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No more offices without new homes

City Council approves redevelopment plan for East Whisman tying housing to office growth

The Mountain View City Council voted Tuesday night to approve the East Whisman Precise Plan, a comprehensive strategy to transform more than 400 acres of the city from a low-density office park into a mixed-use urban center with as many as 5,000 housing units.

The plan, which has been in the works for years, stands out from past long-range zoning plans in Mountain View. Interwoven into the 212-page document is a special requirement to maintain a jobs-housing balance within the area, meaning high-value office development cannot proceed without a commensurate number of housing units.

The plan passed at the Nov. 5 meeting on a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman Alison Hicks recused.

What that means for East Whisman -- an area roughly bounded by Highway 101, the Sunnyvale city limit, North Whisman Road and the Whisman Station neighborhood -- is that 2 million additional square feet of offices can only be approved and constructed if there are plans and signed agreements to assure 5,000 housing units get built along the way. That's a ratio of about 3 units per 1,000 square feet of office space.

Vast portions of the plan are devoted to strategies for how to get that to work, encouraging office and residential developers to work together to "link" projects and providing a range of incentives to ensure residential development remains feasible in a tight construction market. But the main thrust of the plan is that offices can't come before the housing: Residential units have to be under construction before a nonresidential building is occupied.

In order to make residential development more enticing, developers are allowed to demolish office buildings and "sell" rights to the square footage of office space that was eliminated in order to help finance the housing project.

Beyond the jobs-housing link, council members described the East Whisman Precise Plan as an incredibly complicated and interconnected way to strike a careful balance between community benefits and feasibility, which has been a major sticking point in many of the city's long-range growth plans. Fees to pay for schools, parks and other amenities are steep, and developers have argued it will kill the viability of projects and could scuttle the city's vision for East Whisman.

"It's sort of a global experiment for Mountain View trying to figure out how we're going to get this to work," said Councilman John McAlister.

At a basic level, the precise plan is broken into four chunks, with office growth dominating the northern and southern edges, and housing concentrated in a mixed-use region along North Whisman Road, Logue Avenue, Middlefield Road and parts of Ellis Street and Maude Avenue. A commercial and retail-centric hub is planned in the so-called Village Center, located at the corner of Middlefield Road and North Whisman Road that's currently occupied by a strip mall and a gas station.

Density is a key component of the plan, with large swaths of East Whisman now zoned for buildings up to 95 feet tall. In a late revision to the plan, city staff inserted language that allows building heights within close proximity of the Middlefield light rail station to be as high as 135 feet, about 11 to 12 stories tall.

Housing advocates praised the plan as a strong blueprint to create more housing. Mitch Mankin of the nonprofit SV@Home described the goal of 5,000 new homes -- 1,000 of which would be affordable units -- as a positive step, and that the linkage strategy is an "innovative" and unprecedented program. He cautioned that it might need to be updated when it's finally put into practice and might not work exactly as intended.

School concerns

What turned out to be the major concern at the Nov. 5 meeting wasn't traffic, building heights or office growth, but what to do about schools. Officials from the Mountain View Whisman School District and Mountain View-Los Altos High School District -- which both serve East Whisman -- say the city's residential growth plans are going to encumber local schools with an onslaught of additional students and nowhere to put them. Land costs in the region exceed $10 million per acre, and school facilities are expensive to build, yet the precise plan does not explicitly state how much developers must pay the district to mitigate the costs.

City staffers say a comprehensive "local school strategy" that lays out specific obligations for developers to offset school impacts is still on the way, and will come after the passage of the East Whisman Precise Plan. In the staff analysis on community benefits, the assumed contribution from office development is $20 per square foot to local schools.

Parent Ania Mitros told council members that schools shouldn't be isolated from the rest of the East Whisman Precise Plan.

"When you have something that's really key to a community ... you have to consider it along with the other constraints. You have to weigh it all together at the same time," she said.

Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said the conversations between developers, school districts and the city has been an "unhealthy approach," and that the city needs to do more than lock district officials and developers in a room together to hash out a plan to pay for schools. Up until now, he said, it's all been posturing: Developers say school fees will make their projects infeasible, school district leaders say there's no money to purchase a school, and City Council members worry they won't get the parks and open space they want.

"At the end of the day ... somebody is going to be the loser, and most likely it's going to be the community," Rudolph said.

Mayor Lisa Matichak disputed the idea that schools are an afterthought, arguing that the precise plan explicitly states developers must abide by the local school district strategy. While the strategy is flexible and council members agreed last month that there needs to be more clarity and guidance, she said there's no reason to hold up the precise plan before making those changes.

