Mountain View Whisman School District board members agreed last week that it's time to get serious about Mountain View's ambitious plans for North Bayshore, where up to 10,000 new housing units are expected to generate thousands of new students in a school district that has neither the space nor the money for them.
Citing a sense of urgency as environmental review of the North Bayshore Precise Plan draws to a close this fall, Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph urged board members at the Aug. 17 meeting to use their "political resources" to ensure the city's blueprint for housing development in the tech park compels developers to do their part to support new school campuses. Without some teeth in the plan, he said, it's going to be a "hard conversation" for the district to try to convince developers to dedicate land or money for schools.
Based on the number of projected new students from North Bayshore housing, it's easy to see why district officials are uneasy about the future. Demographers estimate that the city's desire to build 9,850 housing units across three new neighborhoods north of Highway 101 would generate 2,358 new students -- many from the affordable units included in the plan. This is on top of 845 additional students projected from other development projects the council had approved as of February 2017, Rudolph said.
Although the students from North Bayshore would increase the district's overall enrollment by about 46 percent, the environmental impact report (EIR) for the precise plan states that developer fees would "offset impacts to local schools" and result in a "less than significant impact." An analysis by the school district comes to an entirely different conclusion: Construction costs alone could exceed developer fees and available state funds by $122 million, and that doesn't even take into account the cost of buying expensive real estate on which to actually build the schools.
"If the EIR is approved as it currently is -- which says that there is no impact on the school district -- then there is no mitigation that any developer has to worry about," Rudolph said. "We want the EIR to be amended, before the final vote comes through, that developers must designate land for schools or take schools into account."
Board members unanimously agreed to schedule a special study session on the North Bayshore Precise Plan in order to figure out the best way to pressure city officials to include support for schools. At the same time, school community members and activists need to step up and make sure the city doesn't leave schools behind in planning for new development, said board president Jose Gutierrez.
"I don't think it's just on us, this is an all-out shout-out to everyone to help us," he said. "All you activists from (Shoreline West) and Bubb and Huff and everyone from Mountain View, we need your help."
Rudolph agreed, and said the board needs to do its part to galvanize the community in support of local schools, including a show of numbers at City Council meetings. It needs to be on par, he said, with the recent show of force the city has seen in favor of building more affordable housing in Mountain View.
City staff signaled earlier this year that the plan would be sensitive to the needs of school districts caused by the massive housing boom, and that it would be updated accordingly. But the city has yet to release a final version of the EIR with responses to public comments, making it hard to gauge how much political activism will sway what is already expected to be in the plans.
Before the summer break, City Manager Dan Rich told the Voice that the school district and city staff have been in close contact for months about how housing in North Bayshore would affect schools, and that the precise plan will likely include "policy language that assists the school districts." City staff were still unsure, at the time, whether the city could force developers to dedicate or reserve land for schools as a condition of approval.
At a subsequent June 26 council meeting, City Council members agreed to add language in the precise plan that calls for "collaboration" and partnerships -- including sharing and funding open space at school sites -- between school districts and the city, as well as the use of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) to give developers an incentive for setting aside land for schools.
A city study session for the North Bayshore Precise Plan is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 26, with a final vote for adoption on Nov. 14.
New school designs expected
Even with support from developers, it's clear that building schools in the same mold as existing district schools -- low-density campuses with single-story buildings and expansive field space -- simply doesn't pencil out in North Bayshore, where land costs exceed $10 million an acre.
Rudolph said the district needs to hire an architect as soon as possible to draft a facilities plan for North Bayshore and explore what urban school designs could be possible in the new, higher-density footprint of the region. The architect, he said, could give the district options that could be presented to the city and developers during the planning stages of development.
So what could a school in North Bayshore look like? Rudolph said the architect could look at school designs with multiple floors on a smaller footprint, and could design schools with playgrounds and open space on the roof. The district could also explore schools with a single campus for kindergarten through eighth grade, or even incorporate a mixed-use school with housing in the same building.
"As we think about how we create a school, is it possible to kill two birds with one stone -- can we do teacher housing on top of a school site?" he said.
The district had briefly considered teacher housing models on district-owned land in 2016.
Although board members wondered how much it would cost to put the facilities plan together, Rudolph urged trustees to not get hung up on potential costs and move forward right away. It's a justifiable expense, he said, and without it, the district will be "caught with our proverbial pants down."
"We need to have clear ideas of what we want, because I think one of the challenges we've seen with other districts trying to acquire land is that they're not really sure about what they are trying to do," he said. "One day they're here, the next day they're doing this, and they haven't spent any money. This is my plea to you, this is a must."