Council OKs plans for dense housing in North Bayshore

10,250 homes planned for North Bayshore

Laying out a road map for the future of North Bayshore, the Mountain View City Council on Tuesday dove into the nitty-gritty details to add as many as 10,250 new homes just a short walk from the local tech behemoths. In the end, the council largely gave a thumbs-up to plans to rapidly transform the area, signaling to stakeholders -- namely Google -- that the city is eager to speedily create a dense new neighborhood unlike any other in the region.

The meeting was the council's first look at revamping the North Bayshore precise plan, a crucial document that lays out the city's overall strategy for reviewing planning and land-use for the area. While technical and abstract, the precise plan amounts to a game-changer for the intense, tech-driven office development being proposed for the area. Like an oil tanker attempting a U-turn, the city's plan calls for gradually transforming a corporate office park into a mixed-use residential neighborhood.

Mountain View city officials had already finished an update of the North Bayshore precise plan in 2014, but that version focused on keeping the area as a job center, not a livable neighborhood. Yet a popular desire to build housing ultimately won the day. Three council members elected in late 2014 promised to make it a top priority to bring housing to the area. By early 2015, city staff were directed to bring the plan back to the drawing board with a new emphasis on residential growth.

Through the discussion on Tuesday, the council seemed to desire a bit of everything. New housing shouldn't be just for the well-heeled, council members said -- the apartments should be priced for the average-earners as well as those with low incomes. While Google and other developers are expected to primarily focus on smaller, dormitory-size apartments for young workers, the council members said they also want larger units suitable for families.

Future residents should be encouraged to walk or take mass transit, but council members didn't want to eliminate on-street parking where residents could leave an extra vehicle overnight. Thinking ahead, Councilman Lenny Siegel urged the city to set aside land for a future school, police substation and a mass-transit line.

"This is an innovative plan with a lot of moving parts, and it has to be done right," he said.

Affordable housing incentives

If fully built out, the North Bayshore area has the potential to be the largest bastion of affordable and below-market-rate housing in the city, according to the plan endorsed by the City Council. Normally in Mountain View, new housing projects must devote about 8 percent of their total housing to subsidized units, or pay an equivalent in-lieu sum. The city's vision for North Bayshore looks to dramatically increase affordable units to as high as 20 percent for new projects. If developers fully go along with that plan, the result could be more than 2,000 new affordable housing units. City staff also proposed that the highest-density apartments include amenities such as on-site child care, subsidized retail space or shared community facilities.

As an incentive, city officials said they would offer developers a sizable density bonus for building residential units. In the neighborhood's "central core" near Shoreline Boulevard and Plymouth Street, new apartment buildings could be allowed to go as high as 12 stories, which is pretty much the limit due to the nearby Moffett Federal Airfield. Outer areas along Huff Avenue, Charleston Road and La Avenida Street would range from four to eight stories.

But Councilman Chris Clark expressed some trepidation that the city could be asking for too much. He worried that the city could be stacking on costs for developers that look to maximize housing.

"There seems to be a conflict here -- we want to incentivize housing. But if you build too much, we're going to ask for additional things," he said. "We want housing, but if we make it expensive to build, then we've defeated the incentive structure."

Community Development Director Randy Tsuda said his team was aware this could be a problem. A city consultant was drafting a financial analysis to make sure the proposal didn't make high-density housing cost-prohibitive to build, he said.

"That's a conflict we've spent a lot of time wrestling with," he said. "(We're) intent on ensuring there's a incentive to build housing and the incentive works so the city gets a high percentage of affordable units out there."

Council members showed cautious interest in offering a streamlined review process for future housing projects as another incentive. Staff promised to provide more details on how this would work at a future meeting.

Google and Sobrato

City officials admitted the pool of potential developers expected to pitch future housing projects in North Bayshore is pretty much limited to Google and the Sobrato Organization.

Google officials were conspicuously absent from the meeting, but they sent a letter outlining their support for the new emphasis on housing. The letter, signed by the company's vice president of real estate, Mark Golan, offered support for a variety of housing density categories, the highest of which could approach 200 dwelling units per acre. In other Mountain View neighborhoods, the current standard for high-density residential development is 80 units per acre.

Golan encouraged the city to be flexible for future mixed-use buildings and not adhere too rigidly to planning statistics. He emphasized that the company wants any office space that's demolished for new housing to be allowed to be rebuilt elsewhere.

"Our home is North Bayshore and we are committed to working with the city," Golan summarized. "Google supports the city's desire to create a complete neighborhood in North Bayshore."