Extracting park fees and school fees from developers without developers walking away from projects has turned into a top concern in recent years, cropping up as the city rolls out a similar precise plan vision for the North Bayshore area north of Highway 101. Unlike North Bayshore, which has only a few major landowners besides Google, East Whisman has numerous property owners that could make a comprehensive school strategy a big hurdle.

Several projects already in the pipeline within the new East Whisman Precise Plan are also expected to benefit a school district across town. Last year, the Los Altos School District finalized a complicated plan to buy land and construct a school in the San Antonio area of Mountain View, which was financed by selling development rights to developers. Through the transfer of development rights (TDRs), five developers are now seeking to pay the school district in exchange for the right to build bigger, denser projects in East Whisman.

Los Altos school board president Jessica Speiser said the district has already signed an agreement to buy the land for $155 million with a purchase date for the San Antonio property just around the corner, and that the district's deals with developers hinge on the East Whisman Precise Plan's implementation. Crossings resident and parent Colleen Farley said the passage of the plan means residents of the San Antonio neighborhood will finally have a neighborhood school and a park to call their own.

Though the precise plan itself received a 6-0 vote from council members, there was a split vote on the environmental review of the plan. Council members voted 4-2 to approve the environmental impact report, which investigated impacts to traffic, schools, greenhouse gas emissions and other quality of life metrics, with Matichak and McAlister opposed. McAlister said that he generally opposed the review for failing to address significant unavoidable impacts, while Matichak said she worried it doesn't go far enough to address the surge of additional traffic.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga added a motion, which passed on a 6-0 vote, asking city staff to come back with a school strategy update early next year.

Assuming the full plan comes to fruition, the project would come with the delicate balance of 5,000 new homes and 2 million square feet of new offices along with 30 acres of parks and open space. The full build-out of the plan is expected to bring in $15.4 million in additional revenue for the city, offset by about $5.4 million in new annual expenses.

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18 people like this
Posted by Crossings Resident
a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 6, 2019 at 4:08 pm

Will there finally be a neighborhood school for NEC, like the quoted Crossings parent said? That would be great news, since the Los Altos parents seem to be trying to stop NEC from getting a neighborhood school. LASD needs to treat Mountain View neighborhoods including Crossings with the same respect as they treat Los Altos - follow through on their Measure N promises and give us a neighborhood school, especially since this is a gift from OUR city, Mountain View. Walk the walk, LASD!

4 people like this
Posted by Patrick Neschleba
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Glad to see MVWSD officials speaking up for the needs of our schools. City Council needs to be collaborative with the District and other local education interests, and developing a strategic plan before going too far down the planning approval path is a good idea. It needs to comprehend not only how to pay for the growth, but also what kind of growth happens; if public and private schools are boxed in to current campus footprints, expansion means expensive multi-story buildings, overloaded cafeterias, more traffic congestion at dropoff and pickup, and disruption of the beautiful facilities and campus designs that Measure G gave us. Not the best experience for students, parents, residents, or the people who have to pay for all of it.

The upcoming Terra Bella vision discussion is another opportunity to ensure we have adequate land use allocated towards future school growth, which can take advantage of having Crittenden Middle School right next door. Hopeful that there will be more collaboration happening by then.

25 people like this
Posted by NEC Neighbor
a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 6, 2019 at 5:02 pm

@Crossings Resident - I hope Colleen Farley has inside information that it will be a neighborhood school, despite the LASD Workshop fiasco, where everyone saw that Sangeeth Peruri and others put their voting sheets promoting bullet voting only for BCS at the 10th site. Sangeeth has been promoting the 10th site options at the Charrettes and Workshops and outside of them, too. While he is free to speak his opinion outside of the events, he also has a personal investment interest in the immediate vicinity of the 10th site and a self-interest in that 10th site going through and, as a result, should not be involved with the district's process relating to the 10th site. LASD should not have allowed Peruri to be involved in the 10th site project in any way or let him promote the 10th site votes at the LASD-run engagement processes or otherwise - tainted the whole process!

16 people like this
Posted by NEC school
a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 6, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Hallelujah! LASD/GB teacher Colleen Farley says the San Antonio neighborhood is getting their own neighborhood school! Either she missed the Sangeeth and Peipei circus performances at the workshops or she is in the know! Great! We can all chill out now upon hearing that the LASD Trustees finally took a look in the mirror and decided to stop their own discrimination against the NEC families in the LASD and are giving them a neighborhood school. Thank our lucky stars for TDR's and MVCC! Colleen too.

