LASD school deal kicks off major office development

Council allows six projects to move ahead in East Whisman, San Antonio

As part of a hard-fought effort to bring a new school to the San Antonio area, Mountain View City Council members reluctantly agreed to allow six dense projects -- five of them office developments -- to move forward despite being larger than the existing zoning allows.

Council members agreed at Jan. 16 meeting to allow the Los Altos School District to sell the "right" to build higher-density projects in order to offset the cost of buying land for a new school -- a complex process known as the transfer of development rights (TDRs). In other words, property owners and developers who buy TDRs from the school district are permitted to build taller and more dense buildings than what would normally be allowed.

Most of those projects will end up being office buildings in and around the East Whisman area, along with a proposal by developer Merlone Geier to build an eight-story, 250,000-square-foot office building on the southeast corner of California Street and San Antonio Road, located next to the second phase of the San Antonio shopping center redevelopment. Most of the density -- 150,000 square feet of it -- would come from the TDR purchase from the school district.

Each project will go through the city's so-called gatekeeper process, which is typically reserved for projects that exceed the height and density limits of an area. In order to sway city officials, developers usually pony up money for community benefits including transportation upgrades and affordable housing. In this case, the only benefit likely is paying Los Altos School District money to be used to buy land for a new campus. Although council members agreed to let the gatekeeper requests move forward at the Tuesday meeting, each one still needs to go through the design process and receive the council's final approval.

Last month, the district announced its intent to purchase 8.6 acres of land at the site of the former Safeway and Old Mill office building, located on the northeast corner of San Antonio Road and California Street. With land valued at approximately $15 million per acre, district officials say TDRs are essential to bringing down the net cost of land acquisition.

School district staff say they expect to sell 610,000 square feet of development rights in total, of which 538,000 square feet have been spoken for under agreements inked between the district and developers. At $130 per square foot, the district expects to make a total of $79.3 million from the transactions. One of the developers -- Vanni Properties Inc. -- agreed to buy TDRs but asked to delay its gatekeeper request for up to five years.

The last 72,000 square feet was supposed to go to Google for additional development in the North Bayshore area, but the tech giant backed out of the deal last month. Community Development Director Randy Tsuda said the school district now has a signed letter of intent from Miramar Capital to purchase the remaining TDRs for residential development on 400 Logue Avenue.

A vast majority of the development rights being sold will be converted into office development, which is no surprise given the high cost of building housing and the strong market for office space in the area, said Tim Tosta, a land use lawyer working with the Los Altos School District. He said the district's strategy was essentially cold-calling property owners in the city who might be able to build out developments with additional square footage, and that there was no lack of interest in the leftover 72,000 square feet when Google dropped out.

Mayor Lenny Siegel, who has long advocated for a better balance between jobs and housing in the city, said he was willing to let the gatekeeper projects move forward in order to support a school in the San Antonio area. Given the significant redevelopment going on in the region, he said it may represent the "last chance" the city has to turn that school into a reality.

"It's been one of my major goals to see a school get built there," he said. "I've been willing to accept more offices elsewhere in town because getting a school there is very important."

But the Merlone Geier gatekeeper proposal, in particular, left some council members uneasy. The developer's request included not only an eight-story office building right on the corner with no additional parking and reduced setbacks, but also asked for the project to be exempt from requirements to have ground-floor commercial uses.

Council members allowed the gatekeeper to move forward, but roundly rejected the idea of losing the commercial space.

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga said she was strongly opposed to adding more offices in the San Antonio Shopping Center, which she said was intended to be retail-focused, and that she is disappointed with the existing development in the area. She suggested that the council put a pause on allowing the Merlone Geier gatekeeper request to move forward until the second phase of the San Antonio Shopping Center redevelopment is completed and fully occupied by tenants before accepting any new proposals.

"It's really incumbent on these gatekeeper projects to make sense and fit in with our community. They have to work," She said. "And this one, I just don't think right now I'm ready to say it works."

Siegel cautioned against council members dropping support for one or more of the gatekeeper proposals moving forward, noting that selling development rights is a critical part of the school district's plan to buy land. He said he wanted to avoid any action that would risk killing the deal.

"I'm unwilling to risk the entire project because of our concerns about what Merlone Geier has done at the San Antonio center."

Councilman John McAlister joined the majority of the council in allowing the gatekeeper projects to move forward, but cautioned that Merlone Geier's gatekeeper project could "potentially be the demise" of the Milk Pail Market, which is located on the same corner and relies on shared parking that could be removed under the proposed office development.

