News

Council: Downtown plan needs an update

City to look at retail, parking, housing and transit needs

The 30-year-old precise plan guiding all development in Mountain View's bustling downtown will be heading back to the drawing board. The decision came at a Tuesday night study session in which all members of the City Council agreed the downtown plan was showing its age and needed a suite of updates.

Council members said they had no interest in completely gutting the precise plan and starting from scratch. Instead, they highlighted the need to address the most pressing issues where the downtown plan was showing signs of inadequacy, including insufficient rules for parking, housing and preservation of historic buildings and retail shops.

Even with that tailored list, the commitment of time and money would be high. City staff estimated a downtown-wide update would cost about $1.75 million and take up to two years due to the need for a consultant and full-time employee to work on the plan.

It was a complicated discussion made even more difficult by the entrenched and conflicting politics of downtown. The area is the city's focal point for small businesses, mass transit, historic preservation and parking problems.

In last year's election, the group Livable Mountain View proved itself a formidable political force by helping elect Alison Hicks to the council on a platform largely centered on so-called "smart growth," looking for quality of life through more rigorous downtown development standards. Yet Hicks had to recuse herself from participating in the study session on the downtown precise plan. As downtown residents, Hicks and Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga are both prohibited under conflict of interest rules from making land-use decisions near property they own.

At the discussion Tuesday night, council members tried to figure out which issues could be isolated for specific areas of downtown in order to allow Hicks and Abe-Koga to participate. In particular, the council decided the issue of historic preservation could be sequestered to the northernmost blocks of Castro, Bryant and Hope streets.

But other issues were more challenging to disentangle. Parking, building standards and zoning rules would inevitably bleed into other areas no matter how the council tried to divide it up, said Councilman John McAlister.

"How can you look at just one point, and not see how it's going to affect another part?" he said. "To slice and dice this up doesn't make any sense. We need to take a holistic approach where you can't limit it to certain areas."

Parking could be the most divisive topic in this regard. Small business advocates and nearby residents have said for years that the city's downtown parking supply was woefully inadequate. Yet other environmental-leaning factions have urged the city to shift from a car-centric model by reducing free parking or adding a paid parking system. Speaking at the meeting, former councilman Lenny Seigel pointed out that the downtown area's requirements for parking in effect were telling developers to build more offices because it made housing too expensive.

While the downtown-centered groups didn't agree on parking, they were in alignment in other areas. Sarah Astles, owner of the Opal nightclub, offered an idea to turn the northern blocks of Castro Street into a pedestrian promenade in tandem with the street closure at Central Expressway. Among the priorities highlighted by the City Council, city staff will look into ways to encourage more ground-floor retail, perhaps through some form of subsidy program.

There are currently many projects that could impact the future of the city's downtown. In particular, the city is planning to redesign its downtown transit center to prepare for increased Caltrain ridership and the distant possibilities of statewide high-speed rail or a local automated transit system. In addition, the California Legislature is revisiting policies to force cities to allow dense housing to be built near mass-transit stations.

Meanwhile, Mountain View planning staff already has a hefty workload, including ongoing work on precise plans for the North Bayshore, Terra Bella and East Whisman neighborhoods.

Mountain View city staffers say they will return to the City Council with a work plan and better cost estimates in the next few months.

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Comments

19 people like this
Posted by A Talking Cat
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 8, 2019 at 11:04 am

A Talking Cat is a registered user.

It would be nice to focus on making Castro Street safe and enjoyable for human beings. Making it into more of a "promenade" with wider sidewalks/bike lanes, or even restricting car access entirely, would be a great start.


Like this comment
Posted by Jen
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Mar 8, 2019 at 11:05 am

When they close Castro at the tracks will they tear down the new train station bldg?


117 people like this
Posted by I live nearby
a resident of Willowgate
on Mar 8, 2019 at 11:54 am

Downtown is woefully short on parking now, and it is certain to get worse in the future. The proposed hotel at Hope and Evelyn would be an awful impact on traffic, and as it would cover part of the parking lot, would forever foreclose the possibility of a parking garage on the site (right next to the transit center).

