Group weighs referendum on plan for Google's growth

Future housing development in Mountain View is far outstripped by expected boom in office projects

On Tuesday evening, the City Council is expected to discuss a package of housing policies that may not do much to fix the city's worsening housing shortage, possibly spurring a referendum to block office plans for Google and LinkedIn, among others.

At the May 13 meeting, council members are set to hold a study session on the city's draft housing element, the document that guides the city's housing growth for the next eight years. It has already drawn public concern about its adequacy at Environmental Planning Commission meetings. It calls for 2,926 new homes in the city by 2022, at a time when the City Council is mulling over zoning that could bring tens of thousands of new office jobs.

All the proposed office growth is like the proverbial "iceberg" headed for the Titanic in terms of creating a city with more commuter traffic and landlords able to charge a premium for scarce housing, says Lenny Siegel of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View.

The housing element could potentially help the city's housing shortage, but "the city seems to be treating it like it's just an update and we're just going to deal with details of various programs that are listed," Siegel said.

At its last meeting, Siegel said the group of balanced growth advocates expressed interest in the possibility of having voters pull a little used lever in Mountain View politics: the referendum. Siegel now says it is doable. The group would have to collect 3,240 signatures (equal to 10 percent of the city's voters) to force the City Council to either kill the North Bayshore precise plan or put it on a ballot for Mountain View voters to approve or reject, probably next year.

"Basically we're looking for any council action that approves major increases in employment without providing for commensurate housing," Siegel said.

Such a move could potentially block Google and LinkedIn from building 3.4 million square feet of offices in North Bayshore until a plan for more housing is created. In 2012 Google supported a plan for 1,100 homes near its headquarters, along with a wide swath of the community, but a slim majority of the council and the Adubon Society opposed it, citing wildlife impacts and making complaints about the potential for dorm-like housing.

Depending on the timing of the council's vote on the precise plan, which is expected to happen near the end of the year, the referendum could also pass key decisions onto a new City Council. It will only take one new council member to create a majority in favor of building a new neighborhood in North Bayshore. Three newcomers will be elected in November and seated in January. The six candidates now in the race are divided on the issue.

"There's still this attitude left over from the not-too-distant past that Mountain View has more apartments as a percentage of our housing stock than a lot of other cities, so people say, 'We've done our bit,'" Siegel said. "Even if you say we have done our bit, we haven't done anything for this wave of (office) development that's been planned."

Siegel said there's also interest among his group's members to hold a referendum on developer Merlone Geier's plans to include a pair of six-story office buildings totaling 367,000 square feet in phase II of the San Antonio shopping center redevelopment. While office is apparently a lucrative development prospect, the group says the space would be better utilized to meet local housing needs. "It's in an area where there aren't a lot of Mountain View residents that feel threatened by housing as they do further down El Camino Real," Siegel said.

Using numbers from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the draft housing element says the city needs only 2,926 homes by 2022, including 814 homes for very low income households and 492 for lower income households. That may be sorely inadequate if all of the office buildings in the works are built, potentially adding well over 30,000 jobs to the city in the coming years, including 15,000 to 20,000 just for North Bayshore as Google and LinkedIn expand.

The planning commission said the council needed to look at raising more funds for subsidized housing projects, and to start tracking the relationship between job growth and housing growth.

"The good programs in there won't do much good if we keep moving the city further out of balance in terms of jobs and housing," Siegel said of the housing element.

Siegel also points out that the housing element claims the city has only 48,000 jobs when the number is at least 66,000, according to data obtained from the employment development department, an error that has probably lead to the calculation of a lower "regional housing needs allocation" in the document (2,926 homes).

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening at City Hall, 500 Castro St.


Like this comment
Posted by Thinker
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on May 12, 2014 at 5:08 pm

I recommend to flatten all 1-2-story apartments along the California St. and build super high risers in their place. The higher the better.