The vote on the gatekeeper projects was part of a larger motion to permit the Los Altos School District to sell the TDRs, along with a commitment by the city to contribute $23 million in park funds to help the school district purchase land for a school and adjacent field space in the San Antonio area. The motion passed 6-1, with council member Pat Showalter opposed. Earlier in the meeting, Showalter said she was unwilling to support the use of TDRs unless the district was required to build a neighborhood school on the San Antonio site.

Gatekeeper projects approved

303-311 Ravendale Drive

Developer: Sand Hill Properties

Proposal: Replace one-story office building with new six-story 180,000-square-foot office building and a three-story parking garage

189 N. Bernardo Avenue

Developer: Sand Hill Properties

Proposal: Retain existing buildings and add a new four-story 90,000-square-foot office building

465 Fairchild Drive & 636 Ellis Street

Developer: The Sobrato Organization

Proposal: Demolish two two-story office buildings and replace with a new six-story 260,000-square-foot building

355-365, 401, and 415 E. Middlefield Road

Developer: SummerHill Homes

Proposal: Demolish two one-story buildings and replace with 250 flats and condominiums ranging from four- to seven-stories tall and a 0.4-acre park

301-381 E. Evelyn Avenue

Developer: MV campus owner, LLC

Proposal: Replace existing surface parking with a new, four-story 125,000-square-foot office building and above-grade five-story parking structure

2595 California Street and 405 San Antonio Road

Developer: Merlone Geier

Proposal: Replace existing one-story buildings with eight-story, 250,000-square-foot office building

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


20 people like this
Posted by C'mon -- picking on the Milk Pail again?
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 10:54 am

This is how we treat our locally owned and run (and beloved) businesses? The Milk Pail *just* went through a hellish process of fighting for their existence and now we're going to put them in jeopardy again? I'm so disgusted by their treatment at the hands of our city council. There is no reason they should get dragged into this ugly fight. Find another place for that office building! Soon that's going to be all that's left.

10 people like this
Posted by celiacai
a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 19, 2018 at 12:59 pm

I no longer go to MilkPail since the new development.

The nearby high-rise buildings disconnect MilkPail from the rest of the area, making it isolated on a corner. The situation now is neither convenient nor pleasant.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of North Whisman

on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

38 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Slater
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:32 pm

Why bother having a general plan if you are going to undermine it with TDR's

50 people like this
Posted by hopeless
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm

It's just going to keep getting worse, isn't it? Where's the breaking point where we all just give up and stop caring?

5 people like this
Posted by Emre
a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:37 pm

If these developments are approved, Milk Pail should be allowed to operate without any parking space.

25 people like this
Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Kathleen is a registered user.

Another building by Grier after the ugly fiasco in the San Antonio Center?
Please do not consider this proposal for the corner of San Antonio and California. I beg the City Council ... please don’t do it.

21 people like this
Posted by Ignorant
a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 19, 2018 at 3:15 pm

This is so awesome! This is exactly what we NEED! ...more office space! This will help our shortage of jobs.

53 people like this
Posted by swissik
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2018 at 3:59 pm

I can't vote in Mountain View because I live in a neighboring town. However, it is astounding to me that voters continue to put into the city council the same people that you all complain about when they make decisions you don't approve of. It doesn't take genius to face the fact that Google runs Mountain View and the council will do whatever Google wants.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood

on Jan 19, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

43 people like this
Posted by hopeless
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2018 at 4:14 pm

I know what you mean, @swissik. Unfortunately, politicians do occasionally deviate from their campaign promises once they're in office...

105 people like this
Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 5:15 pm

Rossta is a registered user.

If the new school doesn't serve the neighborhood, why do we care if it is there? I'd rather avoid the TDRs than place a private or charter school on that location.
Please, stand by the general plan.

124 people like this
Posted by Demand more and better
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2018 at 5:40 pm

As I posted in response to another article on this subject, and another thread on this article:

My off the cuff reply would be that not enough public input was received early on in the process -- during the study session -- when the whole TDR scheme was first brought forth as a way to facilitate the deal. Secondarily, perhaps council believes they are serving the "greater good" with their decision on Tuesday however, something that is going to have this large an impact on all Mountain View residents - forever - should have received substantial public notification and ability to give input prior to committing to any deals.

Mountain View residents have every right to "have a seat at the table" in the decision making process which involves $23 million of taxpayer dollars, especially when it comes to the giveaway of the TDRs which includes removing ALL FUTURE REQUIREMENTS OF PUBLIC BENEFITS on any of those development sites. The TDRs alone are worth an estimated $80 million dollars. The combined loss of public benefits on those sites is estimated at well over $12 million dollars. Look at the gatekeeper requests for the TDR sites, several are seeking multiple variances, including allowing additional height (from the allowed six to eight stories in height for one development in the San Antonio Precise Plan area) reduced setbacks, bonus FAR, removing retail and HOUSING requirements. All with no additional requirements for ANY public benefit for the residents of Mountain view from ANY of these developments. NOTHING.

