Mountain View City Council members agreed Tuesday night that development plans need to include a clear strategy for housing the thousands of new students who are expected be living in North Bayshore -- a region isolated by a major highway and devoid of public schools.
Council members unanimously agreed to add language to the North Bayshore Precise Plan that would require the region's two major landowners, Google and Sobrato, to submit a "local school district strategy" as part of any dense residential project, showing precisely how the developers would assist in building local, neighborhood-oriented schools in the area. The strategy is fairly broad, and could include land dedication, funding, transferring development rights or other "innovative strategies."
The decision comes after school district officials sounded the alarm that Mountain View's housing-rich vision for the region north of Highway 101 could add as many as 3,500 students to the city's elementary and high school districts. The problem, they said, is that there is virtually zero capacity for additional students at existing schools, and not even close to enough money in the budget to buy land and build facilities for the projected boom in enrollment.
Compounding the concerns, the city's environmental report for the North Bayshore Precise Plan made a series of unrealistic statements about school impacts. Among other things, it claimed that the city's plans to allow up to 9,850 new homes in North Bayshore would result in a "less than significant impact" because developer fees would offset school construction costs, and that the additional enrollment could be offset by portable classrooms, new attendance boundaries and bus services.
An analysis by both the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District found that developer fees would only cover about 10 percent of the cost of school construction, and that enrollment growth could necessitate three new elementary schools, a new middle school and a new high school.
"The school districts can't do it on their own," said Laura Blakely, a Mountain View Whisman school board member. "Whether it's in the (environmental impact report) or the amended precise plan, I'm hopeful you will find a way to make sure that development and building can't happen unless it includes plans for schools in the area."
These so-called school district strategy plans would go beyond the typical package of community benefits that developers promise as a condition of approval and would be legally binding in order to ensure the school district receives the resources it needs, according to Randy Tsuda, the city's community development director.
"We believe there needs to be a legal agreement that is entered between the developer and the school district to guarantee that enforceability," Tsuda said. "Some legal framework to document what that agreement is."
Although council members generally supported changes to the precise plan requiring the city and developers to work with local school districts, there were reservations about allowing the transfer of development rights in the region -- essentially opening the door for Google and Sobrato to pitch in resources for a school campus in adjacent regions, such as North Rengstorff and Terra Bella, to house students who live in North Bayshore.
Putting schools outside of North Bayshore not only creates more traffic on the three already congested main thoroughfares into the area but it also runs contrary to City Council's goal of creating complete neighborhoods in the area, said Councilman John McAlister.
"The schools need to be in North Bayshore. Having an elementary school on the periphery -- it doesn't help the traffic, it doesn't help the school, it doesn't build the communities," he said.
Allowing the transfer of development rights was added into the plan after school districts pointed out just how much land would be needed for schools in the area, Tsuda. Three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school would potentially eat up more than 80 acres of land -- based on state guidelines -- or about 13 percent of the entire North Bayshore region. Given the limited space, the city may need to allow some flexibility to allow schools on the periphery, he said.
Council members ultimately agreed to allow to leave in the language in the precise plan, but to add that the city has a "strong preference" in favor of schools located within the confines of North Bayshore. Mayor Ken Rosenberg said having schools north of Highway 101, just steps away from Google's headquarters, could be a huge opportunity for the students.
"Can you imagine being so close to the high-tech mecca, the advantages the students at the school would have?" Rosenberg said.
Council members agreed to ensure both school districts will receive property tax revenue resulting from growth in North Bayshore. Property tax collected in the region is funneled into the Shoreline Community special tax district -- rather than directly into school districts -- meaning it's incumbent on the city to make sure money makes it to public schools.
Both school districts are using the same demographic firm to determine student generation rates for the 9,850 housing units that would be allowed in North Bayshore under the revised precise plan. The firm found that the units, assuming 20 percent of them are affordable, would generate 2,358 students in the Mountain View Whisman School District and 1,108 students in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District. Joe Van Belleghem, a senior design director at Google, told council members that the company has hired a consultant to review the school districts' student generation reports, which should be done in the coming weeks. A lot of the units being proposed are small and may not have high student generation rates, he said. Google needs to make sure the demand is "calculated properly."
"If the demand is not there, you don't want to put a school on the wrong side of the highway," Van Belleghem said.
Prior to the meeting, Mountain View-Los Altos Superintendent Jeff Harding told the Voice that the projections for massive enrollment growth are not cause for alarm, provided the district, the city and the developers in North Bayshore work closely together long before anyone breaks ground.
"We're not panicked," Harding said. "But at the same time, we're very aware that we need to plan in great detail to accommodate that number of students."