The Mountain View City Council on Tuesday pushed to maximize new housing development in the bustling North Bayshore tech corridor. If realized by private developers, the city's vision for the area would add about 9,100 new households next door to the offices of some of Silicon Valley's corporate giants.
The idea to inject housing into what has essentially been a sprawling office park has grown in popularity over the last year, among both council members and other stakeholders, especially Google. The consensus is that Mountain View needs to provide more housing if the city is to continue as a job magnet for the region. Building new residences in the heart of North Bayshore is seen as a way to alleviate the daily traffic jam of workers funneling into the area, and perhaps open the possibility for more tech expansion.
At a Nov. 10 study session, council members gave direction on a variety of tweaks to the city's land-use plans in what they described as a "high-level" vision for future development. Through a series of straw votes, council members made clear they want to study as much housing as the area could sustain. They picked the largest area proposed by staff a cluster of parcels totaling 60 acres near Shoreline Boulevard north of Highway 101.
For those properties, the council laid out a neighborhood vision of tightly packed residential buildings of up to 12 stories high that would be filled mostly with "micro-unit" apartments for tech workers.
Council members explained that they want to take a flexible approach to encourage speedy development.
"All this housing probably isn't going to be built," said Councilwoman Pat Showalter. "But the max (area) where it's allowed, the better."
It was abundantly clear at the meeting that much of this new housing development would be spearheaded by Google, which owns hundreds of acres in the area. The company sent two letters to the city in advance of the meeting, urging city leaders to provide incentives for rapid housing growth. Google representatives particularly wanted assurances that any office space demolished for housing could be rebuilt elsewhere.
Any new housing that is built would include the number of affordable units required by city regulations, said Google spokesman Davis White.
Most council members endorsed the idea of giving some perks to speed up housing growth, although they hinted that some disagreements may be ahead the question of who would live in these new housing units among them.
"I do want to incentivize the property owners to create the neighborhood we want," said Councilman Lenny Siegel. "But as far as what kind of housing and who would live there, I think we have some differences there."
Mayor John McAlister took a harder line. He asked: Does the city really need to provide any perks at all?
"Why are we considering incentives for anything the company (already wants)?" he asked. "Why'd we incentivize something they're asking us to do?"
By providing such perks, the city could essentially guide private development toward a larger vision, answered Martin Alkire, the city's planner on the project.
During their discussion, city leaders made clear they had already put quite a bit of thought into how a future North Bayshore neighborhood should look. Saying he wants a "vibrant nightlife" akin to that of Florence, Italy, Siegel urged his colleagues to support creating an open plaza just west of Shoreline Boulevard, where a new promenade of restaurants, bars and shops could be located.
Showalter signaled that she wants a central community pool with other open space dispersed throughout the new neighborhood. The big theme of the discussion was for mixed development with shops, offices and housing sharing the same buildings.
The council debated exactly what kind of housing they should be promoting in the area. A proposal from staff said future housing should consist of 40 percent studio apartments, 30 percent one-bedroom units, 20 percent two-bedroom, and 10 percent three-bedroom.
That was fine for young single tech workers, but what about families looking to stake a future in the area? Siegel and McAlister said they would be casting aside families if the city didn't encourage units with more bedrooms. But other council members disagreed, saying the city should instead notch down the multi-bedroom units for even more living quarters for tech employees.
"I see this as workforce housing," said Councilman Mike Kasperzak. "I haven't thought of this as a place where people would retire (or) a family-friendly area."
In the end, the council agreed to stick with city staff's recommended breakdown for future housing.
For future study, city officials also decided to include a 16.9-acre lot used by the Valley Transportation Authority to park public buses. VTA officials have said they are interested in selling the property. The agency put out a request for proposals in January and received just one response, from Google. VTA officials said they later decided to put the brakes on that plan to wait and see how the city decided to develop housing in the area. A second request for proposals will go out soon, said Jennifer Rocci, a senior real estate planner with VTA.
"We're open to relocating (this bus lot) provided the buyer provides us with a new property and the costs to relocate," she said. "We've received so much interest from developers asking us if we'd sell this property."
The next step is for city staff to prepare an environmental study, which will spell out how the new housing would impact everything from traffic to the area's burrowing owls. That study is expected to take about one year to complete.