The impact of these developments will be felt by ALL Mountain View residents -- it's MORE commercial development, with NO public benefits required, traded for NO guarantee of a neighborhood school in the San Antonio Precise Plan Area.

Mountain View Residents should be paying attention because this is NOT a good deal, instead it adds even MORE to our already egregiously bad jobs/housing imbalance, and this scheme will continue to drive up the housing costs and add significantly to traffic impacts across the city. And still, no guarantee of a public neighborhood school for Mountain View children in that area.


15 people like this
Posted by Wes
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2018 at 5:15 am

Great, that's all we need, more offices and traffic. The San Antonio center development is a bust, those apartments are all empty and its a matter of time till the overpriced restaurant tenants fold. Thanks for keeping mountain view boring -- there are already enough schools. Maybe instead, we can provide the children of Mt View with a city they will want to live in someday, and perhaps even one they can hope to afford to live in.

11 people like this
Posted by Albert
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Jan 21, 2018 at 3:21 pm

Giving the green light to almost 1 million square feet of office space and only 250 housing units is absurd. Where are all those office workers supposed to live? And putting an EIGHT story tower next to the Milk Pail would be the finishing touch to the architectural eyesore that San Antonio Center has become. And there will be a school between that and the railroad tracks?!

9 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jan 22, 2018 at 10:56 am

Well, what a surprise.
Not only is it happening in Mountain View, but most surrounding towns. When will City Council members be obligated, either by conscience, or by "duty" to actually represent those people who elected them.
Time and time again we witness City Council members bending over backwards to accommodate the large developers' projects. A recent Mountain View City Council vote puts a long-time established, Community valued, small business at risk....again..THE MILK PAIL MARKET.
Many people in our community rely on THE MILK PAIL. The City Council should be making decisions that assure the continuation of small businesses that actually contribute tangilbly to our community.
I understand the "lure" of huge tax revenues resulting from the Council's approval of these large commercial projects, but there really needs to be a "balance."
I implore the Mountain View City Council to take this into cosideration when casting one's vote.

8 people like this
Posted by Fed up
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Recall the MV Council Members who do not insist on a neighborhood school.
All the NEC neighborhood will get from this is some extra office space and even more traffic congestion. LASD needs our kids at Covington, to keep that school open and out of the hands of BCS. They are using us. Way to go MV council!

If LASD actually built this a neighborhood school for the NEC, then Covington would be down below 400 students because the Crossings and Old Mill townhouses would no longer go there. (About 130 NEC students drive all the way to Covington everyday, passing two other schools on the way there) Less students makes it really easy to move the remaining students to Almond, Loyola and Gardner Bullis, because the first two schools are actually super close to Covington.

But LASD is not going to close it's top school. Three of the current board members live in that neighborhood. They do not support a neighborhood school for the NEC, it is directly against their own self interest of keeping BCS off of the Covington Campus. There is no way they are making this a NEC neighborhood school. Dream on.

Oh and, the park will not be accessible during school hours just watch.

There are alternatives to a recall campaign-----
Insist on a neighborhood school -- under 500 students.
Use the park funds to build a park some where in the shopping centers that are getting redone -- Kohl's site, target. Figure out, do not make a huge mistake

9 people like this
Posted by More Fed Up than You
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2018 at 4:59 pm

There are so many things wrong with this whole debacle. One is that the
city council never discussed the possibility that these TDR's might be
used across the street from the sending site, or anywhere in the San Antonio area. They discussed extensively how there would be development OUTSIDE the San
Antonio area. Then there was no public notice of the availability of these
TDR's for developers. The preferred list was developed in a way that did not
give every developer an equal shot, to say the least. The whole thing was
rushed because the goal of everyone was not a school, it was to simply stop
the Greystar project. The amount of public funds expended to do this is immense. LASD will end up paying over $50 Million for the property even with the park

Of course the park should be closed to the public during school hours. For this particular charter school, their school day lasts for 8am until 4:30pm and LASD is well aware. There's no room for any ball field on the property anyway. Perhaps a neighborhood school would work one day. But there is no need now. LASD has basically lied about how many kids are involved. The city was a sucker not to check the current enrollment and their opinion of LASD.

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

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

Gluten-free bakery Misfits Bakehouse is reborn in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 3,026 views

Premarital and Couples: The "Right" Way to Eat an Artichoke
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,960 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 1,370 views


Race Results Are In

Thank you for joining us at the 35th annual Moonlight Run & Walk! All proceeds benefit the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday fund, supporting local nonprofits serving children and families.

Click for Race Results