For years, Mountain View officials have spent countless hours on study sessions, precise plans, mobility models and community workshops, all fixated on the goal of building 9,850 homes in the heart of the city's North Bayshore tech hub.
The main force behind the scenes has always been Google, the area's predominant landowner and employer. Over the years, the tech giant has supported the housing roadmap and discreetly signaled it would provide the resources to bring these plans to fruition.
That tacit bargain has underpinned the city's efforts, and now Google is following through on its end of the deal. After years of planning, Google officials late last week unveiled their first formal proposals to transform the North Bayshore area around their corporate headquarters into a bustling new mixed-use residential neighborhood.
As expected, the plans call for a transformed landscape of live-work-play neighborhoods marked mostly by towering apartment and office buildings that would replace the area's parking lots and low-density buildings. Playing to city officials, the proposal's centerpiece is housing -- Google is pledging its vision could eventually lead to 8,000 new homes spread between three new mini-neighborhoods.
Google officials portrayed their master plan as being in alignment with the city's goals to move from a car-centric office park toward a self-sufficient neighborhood.
"We also want to see the area transformed into what the city calls 'Complete Neighborhoods,' with a focus on increasing housing options and creating great public places that prioritize people over cars," said Michael Tymoff, Google development director. "We look forward to continuing to work with the community and the city to realize our shared vision."
The most detail by far is given is to one area dubbed the Shorebird neighborhood. This area comprises about 66.3 acres, located just east of Shoreline Boulevard and north of Space Park Way. The company is proposing to build up to 2,600 homes there, an ambitious target but still short of the 2,950 homes outlined for this area in the city's precise plan.
Less clear from the plans is Google's commitment to building a new North Bayshore school to serve what could someday be hundreds of neighborhood children. The company said it had identified a 3.5 acre site for a future school near San Antonio Road at Casey Avenue. The site is located about two miles away from where most of the North Bayshore residential growth is planned.
Mountain View Whisman School District officials confirmed they had been in talks with Google about the location, but they declined to share any comments on the proposal.
"We've just received the proposal and will be evaluating it," district spokeswoman Shelly Hausman said in an email. "The district will ask the City Council and Google to give (it) a chance to review the proposal before a decision is made."
Google's master plan indicates the company would aim for 20 percent of its North Bayshore housing to affordable, dangling the promise of bringing up to 1,200 new subsidized apartments to Mountain View. This alone would double the affordable housing in the city, the company notes. Along with the housing, Google's plans called for a total of 1.18 million new square feet of offices in the Shorebird area.
Housing demands have been a major sticking point for Google's plans to expand in cities beyond just Mountain View. Last week, the San Jose City Council held a grueling, 11-hour meeting to consider a public land sale so Google could create a new downtown campus. The meeting was marked by fierce protests from housing advocates who warned the tech company's expansion would spur mass displacement.
It was an issue that gained national attention on Tuesday, when Google CEO Sundar Pinchai was pressed on his company's commitment to new housing as he was testifying before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.
"We deeply care about the community where we work," Pinchai emphasized. "We have done wide outreach and are committed to making sure there's affordable housing."
Google's leadership has repeatedly echoed its commitment to housing growth, but the company still maintains that it needs to make financial sense. Mark Golan, Google's vice president of development, urged the city not to overburden his project with further fees and requirements.
"There is no room to take on additional costs without tipping the scales to infeasibility," Golan warned in a letter to the city. "We should act now before economic conditions worsen and inhibit the ability to deliver much needed housing."
Another area detailed by the plans is the Joaquin neighborhood, located to the west of Shoreline Boulevard, just north of Highway 101. This area includes the Shoreline Commons, a gateway property that includes the Century Cinema 16 theaters. The property was previously approved in 2015 for development into an office and retail corridor, under a partnership spearheaded by LinkedIn and the development firm SyWest. LinkedIn later traded its development rights to Google in a 2016 land deal, but SyWest remained in control of about 16 acres of the land. Google and SyWest have reportedly tried to negotiate for nearly a year on partnering on a joint development package for the Joaquin area.
In a letter sent last month to the city, SyWest representatives indicated they preferred to go it alone rather than work with Google. According to SyWest, Google officials had insisted on transferring most of SyWest's office development rights to its main campus in the heart of North Bayshore. By doing that, Google would have made the project "financially unfeasible," SyWest officials said.
In recent days, SyWest submitted its own master plan for their 16-acre property in the Shoreline Commons area. The plan calls for 885,000 square feet of offices, up to 740 residential units, and a new movie theater and retail space.
The city is scheduled to consider these plans sometime early next year. Achieving the full 9,850 housig units was still possible, but it would likely require some negotiation on the city's part, said Mayor Lenny Siegel.
"I'm concerned that if we don't think ahead, we won't get all the housing we're planning on," he said. "Google is saying that unless it's done their way, then it won't pencil out. Well, we'll have to see what we can get."