For the most part, council members endorsed the idea of developers being allowed to relocate office space elsewhere, but the idea was opposed by Councilman John McAlister. Seeing as how previous office expansion had already benefited from a density bonus, he said he didn't like the idea that the same developers would get a new bonus for residential projects.

The other main housing developer, Sobrato, has already put forward an initial project for city review. In a study session preceding the meeting, the City Council reviewed Sobrato's proposal to build up to 670 housing units on a 17-acre site along Pear Avenue. Sobrato's vice president, Tim Steele, said the proposed project could include as many as 180 below-market-rate housing units.

To build the below-market-rate units, Mountain View staff said the city would take funds provided by Sobrato and partner with a nonprofit agency to build them at a site adjacent to the market-rate housing. Some council members raised some concerns about having a literal divide between the rich and the poor, but Councilman John Inks warned that too much nit-picking by city officials could ultimately reduce the number of subsidized homes. He pointed out that the Madera development was originally slated to have 20 off-site affordable units, but the city's demand for subsidized housing to be included in the main project ended up providing only seven units.

"I question whether that's the most effective policy to support the greatest number of people," he said.

Other council members largely agreed, but they said that the amenities at the future housing should be shared among all residents.

Given the incentives the city was providing to encourage housing, some council members believed more proposals would materialize.

"One of the things that may come out of this is the developers that haven't included housing in their plans may change their minds," Siegel said, making a not-so-subtle hint to LinkedIn, which has declined to add housing to its expansion plans in North Bayshore.

City staff said the North Bayshore precise plan would come back for another review in April.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


25 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2016 at 6:10 am

It's great to see the city reverse course and put some housing where the jobs are. The previous North Bayshore plan was an unfathomable worsening of the jobs-housing imbalance.

However, without major improvements in connectivity to the transit center and downtown, the naysayers predicting traffic Armageddon will be proved correct. Google as well as the city should be prepared to invest in the infrastructure needed to do it right from the start.

3 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 4, 2016 at 11:27 am

How many housing units currently exist in all of Mountain View?

12 people like this
Posted by Patrick Neschleba
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 4, 2016 at 12:15 pm

10,000 homes... just as a thought exercise, let's assume 5% of them have at least 1 child of school age in the house. There's 500 students right there. I'm sure demographers can come up with a better estimate based on how this area is being designed, and who it's most likely to serve.

It strikes me that with this big of a development, and the families we would likely still have at Moffett Field, there could be a lot more kids living north of 101 - and parents wondering why they should cross 101 to take their kids to school. It will take time to play out, but City Council has an opportunity to be forward-thinking here with their transit and land use planning. In the medium-term: how to handle a growing school commute to schools like Monta Loma, Theuerkauf, and (I hope) Slater. In the long-term: where one might want to locate an elementary school north of 101, if the numbers support it... and how to help the school district pay for all of that, of course!

31 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Welcome to Shenzhen, Mountain View...home of dormitory style housing. Pack 'em in like lemmings!

16 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Welcome to Shenzhen, Mountain View...home of dormitory style housing. Pack 'em in like lemmings!

13 people like this
Posted by Madeline Bernard
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 4, 2016 at 4:07 pm

Congrats to the City Council! It's really nice to see democracy work for the people. This, I think, makes us the most sensible city in all of Santa Clara, and the city that is doing the most to reduce the impacts on the environment that come from a zillion people commuting to jobs by car instead of just walking out their door and down the street.

51 people like this
Posted by gdm
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 4, 2016 at 4:53 pm

I see a future slum being planned here. Also a drain on city finances.

25 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Hoffman
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Mar 4, 2016 at 5:26 pm

anonymous wrote:
> home of dormitory style housing. Pack 'em in like lemmings!

It is perhaps easy for people who are fortunate enough to already own a home to scoff at the notion of dense, affordable housing. "Who would want to live in a small apartment?! Ha!" But to your neighbors paying over half their take-home pay in rent, or commuting two, three, or four hours every day, it is not a joke. These are our teachers, our police officers, our nurses, our hairdressers, our cashiers, our bus drivers; people just starting out their lives and people settling down for retirement.

This 10,000 unit plan for North Bayshore is an opportunity to help a tremendous number of people. We've accumulated a very large jobs-housing deficit over the past decade-plus, and the responsible, environmental, and moral thing to do is to pay down some of that debt. Housing near jobs is vital. We can slow the skyrocketing rate of increase of housing costs, keep people from being priced out of our community and pulling their kids out of their schools, and get more people walking to work to reduce traffic. We can bring new business to Mountain View and

I am proud of our city staff and council for taking this challenge head-on, and thankful for all their hard work. It's great that we're seizing this opportunity to build a vibrant new neighborhood. Not every city has an opportunity as good as Mountain View does right now.