8 people like this
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Nov 6, 2019 at 6:57 pm

Alex M is a registered user.

I am wondering why schools need to be sprawled out like they are. Most schools I've seen are single-story buildings. Why not a multi-story school? In my past I attended a school that had 4-story buildings. That would save valuable land space.

If land space for play areas is a concern, then just do what Terman Middle School in Palo Alto does: shared use with a park. During school hours, the school has priority on the use of the park, otherwise it's a public park.

4 people like this
Posted by How many more jobs?
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 6, 2019 at 8:04 pm

How many more jobs? is a registered user.

5,000 housing units would cover 5,000 new employees (plus families). How many new employees are contemplated in the added million square feet of development? Watch no one answer.

Like this comment
Posted by marknn
a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 6, 2019 at 9:24 pm

Well @How many jobs,
it does say 3 units for every 1000 sq feet of office. I think it basically means 3 units for every 3 employee. Given that most units have 2+ people in it, this would greatly contributing to reducing housing balance.

2 people like this
Posted by Whisman Station neighbor
a resident of Whisman Station
on Nov 7, 2019 at 8:28 am

Are there requirements around a local grocery store within walking distance?

We lack grocery stores with fresh produce and diary in that area.

That would make the neighborhood a real walkable neighborhood. Until we get some kind of grocery store, neighbors will have to drive to Safeway (Shoreline) or Nob Hill (Grant), causing more traffic in an already congested area.

2 people like this
Posted by Kevin Forestieri
Mountain View Voice Staff Writer
on Nov 7, 2019 at 9:57 am

Kevin Forestieri is a registered user.

@Whisman Station neighbor

The East Whisman Precise Plan is purportedly written to encourage a grocery store, which is described as an "essential service." The expectation is that it'll either end up in the mixed-use or Village Center portions of the map included with the story. Apparently a developer can also set aside land for neighborhood commercial uses (i.e. a grocery store) in order to comply with community benefit requirements for larger projects.

6 people like this
Posted by Gia
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 7, 2019 at 12:31 pm

This is great news but also not. The Whisman area is all a super fund site and not a great place to live. Children and pregnant women aren't supposed to play in the dirt there. It's super toxic and many people don't buy houses there because of it.

8 people like this
Posted by Randy Guelph
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Nov 7, 2019 at 12:42 pm

That's a great point, Gia. Surely this means you support increased density in the Cuesta Park neighborhood, where there are no Superfund sites.

11 people like this
Posted by Perspective
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2019 at 1:24 pm

It really only helps a little to go multistory on schools. You have a school on 10 acres of land and the actual footprint even 1-story is under 1 acre. So 10% of your land is consumed by the building, but 90% is available for outdoor space. Go to 2 stories and best case you go to 95% of space available for outdoor space.

There is indeed this group Los Altos Families for Public Education who are fighting the idea of neighborhood school here. They feel that their families are more important than the ones in this area. The problem is that so many kids live near the new school site that serving them there would decimate the size of 3 schools located in Los Altos. They would be less than half the population needed to operate a school, so they're afraid one or more would be closed. It's a question of who has more influence on the school board, the families with the $3 Million homes in Los Altos or the families who already live in the area around San Antonio or who will move in over the next 5 years as so many new apartment buildings with affordable units included are occupied.

5 people like this
Posted by Perspective
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Part of what makes this decision about school use difficult is the timing. You have this area where there is a lot of new construction which already has 900 kids attending LASD schools. They may be happy where they are and not want to change. But no change will happen for 5 years. At that point a LOT of new kids will have moved into the area around the new school. People have trouble recognizing a change like this. It's planning for the FUTURE. The school board members keep asking the current residents to provide input, but they don't have any input from the new ones who will move in. So their potential needs get ignored.

It's also hurt by a lack of visualization of what the area will look like in 5 years. There will be lots of new multistory buildings and also lots of new green space around those buildings. It's not going to be a shopping center parking lot by the time the new school opens. People are not very imaginative.

2 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Hoffman
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Nov 7, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Jeremy Hoffman is a registered user.

Great work by city council and staff on this undertaking. As long as housing and infrastructure is fully accounted for, we have little to fear from density, and so much to gain, from more inclusive communities to more people walking and biking to work and retail instead of having to drive for every trip.

Our far-flung fellow Californians are regularly, at best, stuck in hours of traffic, or, at worst, powerless, or on fire, or both.

