After years of analysis, an ambitious plan to transform the tech development in North Bayshore by adding a dense, dynamic residential neighborhood received its final round of approvals from the City Council on Tuesday night.
The strategy known as the North Bayshore Precise Plan calls for a spate of rapid and intense housing development that is ultimately expected to bring 9,850 new apartments to the doorstep of the city's tech behemoth, Google. The plan lays out a vision for a new urban community where corporate tech workers could live, work, dine and shop -- possibly all within the same building.
For many, the plan has ramifications beyond one Mountain View neighborhood. It signified a dramatic shift away from the Bay Area's diffuse office parks and suburban communities. Council members, city staff and public speakers each underscored the North Bayshore plans as a new paradigm for urban development.
"This is a cutting-edge plan that sets a new standard, not just for the Bay Area, but for much of the country," said Councilman Lenny Siegel, upon approving the plan. "We're not just building housing, we're building a new kind of community for our area."
Those high stakes for the precise plan were on full display on Dec. 12 during the City Council's final discussion of the precise plan, which stretched out over five hours, before ending in a unanimous vote of approval. Housing advocates, business leaders and corporate executives made one final push to urge city leaders to give their approval.
"We believe Mountain View will be making a material impact on the imbalance between housing and jobs," said Mark Golan, Google vice president of real estate. "We're proud to call Mountain View our home, and we look forward to working with the city and other stakeholders."
More than any other entity, Google will be the crucial partner in bringing the city's precise plan to fruition. About three years ago, the company came around to the idea of creating thousands of homes near its headquarters. That support was motivated by the company's own needs -- traffic and housing availability had become major problems for Google's growing workforce. In addition, Mountain View city officials made the company's aggressive plans for 3.6 million square feet of new office development contingent on limiting nearby vehicle traffic.
Politically, Mountain View's leadership also went through a similar change of mindset. In 2014, almost three years ago to the day, the City Council signed off on vastly different North Bay Precise Plan that emphasized office growth and transportation improvements. The total lack of housing in that plan spurred fierce community opposition, and it ultimately became the dominant political issue in the city's elections that year. Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg and Siegel were all elected to the City Council on the promise they would immediately bring the office-only plan for North Bayshore back to the drawing board.
Following that election, city officials convened a total of 24 public meetings to study how aggressive housing development could be interwoven into a corporate office park. Originally, city officials thought they would have an assortment of developers and landowners to partner with on the plan, but Google's foothold in the North Bayshore continued to grow. Speaking for Google, Golan said at the Dec. 12 meeting that about 58 percent of the land planned for future housing in North Bayshore was owned by his company.
For many observers, the hallmark of the precise plan is its emphasis on creating 9,850 new apartments at a time when a regional housing shortage has reached crisis levels. If built to the maximum allowed density, this housing growth would create about 2,000 new affordable apartments priced at below market rate, nearly doubling the city's subsidized housing supply.
Could the city go farther? Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga made a last-ditch effort to persuade some of her colleagues to ask a little more from one of the world's wealthiest companies. In past meetings, she suggested raising the affordable housing requirement as high as 40 percent, pointing to other urban cities with similar rules. On Tuesday night, she tempered that request to just 22 percent.
But even affordable-housing proponents warned that demanding too much could backfire.
"We risk getting nothing because developers will elect to do offices instead of residential development," warned Pilar Lorenzana of the housing advocacy group SV@Home. "Higher across-the-board affordability requirements will have the result of stalling residential development."
In fact, some council members expressed skepticism on whether Google would actually follow through on building the housing, despite the company's support for the precise plan. In October, a Google representative warned city officials that no housing would be built unless the city granted the company an additional 800,000 square feet of office space. Google later disavowed that ultimatum, amid public backlash, but it still overshadowed the council's talks on Tuesday night.
"Google has said they support the plan, but does that mean they'll commit to the plan?" Councilman John McAlister said.
Despite those concerns, the City Council supported the 20-percent affordable housing plan. In relatively short order, the council approved other major components of the precise plan, although members found plenty of new issues to debate.
The hardest choice of the night was a city staff proposal to create so-called "master plans" that would guide development along specific blocks or neighborhoods in North Bayshore. Council members would draft these master plans, but then the city's zoning administrator would be in charge of reviewing and granting approvals for proposed developments.
McAlister, Abe Koga and Councilwoman Lisa Matichak opposed ceding their authority, saying it could harm public input by removing elected leaders from the review process. However, a four-person majority of the council argued that the council would be overburdened and should delegate the role.
In the end, the final precise plan was unanimously approved by the City Council just after the stroke of midnight. Soon afterward, a fatigued group of Mountain View's civic leaders popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate the long-awaited plan years in the making.
"There's been an evolution in our thought because there's been an evolution in the reality," said Mayor Ken Rosenberg. "We're only getting started; the next phase is implementation."
Mountain View would be delighted to share the lessons from this process with any other nearby cities, he said.
Development proposals for new offices and housing will likely be submitted in a matter of months. The precise plan set a hard deadline of Dec. 1, 2018 for projects with extra allocated space to submit developments or request an extension. Granting extra time would be up to the discretion of the City Council.