Mountain View's vision of melding offices and housing throughout North Bayshore remains a distant dream. But at least one thing is building up: the bills for studying it all.
To date, the city has spent a grand total of $4.6 million on hiring outside consultants to analyze the various elements and impacts of the North Bayshore precise plan. This analysis, spread out over eight years and nearly a dozen different firms, comprises the largest planning campaign ever conducted by the city, according to officials.
"This shouldn't come as a surprise," said Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who has watched the plans evolve over the years, both in and out of office. "I know it seems like a lot of money, but planning is an intensive process and part of it is going to take a lot of time, effort and resources."
One big reason for the high price can be chalked up to politics. A changing roster of City Council members over the years has requested city staff to take precise plan elements back to the drawing board. City staff say North Bayshore has also demanded more work for other reasons, including its large geographic size, huge employment base and the intense community interest focused on the area.
The precise plan effort dates back more than eight years, when city officials first began working in earnest to study a comprehensive road map for developing the tech office park. The first iteration of the precise plan focused solely on offices and transportation improvements, and it cost a total of $1.55 million to produce, which included a sustainability plan.
By the time it was approved in late 2014, the North Bayshore precise plan was pretty much dead on arrival. A political groundswell was growing among Mountain View voters over concerns about the region's lack of housing, and North Bayshore's office-heavy plan became a major theme in the 2014 city elections. When new City Council members were elected that year, they moved swiftly to revise the precise plan to add in residential areas with thousands of homes.
For the city's lead consultants, DJ Powers and Raimi and Associates, the new orders essentially meant a new payday. Drafting a new housing-centered study and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis took about two years, and cost a total of $1.13 million. The second version of the precise plan was approved by the council in late 2017.
A cadre of other consultants also had to paid more as the city rejiggered its precise plan. Starting in 2015, the city hired consultants to perform a variety of support roles, including annual traffic monitoring, legal support and economic analysis for the residential growth. Over the years, the cost of these studies has grown to about $1.17 million.
The city still has plenty more planning costs on the horizon. Earlier this year, the City Council directed city staff to draft a $700,000 master plan to fine-tune how development should move forward at the so-called gateway site that includes the Century 16 Cinemas, the first of three new residential neighborhoods planned for North Bayshore. Originally, the council had intended for property owners and developers to submit their own master plans, but city officials were disappointed by the separate plans they received from Google and SyWest. After the two companies failed to collaborate on a joint master plan, the council decided to dictate its own vision for the site.
The $4.6 million total spent on consultants is likely only a fraction of the city's total investment in North Bayshore planning, and it does not include the cost of time spent by city employees. City planning officials told the Voice they don't have an accurate method to calculate the total staff hours spent on the effort, but they acknowledge it was considerable. Eighteen city employees are credited with contributing to the 2017 precise plan.
City Senior Planner Martin Alkire pointed out that some city costs would be reimbursed by developers, but he couldn't give a specific amount. The city is expected to be repaid for some the cost of the $700,000 gateway site master plan, but exactly how much is still an open question, he said. Other costs could be recouped indirectly by charging developers a document fee on their future applications, he said.
Former Councilwoman Pat Showalter, who participated in several votes on the North Bayshore precise plan, described the $4.6 million as a reasonable amount to spend. She said she was confident that the expense would ultimately result in a superior road map for the area. The millions spent on planning were a paltry sum compared with the hundreds of millions of dollars that will likely be spent redeveloping the area, she said.
"The fact is the city is investing money to make sure it's done properly and smart," she said. "The city really has an obligation to make sure the future development is great."