Google's plan to place an elementary school on the outskirts of North Bayshore, far from planned neighborhoods, on land that's dangerous in an earthquake and sandwiched between two noisy airports, won little praise from Mountain View Whisman school board members on Thursday.
Developers in the area most critically Google have been tasked with making sure schools aren't left out of plans to transform the office park north of Highway 101 into a thriving urban neighborhood with thousands of new homes. Google has since offered 3.5 acres of land at the northernmost end of San Antonio Road, but trustees say the offer falls short, and makes it look like the tech company views schools as an afterthought.
"Frankly, this is obscene," said board member Devon Conley. "They are arguing they are going to have a livable neighborhood with a social spine that connects 'two hearts,' two social hearts, and children are miles away in the least safe place they can be."
In late 2017, the Mountain View City Council approved the residential-focused blueprint for North Bayshore, which envisions three car-light neighborhoods centrally located around North Shoreline Boulevard. Given that the explosion of housing is expected to generate more than 1,000 new students in the Mountain View Whisman School District alone, each major housing development needs to come with a "local school district strategy," to help the district accommodate them. That could mean providing funds, land or both.
In addition to money provided by both Google and Sobrato, both of whom are seeking to build homes in the area, Google is offering 3.5 acres of a 6-acre site near San Antonio Road at Casey Avenue. The site is roughly 2 miles from the bulk of the housing, which would be pretty unusual for the district -- most homes are located within a mile of their neighborhood school, Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told board members at the Feb. 7 meeting.
There are numerous concerns about the proposed site, he said. Not only is that outside the range most kids can be expected to walk or bike to school, but the transportation option offered by the tech company is simply hitching a ride on the commuter shuttle -- available to the general public rather than dedicated for school travel.
The school site is positioned squarely between two active airports, which could pose a big problem requiring noise abatement. It's in a flood zone about 11 feet below sea level, Rudolph said.
Perhaps most concerning of all is the threat of damage during an earthquake. Although most of North Bayshore is in a liquefaction zone, having a weaker soil that is susceptible to "amplifying" shaking during an earthquake, this particular parcel is on artificial fill -- the strongest category of amplification.
Board president Tamara Wilson, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey, said this is the worst possible location Google could have picked.
"Of all the possible land holdings in North Bayshore owned by Google, it is the only one that is artificial fill, which has the highest susceptibility to increased shaking from an earthquake," she said. "Anywhere else ... would have been more ideal in terms of earthquake hazards."
To Google's credit, Rudolph said that the company is willing to help make the site work, including any mitigation needed to clean up a groundwater plume contaminated with toxins that might be under the site and expanding the one-way access route. But even with its glaring flaws, Rudolph said the other options -- while closer to the neighborhoods -- aren't necessarily better.
"Google is saying that this is the best that they have in terms of offering land," he said.
Board member Laura Blakely said she was surprised to see the company offer something so far from the core elements of the planned North Bayshore neighborhoods, and that many families are going to opt to drive their children. She said she was open to compromise with Google and understands that the district won't get exactly what it wants, but a school has to be an integral part of any new community.
"You don't build a whole new community without a school unless it's a senior community," she said.
Conley said Google's offer amounts to leaving out a "significant piece of infrastructure" that's vital to North Bayshore, while board member Jose Gutierrez said Google needs to step up and offer something better, and that the offer on the table shows Google may not be taking the district's needs seriously.
"This is not good enough for our children here in Mountain View, and we expect you (Google) to do much better, both in terms of acreage and in terms of safety," Gutierrez said. "If you don't factor those two things in, I have to question your partnership."
Rudolph said the district is working with an increasingly large cast of consultants on the negotiations with Google, including an architect, a demographer and legal counsel and plans to hire an environmental consultant to look into whether groundwater contamination may be present and how that might affect a future school.
The city of Mountain View is also working with the district's demographer to settle on enrollment projections from North Bayshore, which will help determine how much money and land Google needs to provide. The latest guess is that the development will add 800 elementary school-age students and 500 middle-school students.
Given that middle school campuses are much larger and would be virtually impossible to fit in the area, the plan is to increase capacity at Graham and Crittenden middle schools rather than build a new school.