Several nearby residents are pushing back against the idea of converting a large portion of Cooper Park into lower-cost housing for local teachers and school staff, decrying the potential loss of open space and worsening traffic in an already-congested area of Mountain View.
Last month, a district-commissioned study looked into excess land owned by the Mountain View Whisman School District to see if it would be possible to construct rental housing for district employees at an affordable rate. District officials have been taking a close look at teacher housing for more than a year, seeing it as an effective strategy -- outside of raising salaries -- to attract and retain a dwindling pool of teachers.
The study looked at 11 properties and found that the 9.5 acres of district-owned land on the northern end of Cooper Park would be the ideal place to build homes. Suggested layouts found that it would be financially feasible to construct 82, three-story townhouses on the property, which could be paid off, in part, by an estimated $700,000 in rental income each year. Board members largely agreed to focus on Cooper Park rather than other properties, which are either fairly small or tied up with long-term lease agreements.
The district-owned property does not include the southern end of the Cooper site, which is owned by the city and includes a playground and tennis courts.
Residents near Cooper Park made clear at the Feb. 15 board meeting that they would strongly oppose any effort to develop the land into homes, describing the site as an infeasible spot to plant higher-density development given the traffic impacts and the community's loss of valuable open space.
"Developing Cooper Park is not an acceptable option," said resident Maura Rees, who said there are hundreds of neighborhood residents prepared to fight. She said developing the site is unfeasible -- contrary to the conclusion of the feasibility report -- and warned that they will use every legal option available to save the area.
"This is basically the third rail of Mountain View politics that you're stepping on here," she said.
John O'Rourke, another resident, told trustees that the district should hold off on considering any housing development until completing a detailed environmental impact report to explore the effects of building homes, including traffic, loss of open space, reduced parking, stormwater drainage and surface runoff.
If the school district does move forward with teaching housing on district-owned land, the project would need to be reviewed and approved by the Mountain View City Council, according to Stephanie Williams, the city's acting zoning administrator.
Among the options in the feasibility study was selling off land along the border of the Cooper site for single-family residential homes in order to keep within the character of the surrounding neighborhood, which would raise $36 million to help offset the cost of building the townhouses. This financing proposal was sharply opposed by residents, who urged board members to avoid any scenario that involves selling off public land.
Resident Ravi Srivastava said he believes the district's valuable acreage should be reserved for future schools, and that expensive real estate is hard to claw back once it's given away.
"Land for a school, once it's gone it's gone," he said. "In this proposal, the idea is to take the land and not only use it for a purpose other than schools, but a large chunk of it would not even be public use or publicly owned land."
Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said the district and the board have yet to take any concrete steps to build housing or even design a fleshed-out proposal for housing construction on any of the district-owned sites, and that the feasibility study marks only the first step in a long process to consider developing district-owned land into teacher housing.
"This is a feasibility study, nothing more, nothing less," he said. "The board has not taken action, and there are probably a thousand steps before we even get close to thinking about doing anything."
He also stressed that the 5 to 6 acres of public park space on the southern end of the campus would remain untouched, and said that the Eunice Avenue property being considered for teacher housing consists of a portable building for Action Day Primary Plus, a parking lot and brown patches of dirt.
Although the feasibility study suggested selling off district-owned land, Rudolph said neither the board nor the public seems to have an appetite for losing district-owned real estate in a bid to finance teacher housing construction.