As Mountain View's City Council approaches a final decision on whether to allow nearly 10,000 new homes to be built in North Bayshore, school district officials are raising concerns that the explosive residential growth would require several new schools and dedicated land to accommodate the avalanche of new students.
The city is expected to move forward with plans to allow 9,850 new housing units in Mountain View's office park north of Highway 101, which would transform large swaths of North Bayshore into dense, urban neighborhoods. Estimates show that once fully built, North Bayshore housing would generate close to 3,500 new students. The trouble is, both the local elementary and high school districts have neither the land nor the money to house any of those children.
Letters sent by the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District to the city earlier this year lay out that while district officials generally support the idea of building more housing in Mountain View -- particularly affordable housing that would permit teachers to live in the area -- city officials and developers need to set aside land and possibly help finance new school construction in order to accommodate the influx of new students.
"As it currently stands, we have no land and we have no funds available to build additional classrooms," MVLA Superintendent Jeff Harding told council members at a meeting last month.
In the case of the K-8 Mountain View Whisman School District, estimates show a residential North Bayshore would increase the district's enrollment by 2,358 students, according to the letter, a staggering 46 percent increase over the current enrollment. This differs substantially from the city's environmental impact report, which suggests the housing would bring 1,379 new students to the district.
The big discrepancy comes down to affordable housing goals set by the City Council, said Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph. The mix of housing units in North Bayshore is expected to generate about one elementary school student for every ten homes, and one middle school student for every 25 homes, based on data from the demographic firm Jack Schreder & Associates. But the precise plan also aims for 20 percent of the new housing to be affordable units, and historic data in Mountain View shows families are far more likely to have children if they live in affordable units. That percentage of affordable homes in North Bayshore is expected to create more students than the remaining 80 percent of market-rate housing, according to the letter.
The 2,358 students add to the estimated 445 more students from other Mountain View projects already under construction or in the pipeline over the next five years, as well as however many students will come from residential growth in the East Whisman area, Rudolph said. There's some space available for new students at the two schools bordering North Bayshore -- Monta Loma and Theuerkauf elementary -- but it wouldn't even be near enough for the vast increase in projected enrollment driven by North Bayshore housing.
"More than 2,300 students is almost half our current population," he said. "There's no scenario right now to house all of those students."
It would seem like a stroke of good luck that the school district passed a $198 million construction bond in 2012 that could help pay for these new facilities, but just about every dollar that can flow into the district's capital fund has already been allocated. Financing new facilities, campus upgrades and a new school at Slater Elementary has been all-consuming, draining the district's deferred maintenance funds, developer fees and money from the state's Proposition 39 energy efficiency plan. The district even padded the budget with an extra $40 million infusion using what's called a Certificate of Participation (COP), which borrows from future revenue the district expects to make with its lease contracts, in order to make up for a budget shortfall.
The cost to build facilities for 2,358 additional students works out to $165 million or more, to pay for the construction of classrooms and ancillary facilities at three new elementary schools campuses and a new middle school, according to estimates from the company Greystone West. Developer fees, which are levied on new residential development to offset the cost of housing more students, would hardly make a dent. Assuming all 9,850 units get built, the district expects to receive about $16.5 million in fees -- a little over half the cost of building a single school.
Even if the district successfully receives matching funds from the state through the recently passed Proposition 51, it still faces a $122.4 million shortfall.
"We don't have $122 million laying around for new facilities," Rudolph said.
The Mountain View-Los Altos High School District is in the same boat. Housing in North Bayshore would add 1,108 students to the district, and both Mountain View and Los Altos high school campuses are already facing a shortage of classroom space. Earlier this year, the district moved forward on a plan to convert the weight room at Los Altos into two classroom as a short-term measure to make sure there's enough room for students in the upcoming school year.
In all likelihood, the residential growth means the high school district will need a new campus, which will cost about $92 million. Developer fees amounting to $8.3 million, along with a potential $16.5 million in matching funds from the state, still leaves the district with a $67 million hole in the budget.
"The developer fees that come in from a project like this are a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of purchasing land and building classrooms," Harding told council members at a May 16 meeting.
The environmental impact report for the North Bayshore Precise Plan, on the other hand, states that developer fees would "offset impacts to local schools," and would therefore result in a "less than significant impact" for local school districts. The report says that enrollment growth from North Bayshore would presumably be handled by adding portable classrooms on existing sites, adjusting district boundary lines and providing bus transportation.
While both school districts would face major enrollment growth and steep budget shortfalls under the revised North Bayshore Precise Plan, district officials were quick to say that the letters should not be seen as opposition to the plan. Mountain View-Los Altos Associate Superintendent Mike Mathiesen told the Voice Monday that the district supports housing growth and believes it's a good thing for the community, and that the letter was intended to paint a clear picture of what resources the district will need to accommodate the ambitious plans in North Bayshore. The hope, he said, is that the city and developers in the area will work with the school district to mitigate the effects of the new housing.
"We are aware housing is a huge problem in Mountain View and the Bay Area, and we're looking forward to working with the city," Mathiesen said. "We also want to be mindful of the students, and provide them a top-quality education."
Rudolph said he believes the residential plans for North Bayshore are a "great opportunity" for the city, the school district and developers to come up with a solution to a problem that they know is coming. There shouldn't be any problems, so long as the district is included in the planning process, and developers are cognizant of how each project will impact schools.
"I feel good about where we're at," Rudolph said.
Dedicated land for schools
On top of expensive construction costs, school districts are also grappling with how to go about acquiring land -- valued at hundreds of millions of dollars -- in order to build the new schools. Assuming a traditional campus layout, the Mountain View Whisman School District estimates it would need a combined 30 acres of land for three elementary schools and another 20 acres for a middle school, according to the letter sent to city staff. The letter goes on to explicitly request a land dedication equal to 50 acres as a "condition of approval" of the North Bayshore Precise Plan and prior to the certification of the environmental report.
The letter from the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District makes a near identical request, calling for land dedication of 33.5 acres of land for a new comprehensive high school as a condition of approval for the precise plan. To put that in perspective, the school districts are asking for a total of more than 80 acres to house students coming from 105 acres of new housing.
Mathiesen said the acreage suggested in the letter comes directly from state guidelines, and would give the district enough room to build a traditional campus similar to Mountain View or Los Altos high schools. But he said district officials understand they may have to build a more compact campus with a more urban, multi-story layout, because of the huge cost of land.
"We know the likelihood of reserving 33.5 acres of land for that development would be rare," he said.
Mountain View city staff are still exploring whether it's possible to make land dedication a condition of approval for a project, but the city intends to work collaboratively with school districts to find a solution that works for all parties, City Manager Dan Rich told the Voice in an email Tuesday. He said the City Council and the Environmental Planning Commission members are scheduled to discuss the North Bayshore Precise Plan later this month, and expects that the final version of the plan will have "policy language" to assist school districts.
The city does not have a firm date on when the final environmental impact report will be released, though city staff anticipate it will not be finished by the end of the month.