Like this comment
Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 12, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Thinker: You aren't thinking of those you'll force to move. New buildings will be terribly expensive to live in. This will only force those living along California to have to relocate --probably out of the area, and then drive a lengthy commute. All just so some more, new incoming to work for Google, et al. will not have to commute? I say, let them ride the train from North or South.

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Posted by Linda Curits
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 12, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Also, what happens to neighbors adjacent to buildings "the higher the better?" They lose all privacy in their yards and through their windows due to so many new view points looking down on them like never before.

And how jammed up is California St. now? More noise, more traffic, less suitable for bicycles or pedestrians, or anyone!

Horrible, selfish idea.

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Posted by Desmond
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 12, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Thinker: California St is equidistant between the two Caltrain stations. Building there will add to the existing traffic problem. Right now there's nothing there except apartments, so residents have to drive everywhere.

Instead, density needs to be located within walking distance of transit. This means the Castro & San Antonio downtowns should be built up. There's a lot of vacant vertical space that could hold residential and office buildings.

Mountain View's decision to put apartments on California St and low-rise, low-density residential adjacent to the downtowns was a great way to poison the well for further growth, though. Just look at Linda's response to your idea.

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Posted by BetterIdea
a resident of Jackson Park
on May 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Not a bad idea, but hard to implement. Better to simply figure out a way to eliminate landlords of apartment complexes or multiplex developments from receiving the benefits of Prop 13. It's ridiculous that they are running these businesses on tax assessment levels from 10,20 or even 40 years ago! That recovered tax loophole money could go into a mixture of affordable housing and transportation improvements.

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Posted by Robert S. Allen
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2014 at 9:58 am

Let's annex Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties to BART and get BART around the Bay. 5-County BART serving the six million residents would serve us all well.

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Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 13, 2014 at 11:03 am

I've always said that about BART. And I would also like to see handy, small shuttles, that are easy on and easy off, connecting to BART and light rail and the train. VTA should add many more routes and times.

Instead of the tall business towers planned where the Century Theaters are now on Shoreline, build apartment instead. Same for Phase two of San Antonio.

These tall buildings at these two locations should be located smack in the middle of these large properties so they are not towering over their neighbors. This would be better than "stack & pack" all along ECR that will turn it into a "concrete canyon." We don't want the noise and exhaust trapped along this arterial, nor do we want our views blocked by an ugly strip of high rise cutting MV in half. And if your property, that you worked your whole life for, was on the next block back from ECR, you wouldn't want the noise and dust of years of construction or the end product either!

Zoning was protection for everyone for investing everything you have into your property, but I now see that to trust the government to protect the value of our homes for us was a fool's delusion. It's money that matters and MV City Council just cannot turn down any project that might up their tax base, even if they must ruin MV to do them.

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Posted by Mr. Map
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2014 at 1:25 pm

RE: BART. Be careful what you wish for. An Electrified Caltrain will give a more speedy BART-like service, without the limitations of BART, such as low cars (for the tube, so no double-decked seating, and because of the non-standard track guage, nearly every component of BART needs to be custom-made, making additions crazy expensive. Stick with an improved standard-guage railway, add floor-level boarding, smoother tracks, and more frequent service, and you'll have something better than BART

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Posted by Planner
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm

One of the most heinous aspects of peninsula office development is the insistence on huge parking lots.
Besides acting as giant heat generators, they encourage workers to drive by guaranteeing them free parking.
Companies need to start minimizing parking, maximizing worker transit and bike benefits, adding a more robust local transit network, improving bike lanes, and start viewing the parking lots around business parks and shopping centers as an opportunity for mixed-use infill.
There's plenty of land in Silicon Valley, but everyone is parking their cars on it.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I lived in Oakland at one point of my life, BART was my lifeline to my job in San Francisco. In reality BART is a very expensive system, when built it was a modern idea but the problem like the tracks. It just seemed in the end it become a money drain, but still a good system but needs expansion.

Housing in North Bayshore had always been a no go, the city wanted to preserve the industrial, and business zoning.

