In response to an apparent mandate from voters, on Tuesday night the City Council moved to take plans for North Bayshore in a completely different direction from just two months prior.
On Tuesday, City Council members unanimously supported studying the possibility of allowing development of thousands of homes in North Bayshore, the neighborhood that's home to Google, LinkedIn, Intuit, Microsoft and others.
The move was spurred by the election of three new members who made North Bayshore housing a top issue of their election campaigns last year: Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg and Lenny Siegel. Despite growing support for housing during the election, last year's council council continued to plan for office development only in North Bayshore, approving a precise plan for developers that excluded homes. With opponents to housing in North Bayshore all termed out of office, the council is now unanimous in its support for studying housing.
"It's a happy day for Mountain View and those of us who have been working to bring jobs and housing back into balance in Mountain View," said former city manager and resident Bruce Liedstrand.
Even Mayor John McAlister supported the study. McAlister, who has opposed significant housing growth elsewhere in the city, kept his position under wraps during the election season, when North Bayshore housing and the city's jobs-housing imbalance took center stage. As a small business owner, he expressed interest in having adequate housing to support small businesses in the area.
"This discussion has been a long time coming," said council member and longtime community activist Lenny Siegel, who was elected on a pro-North Bayshore housing platform in November.
"I really think we have a marvelous opportunity now to address what I consider to be a long-term weakness in (city planning)," Siegel said.
Council members also expressed interest in allowing new housing in the Whisman area, to be discussed in a few months. Whether all of it will be adequate to meet the area's job growth remains to be seen.
Speaking for the company that owns nearly all of North Bayshore's property, Google's John Igoe said Google continues to support housing in North Bayshore. "We still believe that makes sense," he said.
Igoe had previously said that Google was interested in having 5,000 homes built in North Bayshore.
"It would be wrong to designate any area in North Bayshore as residential-only," Igoe said at Tuesday's meeting, highlighting what could be a real sticking point. Faced with Google's consistently vague future development plans, council members wrestled with how to ensure that housing would actually be built.
"I don't want the entire area to be housing-optional," Siegel said. "I don't want to say, 'You can build housing or offices,' and then we have no housing." He suggested, for example, a model used in Palo Alto neighborhoods in which the city requires "a percentage of housing in terms of floor space that's built."
A slim majority of the council eventually supported at least studying "residential only" zoning, with Rosenberg, John Inks and McAlister opposed. There was a unanimous vote against imposing a moratorium on office development to preserve land for housing.
A number of residents spoke in favor of housing in North Bayshore, and a few spoke against it.
"Putting housing near jobs is the most environmentally friendly thing we can do," said one woman.
"Please don't limit the housing study to a number of units," said Google employee De Henigsen.
Resident Bruce Karney said he envisioned a city "where housing and jobs come back into balance" and has "faster growth in housing than commercial space."
Christopher Chiang, a teacher and school board member who lives with his wife and children in the large mobile home park in North Bayshore, implored the council to seek construction of smaller condos so his family could afford to buy a home one day. He said he wouldn't support the development of more luxury apartments like those recently built in Mountain View on San Antonio Road and Evelyn Avenue.
"We have always been against the idea of housing in North Bayshore for a variety of reasons," said Gita Dev, speaking for the Sierra Club. She cited impacts on traffic and wildlife habitat on the Bay's edge as main concerns, though she conceded that the area has a serious housing shortage.
Intuit's Michal Gulasch also opposed housing, as he said it would conflict with office use in the area. He said many small businesses had already been driven out by rent hikes and rising real estate prices.
Resident Louise Katz expressed concern that many of the units would be "transitional housing" for Google employees and would mean less revenue from hotel taxes for the city.
"There won't be so much pressure to build housing on El Camino Real," said Linda Curtis. "I also worry that every person we move into that area will make each of our votes count less. They will all work in the tech field. They will vote alike. Then this really will be Google-ville."