5 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Hoffman
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Mar 4, 2016 at 5:31 pm

I agree with the quotes from Councilmembers Clark and Inks which caution about incentive structures and building restrictions. We don't want to let perfect be the enemy of the good, and sometimes well-intentioned policies can have unintended consequences. Ideally the city can pick the most important issues where city guidance can improve the outcome, without making the rules so complex that we end up missing out on much-needed housing supply.

9 people like this
Posted by live in mtn view
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2016 at 5:46 pm

The council has a once in their livetime chance to have a mixed area developed. Companies come and go, but this housing stock will be there for a long time. And I think the time for company towns are long gone.
So please don't just listen to what the companies want, specialy those that don't even pay taxes in Mtn View.
By the way other areas in this country have a lot of new companies starting out. Have you heard of silicon prairie in Nebraska and other midwest states. Also north of Atlanta are lots of new companies. And those highly trained employees love working and living there. Who says that the compnies in North Bayshore wont be expanding into those areas, and the micro apartments will turn into slums with no services around them.

16 people like this
Posted by ohwell
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2016 at 7:01 pm

To recap:
- All apartments, no condos or row houses or anything actually desirable
- Extremely dense, more so than anything else in the area
- Large share of "affordable" (as in, "subsidized")
- Land controlled by two corporations
- In an area that currently does not have services

As long as the economy is hot, this may fly, though it will just put a strain on existing infrastructure (schools, libraries, pools, parks, roads, etc.). When the economy turns sour for Mountain View, life could suck, since these types of developments create costs for the city but very little income. It could be hard to dig out from it (Web Link).

3 people like this
Posted by Get real
a resident of Bailey Park
on Mar 4, 2016 at 7:31 pm

You can be sure any new housing will go to google folks first. Ever apartment or housing property owner prefer google people first witch is so unfair.

14 people like this
Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 4, 2016 at 9:17 pm

With this massive number of housing planned for this area and the number of people it will bring to the area, plus the number of vehicles going in and out of this area, we need a double decker roadway here. Or a much wider Shoreline Blvd. Perhaps 5 lanes wide in each direction.

19 people like this
Posted by Oh lord
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 5, 2016 at 9:01 am

"If fully built out, the North Bayshore area has the potential to be the largest bastion of affordable and below-market-rate housing in the city, according to the plan endorsed by the City Council."

So we are excited to build another California Ave in Mountain View with rundown, dumpy apartments and an overcrowded, struggling school? Seriously?

"But Councilman Chris Clark expressed some trepidation that the city could be asking for too much. He worried that the city could be stacking on costs for developers that look to maximize housing." There seems to be a conflict here -- we want to incentivize housing. But if you build too much, we're going to ask for additional things," he said."

You mean you don't want to ask developers to pay the "additional things" that actually make this space a livable,viable community like park space, a public school, traffic mitigation plans, walking/bike paths, the right retail spaces, etc???? Why would you not demand that????

I'm not against new housing (and geez, there's plenty going up already) but our city council is bat crazy if they think we can add 10,000 units in the North Bay without a substantial decrease in the quality of life for all residents (and even in neighboring cities). Especially with no easy transit options to that area, and with global warming that area is expected to flood a lot more.

I'm afraid Mountain View will regret this decision, but by then it will be too late. Adding more housing is one thing, but this is a complete transformation of Mountain View as we know it. No other city on the Peninsula seems to be as stupid.

7 people like this
Posted by Jimc
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 5, 2016 at 9:13 am

The city widened the overpasses to North Bayshore at Shoreline and Rengstorff and set the FAR for buildings at .35. The reason for low density with lots of green space was the limitation for access by workers. Any increase in density must plan for adequate transportation improvements. You can see the problem now at 9 AM.

I disagree with Councilmember Inks in that affordable housing must be integrated with market rate housing. In the past some cities have built affordable housing in its own building and they found it became a poor place to live.

20 people like this
Posted by owlgirl
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 5, 2016 at 11:28 am

Alas poor Burrowing Owls, I knew ye well...

First Mountain View rips up the owls' habitat with those soccer fields (after vowing not to), and now these apartments rear their heads? These apartments will be a haven for cats and other non-native predators.

"Priced-out" humans have many options to deal with housing issues (relocation, working harder, taking on roommates, etc), but our defenseless bay wildlife will soon have but one option to this encroachment: extinction.