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Posted by Konrad M Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Plan Your Work, then Work Your Plan

Mountain View's General Plan 2030 calls for an increase of 11,360 jobs between 2009 and 2030 (see Table 3.1)

It also calls for a population increase of 12,470 between 2009 and 2030 (see Table 3.1).
If we assume 1-1/2 persons per residence, that means an additional 8,313 residences.

So does City Council reconcile the 11,360 additional jobs in the General Plan 2030 with LinkedIn's desire to add 13,000 jobs and Google's plan to add 15,000 to 20,000 jobs?

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 1:48 pm

BART was a bad mistake. Incompatible technology with most of the rest of the world. I knew a high level mgr in the dept of transportation at the time and decades afterwards and they knew it was a disaster and set back rapid transit in our area.

Planner gave me a thought. If google, linkedin, etc.. wants to expand, let them, but do not allow them to build any more parking. Also, put limited parking zones on the street (maybe time-based) so they can't just spill out into the public areas. That will encourage alternative forms of transportation and limit the increase of traffic to the area.

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Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 13, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Mr. Map: About a bad system that is a money drain, VTA presents their goofy idea about putting their "rapid" buses in the fast lane, which will be dedicated only for them. The buses don't come that ofton, yet will kill the whole lane all of the time.

And here's the goofy expense parts: A whole bus fleet that has loading from both sides requiring resigning all medians for bus loading zones. This costs a whole lot, removes trees and double left turn lanes (see the mess they've made of The Alameda in Santa Clara), and the blind folks I know, who really depend on the buses, will not agree to load from any medians. So this kills their use of fast buses, unless they live in one of the cities who make the BRT use only the slow lane with all the other buses. So goofy again: Big rapid buses cutting through all lanes of traffic to go from the #1 lane to the #3 lane and back and forth, etc., all along their route.

Loading from medians adds danger and inconvenience to bus riders as well as driver of vehicles, squashed into one remaining lane for cars.

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Posted by Sylvie
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I honestly don't get the assumption that this group is making that there is a god-given right to work and live in the same place. Maybe it's because I'm from a different area, but what seems normal to me is that there is a central area where there are lots of offices, and people commute to and from this area. It does seem that MV is becoming a workplace hub, and that brings a lot of benefits.

So instead of demanding a lot more housing right here in MV, why aren't these folks demanding better transit? There are plenty of places with lower rents and housing costs within commuting distance. I just don't understand the assumption that MV has some obligation to provide housing for the workers it is attracting. I worked in New York but it would never occur to me to demand that I should be able to live in Manhattan. I just commuted to Jersey like everybody else.

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Posted by Ben D
a resident of Cuernavaca
on May 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm

It's a tough problem to solve for sure. I am in favor of improving our transit system dramatically. It has to be a combination of bus and train. Caltrain is getting incrementally better (or less worse) for commuters, but both trains and buses have a long ways to go at other times.

The transit companies complain about low ridership, but rather than addressing the problems, they just maintain or cut service. The biggest problems with train is that it doesn't come often enough and ought to go a bit faster. Go to an area with a quality transit system and you will immediately notice that the trains come much more often than caltrain. Missed a train--no's one 20 minutes later! With caltrain, you miss a connection..oops..there's an hour. Do that a few times and you won't want to every go on the train again.

With buses the problem is that they share the same roads that other vehicles do, so when gridlock happens they get stuck. When you are in a car, you can try an alternate route, or even just go run some errands until traffic dies down. On the bus, you are stuck.

Finally, cost is too high. When I drive my car, unless I go over a bridge, I don't pay extra money to use the roads. Why should I when it comes to trains? Fine..charge something, but for, say, $50/month, you should be able to get unlimited rides on our transit system.

So, here's the list:
1. Add equipment, staff, whatever to the system so that nobody waits LONGER than 30 minutes for the next train or bus for each route.
2. Give priority access to buses, so they will not get stuck in gridlock. However that looks..dedicated lanes, hov lane, whatever.. Trains already have this advantage.
3. Charge a nominal amount for the train. Not fiscally possible? Take an example from private industry and offer a 6 month free trial.

