Mountain View City Council greenlights seven-story San Antonio office project | News | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View City Council greenlights seven-story San Antonio office project

Building would replace Milk Pail Market, help finance new school

A new rendering shows the latest office building design proposed by Merlone Geier at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street. Image courtesy of the city of Mountain View.

Mountain View City Council members gave tentative approval to an office project Tuesday night, the latest in a spree of high-density projects at the San Antonio shopping center.

The 4-2 vote allows the developer, Merlone Geier, to move forward with a proposal to build a seven-story, 190,000-square-foot office building at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street. The building would be slotted into a 1-acre parcel currently occupied by the Milk Pail Market, which closed in June, and single-story commercial buildings.

If approved, the project would complete a decade-long effort by Merlone Geier to create a more dense, urban western half of the shopping center. But despite the Dec. 3 vote to let the proposal move forward, council members warned that the building needs to be further refined to avoid feeling like a towering, box-shaped monolith at a corner that's meant to be pedestrian-friendly.

The proposal Tuesday was the second attempt to redevelop the corner property. In September, Merlone Geier presented a proposal to build an eight-story building with nearly a quarter-million square feet. Council members balked at the sheer size and the number of special zoning exceptions requested, and rejected allowing it to move forward on a 3-2 vote.

Since then, the building has been sanded down and adjusted to win the favor of the City Council. Overall square footage dropped by 40,000 square feet, the street-facing portion of the building was reduced to six stories, and enlarged covered walkways around the building have been added to make it more pleasant for pedestrians at one of the the neighborhood's major intersections.

The project would have ground-floor retail space and three levels of underground parking, which would be connected to adjacent parking lots built by Merlone Geier in past development phases.

Even with the adjustments, council members who voted for the project had significant reservations. Councilman John McAlister called the proposal boxy, stark and sterile, and badly in need of some kind of aesthetic improvements to the corner.

"If they come back with this I would not be very happy, to see the same square edges," he said.

Other council members in support of the project said they were willing to let the proposal move forward because of its importance to the broader development plans for the San Antonio shopping center. The Los Altos School District is planning to purchase 11.65 acres of land near the corner of Showers Drive and California Street for $155 million, and is relying heavily on developers to offset the staggering cost.

Through a process called the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), the Los Altos School District would under-develop the property as a school campus and sell to developers the remaining density rights -- about 610,000 square feet. Nearly one-fourth of that development, 150,000 square feet, was sold to Merlone Geier, which seeks to use all it to boost the density of the office building at the corner of San Antonio Road and and California Street.

Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she was uncomfortable with the amount of office space in the face of the regional housing shortage, as well as with the appearance of the building, but she wasn't ready to deny a project so integral to the school district's plans.

"I feel like as this point I want to see a school and a park, and don't want to throw a wrench in it," she said.

Mayor Lisa Matichak, who voted against the proposal, said she wasn't sold on the idea that the school district's plans would be in limbo without the seven-story office building. She said she would prefer to see housing instead of offices, and that other developers are likely willing to buy the development rights if Merlone Geier decides to pull out.

"We all want to support having a school in Mountain View, but I can do better than this when it comes to how those TDRs are used and where they're used," Matichak said.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga also voted against the proposal, which she said would turn the entire block of San Antonio Road into a "wall" of tall buildings, which wouldn't be appropriate for the California Street intersection. Housing is under construction across the street in two directions, and her hope was to reduce building heights around residential uses.

"I'm not convinced yet that this is the best use of this corner," she said.

Councilman Lucas Ramirez recused himself because he lives near the project, a potential conflict of interest.

With Tuesday's vote, City Council members have now given the green light to four projects that are seeking to use development rights purchased by the Los Altos School District. Other projects include a 460-unit housing development on East Middlefield Road and an 11-story housing development on Logue Avenue, as well as office buildings on Fairchild Drive and N. Bernardo Ave. -- all four located within the East Whisman area. Other buyers of development rights have yet to submit formal development applications.

The school district is seeking to sell 610,000 square feet of development rights for a total of $79.3 million. The district is also planning to immediately resell 2 acres of the land it purchases to the city of Mountain View for $20 million -- to be used as a city park -- and will receive $23 million in park funds from the city to operate joint-use open space adjacent to the school structures.

Add in expected developer contributions, and the school district is bringing down its share of the costs from $155 million to an estimated $27.7 million.

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38 people like this
Posted by A resident
a resident of Gemello
on Dec 5, 2019 at 12:39 pm

To paraphrase Merlone Geier "My responsibility is to my investors". What that means it to make the most money at the expense of the community. Developers are worse than used car sales man as they can have a negative impact on a community for generations.