"This community is inclusive, but only if you have the privilege to have a highly paid job," said Maxim, a transgender woman who said she fled Russia's anti-queer culture to be a student at Carnegie Melon University's campus at Moffett Field. She said she had to sleep in an RV for two months before she found a room to rent in Mountain View. The cost of housing here means she reluctantly has to leave for Carnegie Melon's Philadelphia campus. "For a gender-queer person, a studio in Mountain View is much better than a large house in Oklahoma City," she said.
Advocates for housing in North Bayshore had another small victory Tuesday night when Google finally revealed how many employees it has in North Bayshore: 18,760. Siegel, whose passion for the topic drove much of the discussion, put the question to Igoe. Igoe said he wasn't at liberty to reveal the number of Google jobs in North Bayshore, but pointed to Google's public documents for an "easy calculation" based on Google's worldwide employee count. "Approximately 35 percent of the total are located in North Bayshore," he said.
If housing is to balance job growth, as was advocated by several of the candidates in the City Council election, many more than 5,000 homes may have to be built. Last year the council decided to cap office development in North Bayshore at 3.4 million square feet, enough space for as many as 19,000 jobs when calculated at 178 square feet per employee.
On Tuesday city staff said recent development for Intuit and Google left 2.5 million square feet of new development remaining under the cap.
Council member Chris Clark said he was hesitant to go through another lengthy series of meetings to change North Bayshore plans. Plans to allow the 3.4 million square feet of office development, approved in December, took several years. "I don't want to discount what was done the last two to four years, and essentially start that process all over again," Clark said.
Siegel countered, saying, "The fact we've had input (favoring housing in North Bayshore) and ignored it isn't a reason to continue to ignore it."
Member Mike Kasperzak suggested a faster path: approve the zoning for the 1,100 homes the council voted against in 2012. That could happen relatively quickly, as a nine-month environmental study had already been done. He said it would send a signal to developers that the council is serious about housing in North Bayshore. Council members were initially concerned that it could slow or preclude efforts to study even more homes in the area, but seemed to eventually come around to the idea.
Council members may find it harder to veer toward adding significant housing to North Bayshore if some exciting proposals for office development from the world's hottest tech companies pour in by the end of February. That's the application deadline for projects of exceptional size in North Bayshore.
"I keep getting told by people who work in the Bayshore area that they would like to live in Bayshore," said Rosenberg. "It's almost unconscionable that companies will continue to hire more, without some accommodation for people moving to that area."
Where should housing go?
Council members voted unanimously to have city staff examine a wide range of places in North Bayshore for housing, after several different preferences were expressed. A map presented by city staff had limited housing growth to an area on North Shoreline Boulevard south of Charleston Road and north of Highway 101.
After hearing about the possibility, "I started having all these images about how great it would be to live out there," said architect Bill Maston. "I'd live out by the edge, so I could overlook Shoreline Park. Please don't just focus on the core," he said, referring to the area designated on the staff's North Bayshore map.
Vice Mayor Showalter, who stated unequivocal support for housing in North Bayshore, suggested that housing go along Rengstorff Avenue, between Highway 101 and Charleston Road, saying it would be near Costco and other stores.
Speaking for Google, Igoe said "it would be wrong" to have housing limited just to the core area.
"Keeping it to the core area only is kind of myopic," Rosenberg said.
"I support the core," McAlister said. "Transportation is designed to go to the core. It's more along the lines of Santana Row. Maybe spread it to the east a bit, but to start spreading it out, that defeats the purpose of the village center."
Siegel suggested that the core area be extended to La Avenida, as Microsoft is rumored to be looking to leave its offices located there (they have since denied the rumor), and the Valley Transit Authority is seeking to redevelop its bus yard property. He suggested that the city study the possibility of extending light rail across Moffett Field and Stevens Creek to La Avenida to serve the core.
Microsoft officials were compelled to respond to the rumor that the company was looking to leave its offices in North Bayshore.
"Microsoft is proud to call Mountain View home for over 15 years, and remains committed to staying in Mountain View at our site in North Bayshore," the company said in a statement on Friday.