It will take a critical mass of people using the transit system before it becomes second nature. You will not get that critical mass unless the above issues are resolved. It's a chicken & the egg problem. Private companies deal with this ALL the time and what they discovered is that you need to provide a high quality product at an inexpensive or free price to get momentum.

The final alternative that we are heading to is to get to a stage where all our roads are gridlocked, so there is no choice but to use the train system everywhere. That would also increase ridership!

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Posted by hmm
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 13, 2014 at 2:38 pm

We need better roads and more parking. Lets face it, cars are not going anywhere, instead they will be increasing. Best to make it easy for everyone and build out the roads and parking spaces.

The google and linkin need more space for workers.

Like this comment
Posted by GDM
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Be careful in your quest for more housing. San Jose's ongoing budget problems are largely because they have so much housing as compared to jobs. Housing is a budget killer.

Like this comment
Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm


San Jose is planning to add 32,000 residential units, 133,500 jobs, 2.7 million square feet of retail, and a 550 room hotel in the "Golden Triangle" between237, 101, and 880.

Residents will be able to take the Light Rail to Mountain View. All that is needed is an extension of the light rail to North Bayshore.

San Jose wants the big growth. Why don't we be good neighbors and accommodate them?

Like this comment
Posted by SF
a resident of Gemello
on May 13, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Caltrain's biggest shortcoming is the lack of a "last mile" solution that enables workers to use mass transit to quickly and conveniently get to & from North Bayshore offices.
How very disappointing that our Council didn't see fit to provide even a modest amount to support an investigation into the highly promising Mag-Lev, overhead pod-car concept. Nothing else that I have heard of or read about comes close to this "prompt-response," environmentally advantageous, user-friendly technology that and has no impact from or on street traffic.
With a blessings of many jobs, but with limited infrastructure, Mtn View Council is short-sighted to decline participation in this minimal-cost experiment.

Like this comment
Posted by Desmond
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Sylvie: Why sit in traffic if you don't have to? Walking & biking is physically and mentally healthier and has far less impact on the environment and infrastructure. Public transit has similar benefits for health and the environment and doesn't occupy your attention, which is great. It would be a better option if it were frequent (which Caltrain is not) and fast (VTA...).

Given a choice, why would anyone want to spend an hour or more a day actively concentrating on nothing but driving in traffic? Who enjoys the 'character' of sprawling, low-rise offices and big-box stores floating in a sea of car parks?

The amount of people who share my views on commutes is increasing. Young people don't drive as much (see Web Link ). I wonder kind of opinions on commuting the people taking these new Google and LinkedIn jobs will have.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2014 at 8:10 pm

I was told the basic idea of transit was to move people from one point to another, look at this way point A to point B and back to point A. All the jobs require workers which in turn need housing which in turn need someway to get to work. The point A to B comes to into play.

North Bayshore is point B, the question is how to run a transit systems that can carry people to from point A to point B w quickly with very little time wasted and cheaply?

Now remember we are talking about jobs in Mountain View and I know we can't house everyone within the city, we can add 3 to 4 story building in well planned places. Again won't give everyone a house, building homes in the North Bayshore might pave the way for others to build near or on the bay. We still won't house everyone, not everyone wants to live in Mountain View.

We are depend on our neighbors to add housing for us and others but remember they want to add jobs also. They want hotels, retail buildings and other tax generated uses.

All of this planning falls on transit planners, we must plan for a Grade AAA systems that will take people to more then just point A to point B.

Like this comment
Posted by Build Baby Build
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 9:03 pm

@Thinker has it right. California Ave is a cesspool of two story (soft first floor) apartment buildings. We need to offer the landlords tax incentives to replace those 60 year old flats with 10 to 15 story buildings. With the proper economic incentives the private sector can solve this problem and not cost the tax payer 1 red cent.

The sooner we get government out of the way and let private enterprise solve these problems, the sooner we will have a thriving Mountain View. A Mountain View where the invisible hand is our guiding light, and brush aside the NIMBYs and socialists.