Where are Mountain View's priorities?

32 people like this
Posted by live in mtn view
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2016 at 11:35 am

The big problem with the decision making of this council has to be that none of them live on the north (wrong) side of the tracks. The traffic right now is unreal during the extra long rush hours. But none of our council members are affected by it. And where is the water for all those new residents coming from. Plus there will have to be new schools, shopping, and may be some green space.
I can also think of the old housing projects in many cities. They are being torn down and replaced with garden units.
Plan this new housing area the right way, and not just how many units can be build in one area.

15 people like this
Posted by ivg
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 6, 2016 at 8:51 am

ivg is a registered user.

Thank you, Council! Voters came out for housing in 2014, and I'm happy to see continued movement in that direction.

The traffic problem is real, but solvable. 10,000 housing units will need at least an elementary school and a middle school, but it's not like we haven't built schools before.

I'm baffled by the concern about small apartments. Millennials are climbing all over each other to live in these kinds of apartments in SF.

12 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2016 at 10:15 am

Millennials love San Francisco, lots of stuff to do during your free time. That's why they love living there. But North Bayshore, just work and more work.

10 people like this
Posted by IDislikePrometheus
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 7, 2016 at 12:45 am

What will this do for non-poor-people (market) rents in Mountain View?

When Prometheus opened Madera, my landlord took Prometheus's new crazy "luxury" rates as data points to demonstrate a "significant increase" in market rates -- so my smalltime landlords hit me with two 15% increases in two years (2014, 2015) so it made 2016's 10% increase seem like a bargain.

My apartment (and complex) is definitely not "luxury" (monthly rental for 1BR/1BA 900sqft + 1 offstreet parking spot is now $2750/month -- no deck or balcony or laundry).

Are these new apartments going to be more or less expensive than that?

5 people like this
Posted by FlyawayOwls
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:38 am

I get really mad when people state their environmental and wildlife- even though I myself am a supporter. Most people live here because this is where the jobs are. 99.9% of the state- outside a 25 mile radius is yours to protect the habitat. Owls and wildlife can move and survive. I unfortunately can't.

21 people like this
Posted by FlyawayOwlsIsWrong
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 7, 2016 at 12:23 pm

> Owls and wildlife can move and survive.
> I unfortunately can't.

These are not true statements, generally.

Lots of wildlife is particularly sensitive to habitat so they can't "move".

A human can move to Chico and still find a Safeway for sustenance, a property to put a roof over their head, and a job to put money in their pockets.

A burrowing owl would be SOL if released in Chico. They wouldn't be able to breed, eat, or survive.

The bayshore is a very rare spot where burrowing owls can both breed (right temperature and food) and live (right type of sandy soil for their burrows).

As far as you not being able to move -- you've provided no argument. As a human, you're mobile and resilient. I know of no reason you can't move to Chico to set-up a life. Prove me wrong.

5 people like this
Posted by NIMBY tears are funny!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 7, 2016 at 2:22 pm

Hey NIMBY'S! Can you hear the tiny violins playing for you? LOL. More housing is a good thing. Don't like it then move! Sell your overpriced house and go buy your dream home in the desert or country where you can be all alone. The People have spoken and The People want housing [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]
PA is next, lots of room near Stanford for high-rises! All along 280 in fact! Build baby build!

30 people like this
Posted by Crazy
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Mar 7, 2016 at 2:36 pm

10,000 units? Are you kidding me? This FAR exceeds any previous discussion or plan. If there were an average of 3 people per home, this would add 30,000 people to our current 75,000. That's nearly a 40% increase. This is on the scale of creating a new Foster City.

Nobody had a mandate to add that kind of volume. A change of this magnitude should only come with a vote of the residents. Our council can't even figure out infrastructure for the people we have now.

9 people like this
Posted by Wacky owl lovers
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 7, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Leave it up to some liberal-elitist to place owls/wildlife concern over fellow human beings. Why don't you lead from the front and sell your overpriced house and move to the boonies where you won't be bothered with neighbors and city living. Better yet, bull-doze your house and donate your land to some animal organization so the owls have some nesting ground in the city! Yeah, didn't think so. It's easy to point out what others "should" do when you have no intention of holding yourself to the same standard.

12 people like this
Posted by @Old Mountain View
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2016 at 3:42 pm

You know, if it were possible to bulldoze your house and put in a nature preserve in its place, it would be a win-win: It would be a win for the wildlife in this area [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 19 comments | 6,178 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,941 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 1,793 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 1,723 views



On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now