In a split vote Tuesday night, the Mountain View City Council laid out a future vision for North Bayshore, divvying up 2.2 million square feet in fiercely contested office development rights among several rival firms.
LinkedIn emerged as the big winner, receiving more than two-thirds the total allotted space for a proposed 10-building campus just off Highway 101. On the losing end were the dozen or so members from team Google, who seemed shell-shocked after seeing their proposal for a dramatic glass-canopied office park scuttled by the council majority on a 4-3 vote.
The much anticipated meeting on Tuesday, May 5, brought to a head months of competition for space to expand in North Bayshore. With Mountain View facing a shortage of available space for tech firms, city officials identified North Bayshore as one of the few areas left for expansion. Last December, city officials set a limit of 3.4 million square feet of bonus office development that would be allowed in the area. That cap effectively created a competition between Google and other firms looking to stake their claims in advance of the city meeting. By Tuesday that number had winnowed down to just 2.2 million square feet.
The council's decision gives the green light for winners to go ahead with submitting their plans to the city, with final approval of the individual projects yet to come.
More than one person described the process a "beauty contest", with contestants taking turns asserting the various perks and benefits they would bring to the community. To judge the various projects, Mountain View city officials last year laid out a list of criteria, including how well each project improved traffic, environmental sustainability and the city's overall vision for the area. But the city was still left in a dilemma with too many qualified projects fighting for too little space.
To call the meeting long would be an understatement. As the only significant item on the agenda, the North Bayshore deliberations stretched over six hours with a series of company presentations, public comments and much back-and-forth among elected leaders. Despite the length, the meeting remained packed with stakeholders the entire night, dwindling only slightly as it stretched past midnight.
Repeating a phrase he had often used in recent days, Mayor John McAlister explained his role was to "play Solomon" in slicing up the pie of limited space. Making the motion that eventually won the day, the mayor proposed giving smaller applicants Broadreach Capital Partners and Rees Properties their full requested space. LinkedIn was allocated 1.45 million bonus square feet, an amount just short of the company's entire request.
Meanwhile, the mayor proposed sacrificing most proposals from Google and The Sobrato Organization, the applicants who signaled the strongest commitment to bringing housing to the neighborhood. Google received support for only one of its four sites, a 515,000 square-foot allotment that would go to an eight-story building off Landings Drive. Plans for that site were meant to provide parking for the much larger expansion Google officials envisioned.
As the motion moved to a vote, exasperated Google representatives cried foul, saying they were being penalized for trying to adhere to the city's rules.
"This is such an unfair process, I'm concerned that the city is moving forward with it," said David Radcliffe, Google's vice president of real estate and workplace services. "This would be very, very difficult for us. We have a growth trajectory and we were anticipating substantially more than this."
In his opening pitch, Radcliffe described Google's full proposal as something that would "bring tears to your eyes." The company's full, 3.4 million-square-foot design called for crane-like robots to manipulate changeable interiors, and a series of unique glass-canopied buildings -- a startling vision that drew international headlines. In addition, the company indicated it would adapt its plans to include a swath of new housing, something city leaders added as a priority for applicants last month, following post-election changes in the council majority.
From the start of the Tuesday meeting, Radcliffe asked city officials to hold off on making any final decisions because he said more time was needed to study how the city's desire for housing would impact North Bayshore plans already in the pipeline.
Echoing that concern, Councilman Lenny Siegel emphatically urged his colleagues to postpone a decision until the completion a $1.2 million housing study approved by the council in April. Making judgments without info would be like "flying blind," he said. He criticized the mayor's motion for promoting office growth but leaving housing as an afterthought.
"We may be eliminating the chance to build the mixed-use community many of us have talked about," he said. "Why would Google make land available for housing, when they can build offices at the base floor ratio. It won't be as exciting … but it'll give their people a place to work."
Siegel offered a counter motion to delay any decision until next year. But the proposal ultimately lost in a 3-4 vote, with only council members Pat Showalter and Ken Rosenberg voting in favor of it.
The opposing council members expressed concerns that waiting on a decision would compromise other applicants, particularly LinkedIn.
The professional networking company had cobbled together a tenuous partnership between five separate landowners to develop a 6.79-acre site just off Shoreline Boulevard. The company's plans call for 10 buildings of mixed-use office and commercial space. with plans already in place for a new gym and movie theater.
If the council dithered on a decision, the land partnership could fall apart, putting "millions of dollars at risk for no reason," warned LinkedIn representative Jim Morgensen.
"This is not a small investment and the reality is we'll have a substantial investment at risk," he said. "The longer we wait, the more this fragile relationship will erode. It's really as simple as that."
Those pleas got some backing from the council, particularly because LinkedIn representatives pointed out they had only a small foothold in North Bayshore whereas Google owns hundreds of acres. As icing on the cake, Mortgensen reminded the council his group would pledge to give $40 million to the MidPen Housing Coalition for affordable housing projects in Mountain View.
In comparison, Google offered a wide range of community amenities, including 31 acres of new parks, hundreds of affordable homes and a network of new bike trails. More than one council member described the company's full proposal as the most impressive of the bunch.
But Google's request for everything on the table left some council members unsympathetic. With only 2.2 million square feet in bonus space to dole out, Mountain View leaders say they were hard-pressed to take Google's bid for 2.5 million seriously.
"Google's original proposal exceeded the amount of developable land," chided Councilman Mike Kasperzak. "At some point, we couldn't even have done that."
Speaking for Google, Radcliffe reminded city officials that the original space available was 2.5 million square feet, but the city later reduced that cap.
Other council members proposed ways to give more office space to Google, but those pitches went nowhere. Siegel offered what he dubbed "an unfriendly amendment" to McAlister's motion to reduce LinkedIn's allotment by about 100,000 square feet and give that portion to Google. The amendment died without a second.
As a concession to keep some housing in the equation, McAlister offered Sobrato and Google a future opportunity to increase their allotment by showing how much office space they could retire to create future housing.
That was essentially useless, Radcliffe said, because his company would need to retain all its remaining office space.
The city approved McAlister's motion in a 4-3 vote, with Clark, Siegel and Rosenberg opposed.
In a separate 6-1 vote with Siegel dissenting, council members also signaled they would give future consideration for a 200-room hotel project being proposed in North Bayshore by the Shashi Group. Council members indicated they wanted staff to negotiate with Shashi representatives on adequate community benefits before the project is moved forward.