At such a time, we should welcome increasing density, sustainably, in a place like Mountain View.

5 people like this
Posted by Hugh Jasol
a resident of Whisman Station
on Nov 7, 2019 at 3:42 pm

Have to agree with @Whisman Station neighbor, we need a decent grocery store in the neighborhood. I hate having to drive to Sunnyvale to pickup my case of Schlitz

5 people like this
Posted by Don Keedick
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 7, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Don Keedick is a registered user.

This seems like progress, but doesn't it also mean that the new Vargas Elementary will be too small to serve the expanded neighborhood? I mean, they should have refurbed Slater, kicked google out and they'd be in a better position to serve the kids of the neighborhood. the MVWS school district is really a piece of works

2 people like this
Posted by Perspective
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2019 at 3:55 pm

They can still kick Google out in 5 years, rehab Slater and combine it
with Vargas. Vargas is so small it doesn't even count. You won't need as many new buildings when the old ones at Slater are torn down to make a larger combined site school. I think the drop off might work better.

Will they start griping that the new development should give them some land
for a school? I mean Vargas/Slater is in the same neighborhood. We'll see...

4 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2019 at 8:09 pm

This concern about schools is ridiculous. My parents bought a house here in 1983. I can inherit it, continue to pay $5,000/yr in property taxes on their $3m home and send my kids to school with no additional taxes or school costs.

Developers will build new homes and their assessments will be sky high, paying huge property tax bills (which can then go toward the school district). How exactly is this new development a problem? If we need more schools, these are the only buildings in town that will be assessed at market rates for taxes. So their taxes can pay for more schools or more teachers or both.

Where is the problem? If it's anywhere, it's that MY taxes are too low due to prop 13. New development at least will bring in big tax dollars.

3 people like this
Posted by New school
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2019 at 8:33 pm

the New school at San Antonio will not be a Los Altos level quality school, because it will not have the Los Altos population.
I don’t understand the desire of the residents for the new school. Yes, they won’t have to drive, but they also won’t get a Los Altos school for MV money.

6 people like this
Posted by No 10th Site
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2019 at 8:42 pm

@New School

I've heard a couple of people in the Crossings area say that they want a neighborhood school. But, none of those have current-age elementary school kids.

I've also heard other Crossings residents say that they rather have their kids go to Los Altos for school - for obvoius reasons - lots of trees, school surrounded by houses (not tall commercial building), and Los Altos school rankings.

7 people like this
Posted by No 10th Site
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2019 at 9:21 pm

There's been allegation in numerous places that Sangeeth Peruri owns property in the vicinity of the 10th site and stand to gain financially if the 10th site deal goes through.

He has denied it, but oddly, he was in favor of Egan moving to 10th site during the Egan Debacle. Perhaps the "only" LASD-proponent that was actually in favor of it.

Now he is convincing people at the Los Altos Community Engagement Workshops that BCS should go to the 10th site.

It appears that he'll do anything to make sure the 10th site deal goes through, which 1) includes throwing Egan under the bus, and 2) supporting BCS going to 10th, which has no chance of happening.

Oh, and current LASD Board President is an employee of his company VoterCircle.

Conflicts of interest abound with the LASD Trustees.

8 people like this
Posted by No 10th Site
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:08 am

At the Los Altos community engagement workshops to decide where to place BCS, residents were told NOT to go to more than one workshop. An exception was somehow made for Sangeeth Peruri who went both times.

Keep in mind that Sangeeth is the boss (or former boss?) of current LASD BoT president Jessica Speiser.

The trustees also allowed Sangeeth to "tell" people how to vote. Sangeeth passed out guides which allowed for only one solution - BCS to 10th site - either partially or entirely.

How does Sangeeth stand to gain financially from the purchase of the 10th site. My guess would be that with 10 acres being alloted to a school/park, there will be less land available to developers. So, his land then becomes more "valuable". And maybe more density can be built on his land because the 10 acres is now not that "dense" - because of the school.

4 people like this
Posted by Former MV resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2019 at 8:40 am

Evan-- you bring up a good point: it is a preposterous feature of prop 13 that children can inherit their parent's cost basis for property tax purposes. I know of a couple former 70s HS classmates who inherted homes in Waverley Park who in turn raised their own families while paying a couple thou annually in prop taxes. A ridiculous and unfair benefit that helps create a landed gentry.

It's open to debate whether higher property taxes attached to new homes is cost effective in a high priced area like Mtn. View. Probably not as cities still prefer office development.

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