diamond hotel (the Hampton Inn down the street is also three-diamond).

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Mtn View 4 star = Wonderful view of 2 highways. Landlocked with no place to go, Gridlock traffic, let hope there will be 24 hour planes too.

Like this comment
Posted by Old BEn
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 18, 2013 at 9:37 pm

One little problem: TCE.

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

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