The marketplace is self-regulating, we just need to let it act freely from bumbling government libralcrats.

One private citizen trying to maximize their own gains will benefit society more than any group of city staffers can ever hope to.

Bring on Adam Smith!

Like this comment
Posted by Duke
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 9:16 pm

The best comment here is that cars are not going away but will actually increase. If you observe the commute now less than 1% ride bikes.
So develop a plan to deal with that vehicle traffic.
Wider roads with more lanes, perhaps double decked coming off and back onto the freeways feeding into multi-story parking structures. The technology area in Mountain View is not going away, will grow rapidly and will actually enploy many times more people than now. So the city and the companies need to develop a plan to deal with it. Then execute it.

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Posted by cue laugh track
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 9:18 pm

This is a parody, right???

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Posted by cue laugh track
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 13, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Referring to Build baby, of course.

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Posted by Desmond
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 14, 2014 at 9:17 am

Duke: Do you have a source for your claim that bicycle commutes are less than 1%? Your claim is inconsistent with data I have seen.

In Mountain View in 2011, the bicycle commute mode share was 6.2%. That has tripled since 2000. Source: Web Link

Mountain View ranks #14 on the list of US cities with the highest share of bicycle commuters. Source: Web Link

So, Mountain View has an unusually large amount of bicycle commuters for a US city. And the trends shows it is increasing. Unless I am missing something, your claim is simply incorrect and misleading. I hope it wasn't willfully so.

Like this comment
Posted by thirsty
a resident of another community
on May 14, 2014 at 10:41 am

Where will the water come from -- for residents and workers?

What will be the cost of increased fire, police, and other city services as the population grows?

Will the additional businesses provide enough revenue to pay for increased services?

How many new schools will have to be built?

Like this comment
Posted by @thirsty
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 14, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Exactly, thirsty!

10,000 new home each popping out two kids each is 20,000 kids. Needs new schools or massively densify the existing ones. Police, fire, childcare.... Plus all the service jobs.... where do those people live? Not in mtn view--too expensive. So, lots more traffic!!!

The "smart growthers" are certainly not smart at all!

Like this comment
Posted by Duke
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Yes. My own eyes.
I doubt the accuracy of the so called "expert" statistics.
Data is sometimes created by people with an agenda.
I drive Shoreline almost every day. Both at commute time and other. Then I count well over 100 vehicles. Generally there is 1 or sometimes 2, non-google inner office bicyclest commuting to work on Shoreline.
I have never seen more than 3 bicyclist at a time.
Please check it out yourself.
Even if? at 60 bikes per 1000 cars that is not even a baby step in the right direction. How many men and women will commute on bikes during our 3 (hopefully) rainy, cold months or when the summer gets hot for weeks on end?
Bicycles is not the solution.
I am sorry for not using published data but am relying on my own personal experiance.

Like this comment
Posted by Desmond
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 14, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Duke: The reason you should prefer data instead of your own observations is because your observations are biased. That's OK! Everyone's observations are biased because they're not trying to take an unbiased sample.

For example, I could refute your observations by bringing up my own. I myself often ride along Shoreline, and see other bikes all the time. But many, many more bikes are present along Stevens Creek Trail, not to mention Permanente and Bay trails.

Clearly my own observations are biased by where I travel too. The number of bikes on Stevens Creek certainly does not generalize to all of Mountain View.

At this point we have two opposing sets of anecdotes. So we should seek out real data. It turns out the data shows that you are were mistaken. You might call 6% a baby step, but you can't deny the trend.

As for the weather, you must have lived here a very long time if you think it gets either cold or hot :)

The Bay Area has probably the best biking weather on the planet.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2014 at 6:39 am

On water, if they build here or there, water will still be a problem.

On schools, here or there, if they build there, mostly likely schools will have to get built.

On service again here or there, new roads with parks, police and fire, not to mention a hospital. New strip malls, fast food places and shoppjng center all on El Camino type corridor.

Without proper transit or highway improvements, more traffic and the MV home and rent prices will rise.

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

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