No new offices please! I do think more housing is needed close to downtown and close to transit, but adequate parking must be provided. I'm sure that developers will still be able to turn a profit.


177 people like this
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 8, 2019 at 2:17 pm

The hotel proposal should be canceled. We don’t need a hotel we need a parking garage


4 people like this
Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Doug Pearson is a registered user.

Reading between the lines of both the article and the comments, it appears to me that the city needs to start by making a firm and binding decision between
* a small, low rise downtown bounded by Bryant St, Mercy St, Hope St and Evelyn Ave with low density housing flanking it on the Bryant and Hope sides; or
* a larger, high rise downtown bounded by Shoreline, El Camino Real, Calderon and the railroad tracks, and with high density housing integrated with office, retail, restaurant and other businesses.

In my opinion, the existing high-rise buildings downtown (between Mercy St and California St on Castro St, and at the corner of Villa St and Bryant St), mean it's too late for small and low rise. The three high rise buildings I cited are by no means the only buildings taller than 3 stories in downtown Mountain View, but if we fight tooth and nail to prevent any more buildings taller than 3 stories high, we will cut off the growth of downtown Mountain View and maintain a semblance of a small, low rise downtown. Traffic conditions will be much like today because the number of people circulating in the downtown area will be much like today.

At the other extreme, if we encourage a large, high-rise downtown, comparable to San Antonio Road between El Camino Real and California St, then the ultimate population of downtown Mountain View will be much larger than today, while the business offerings in downtown will be much more varied and extensive. In such a downtown, most transit will be on foot or via small, autonomous shuttles. I believe the traffic conditions, though very different, will be no worse than today, keeping in mind that most private cars will be parked in high-rise parking garages, rather than moving around from venue to venue.

I cannot think of any middle ground that will be satisfactory, but lack of consistent guidance from the city will eventually lead to some middle ground I do not want to think of.


2 people like this
Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2019 at 3:47 pm

AC is a registered user.

I wish we'd reconsider the closure of Castro at Central with hard barriers, because Castro becomes Moffett and Moffett feeds the freeway.

I'd much prefer Castro was closed at Central during daylight/business hours, but open in the wee hours of night/morning so that patrons of clubs can make an orderly exit to the freeway and commuters who have to leave early can also get at the freeway. Then shut it down during prescribed daytime/evening hours for foot traffic, diners, and the like.

Oh, and the police station being located in between Castro and Shoreline, I'd like for them to have access to both routes. Fire trucks and ambulances from outlying stations as well. The picture of an ambulance from El Camino Hospital going down Shoreline, making a right on Villa, and hitting the four-way stop at the Tied House/Steins while people jaywalk isn't a great mental image.


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Posted by beinvolved
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2019 at 4:04 pm

@I live nearby. @Rodger
That ship has sailed.

@Jen
Info is widely available..
Nothing happens until the electrification of the tracks is complete.

@ A Talking Cat
Think no time soon, if ever.


186 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 8, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Every time an article on this gets published, there are comments pointing out obvious points of contention: need for parking, need for housing, no need for offices or hotels.
And every time some know-it-all says, too bad it's already done and decided like there's no point even discussing it.

Look at the hsr project, it's never too late to change direction. State laws concerning housing projects and changing needs of the community should affect huge projects like this.


Like this comment
Posted by David Haedtler
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 9, 2019 at 11:37 am

I agree strongly with "A Talking Cat" regarding a study to determine the viability of making the first few blocks of Castro into a "promenade" for pedestrians and bikes. With no auto access from Castro to Central Expwy (a move of which I strongly approve) and the plans for the pedestrian/bicycle underpass under Central and the railroad tracks, it would be a great time to close off those first few blocks of Castro to auto traffic.


2 people like this
Posted by Steve L
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 10, 2019 at 8:59 am

Was downtown Thursday night around 6p. Parking near Villa was bad and the garage at Bryant and Villa was full as were nearby lots and street parking, but the garage at Bryant and California had lots of spaces. I've generally had good luck at that garage. I don't think that garage has sensors on it to tell you how many free spaces there are. Perhaps that's needed there as well as some way to direct traffic to that parking lot. In France I've seen cities where electronic street signage directs drivers towards parking lots letting them know how many spaces there are available.

I've never seen it, but I bet you could develop sensors for parking lots (not garages) that are discreet and then have signage for number of open spaces. Never seen that before so don't know if anyone sells that solution.

In any case, could be that we're not making the best use of the parking that we have.


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Posted by I live nearby
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 10, 2019 at 9:38 am

Steve - I like those parking garage sensors, and maybe they could be used on surface lots. But looking just a little bit into the future, I see some real problems with downtown congestion and parking. I do think closing Castro at the tracks is the only good solution to the problems that would be caused by Caltrain electrification and increasingly frequent trains, but the result will be poorer traffic flow downtown. Add to that the effect of the hotel, add to that new office space, add to that population increase in MV including potentially 9000+ new units in North Bayshore. A new parking garage will be needed not too far in the future. If the downtown experience is going to be a good one, let’s not add office space. Considering traffic flow, maybe turning Castro into a promenade isn’t such a good idea (although at first it might seem like a nice thought).


Like this comment
Posted by Longtime reader
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 10, 2019 at 8:58 pm

Longtime reader is a registered user.

The hotel project on downtown's Lot 4 includes a net gain of more than 70 full time public parking spaces.


4 people like this
Posted by parking issues downtown plan
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2019 at 10:49 am

Does that net gain of 70 parking spaces take into account a brand new hotel (workers and guests? or will they all take VTA and Cal Train transportation to the hotel?) and 2 new commercial buildings. I'm going to go out on a limb and state the demand for new parking will exceed the newly available spots by hundreds.


2 people like this
Posted by parking issues downtown
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2019 at 11:49 am

An opportunity to learn and an opportunity to address the council re the above mentioned concerns.

City Council Study Session

Mountain View Transit Center
Grade separation and Access Project
8pm Tuesday, March 19, 2019
500 Castro Street.

or check out www.MountainViewTransitCenter.com


Like this comment
Posted by OldTimer
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 11, 2019 at 1:00 pm

What Mountain View downtown really needs is SkyTran installed between downtown and North Bayshore.

This was being considered int he past, perhaps its time to reconsider?


30 people like this
Posted by parking issues downtown
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Any updates re MVCC plans re; RV's?

Even Berkeley says no more overnight parking for homeless RV dwellers
Berkeley city council members voted 6-3 to prohibit people from sleeping in RVs on city streets

"BERKELEY — Though known for its progressive, anti-capitalist bent, this city is obliging business owners and some residents by banning overnight RV parking, effectively giving the boot to droves of homeless people living in the vehicles so customers won’t have to pass them on the way to their yoga classes, pottery studios and craft breweries."

"By the end of the month, “parking oversize vehicles, including campers and RVs” will be prohibited on city streets from 2 to 5 a.m., according to a resolution the Berkeley City Council approved on a 6-3 vote Feb. 28 in response to complaints from west side business owners about an influx of nomadic dwellers in the area. If the council adopts the resolution at its March 26 meeting, the ban will take effect immediately."

"This ban is totally appropriate. The author totally misrepresents this issue with a very limited understanding of how this situation evolved. It's easy to make funny quips about craft brewers and lattes but those of us who live and work in West Berkeley, hard working regular folks who have jobs and are invested in the community have been overwhelmed by this influx of RV's and encampments. over the last year and the City of Berkeley itself created the problem."


"Let me give you some background on the situation which is not mentioned in this article. For some reason In February of 2018 the City of Berkeley stopped enforcing the 72 hour rule of no parking in the Marina area. Normally an RV would park out there and after 3 days the Berkeley police we leave a warning they would have to leave. By July of last year there were more than 100 RV's in the marina next to the Double Tree Hotel. A group came to the city indicating that they were in violation of a state charter that bans overnight camping or living in the marina. The city would have then faced a lawsuit and, as a result evicted the RV's. Almost immediately they moved to West Berkeley impacting block upon block of areas where working people live and have businesses. For whatever reason these people made a choice to live in RV's."

Sound familiar?


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