38 people like this
Posted by Angela
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 5, 2019 at 1:02 pm

McAlister is worried about corners, and the aesthetics of the proposal??? He should be more worried about the density and traffic. So should all the council members.

40 people like this
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 5, 2019 at 1:44 pm

Oh no... space for high paying jobs. The kind every community should want. What will we do? Building it in Mountain View means I won't have the chance to take long drives on 101 or 237.

This isn't a problem. It's good.

17 people like this
Posted by E.S.
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 5, 2019 at 3:03 pm

E.S. is a registered user.

How can the City Council continue to add more business space without requiring at least the same amount of affordable and below-market housing? Also, they need to require creation of more and better public transportation to prevent greater traffic which is already heavy in the San Antonio Area.

4 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 5, 2019 at 3:12 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

I'm glad to see the Council members be 'all over the place', because city planning to allow development is REALLY, REALLY HARD. I can't myself hold the members who voted on either side up for criticism. This is a very nuanced judgement call - a very hard balancing act. I am however very, very glad that they voted down the first proposal - and forced the developer to come back with 'something better'. That is what a legislative body compromise gets - a close majority vote.
-Here is One for Civic Compromise, done well-

13 people like this
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 5, 2019 at 3:20 pm

E.S., not to sound crass (this time) or insulting, but to many of us building space for jobs that support good wages is the best way to solve affordability issues.

Did you read the other story on the Voice? Many millions in public funds to save only 44 units or so. What a waste! When was the last time anyone has said, that public housing project has been wonderful? And I'm not against public projects, but I am against repeating ideas with public funds that seemingly have low probability of genuinely solving problems.

21 people like this
Posted by Santa Rita Mom
a resident of The Crossings
on Dec 5, 2019 at 3:28 pm

Santa Rita Mom is a registered user.

Another hideous building dictated by an out-of-town builder and sanctioned by a city council that values dollars signs over quality of life. Yet these are the same people who have the gall to attempt to dictate how LASD can use the site they are purchasing.

This city council creates problems, then pats themselves on the back for coming up another lousy decision to "fix" the problem they caused. Nauseating.

34 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2019 at 3:41 pm

There is a simple word to describe this proposed building: STUPID; and another simple word to describe the rendering: UGLY. The entire city council is being outsmarted by this developer; Mountain View does not NEED ONE MORE SQUARE FOOT OF OFFICE SPACE at this time. It is unbelievably shortsighted to continue building offices when there is such a housing shortage EVERYWHERE in the Bay Area.

Many of us have chosen to live in Mountain View because of the type/size of town it was; if we wanted to live/work in high density high rise buildings we would move to one of thousands of cities around the world, likewise we are not interested in living in a rural area. Why are we being forced to live like rats just because some are greedy (developers) or selfish (more jobs, more jobs = solving affordability issues)??

Why not give our town a bit of time to integrate all the new buildings (both office & residential), traffic, and population demands on city services (water, schools, police, fire, etc) BEFORE adding any more buildings?

16 people like this
Posted by Diablo
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 5, 2019 at 5:27 pm

Wait, Mountain View gives LASD extremely valuable development rights so they can purchase this San Antonio/California/Showers property for a school, then they turn around and buy back one acre at $20M for a park!? Am I missing something here? Even Trump makes better real estate deals than this.

And as far as the Milk Pail property, I hope Steve Rasmussen got a good retirement out of this, for all the battles over it. I assumed it would eventually be offices, but seven stories and close to 200K sq feet!? The aesthetics of it to bother me too much, as it was run-down before, and I don't understand the complaints about it not being pedestrian-friendly - that ship sailed long ago. It's the density and traffic in the whole area that is a problem. Just wait 'til those apartments going up on Fayette Drive come online.

And yeah, traffic. The City doesn't worry themselves too much about that. And if/when they pretend to care, it's disingenuous, because their actions prove otherwise, again and again. The San Antonio/El Camino area will be total gridlock by the time they're done. I keep thinking none of the council members must live over here or they wouldn't be burdening this already congested area with more density. I was wrong, Ramirez evidently does, but since he recused himself, he can't help block any of this.

16 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2019 at 7:56 pm

Does the MV Council read the news?!!! There were community engagement workshops to vote on what do with Bullis Charter school, and LASD President Jessica Speiser allowed her boss Sangeeth Peruri to ENTER the workshop and pass out Voter Guides INTRUCTING the voters to vote for having Bullis go to the new school at San Antonio.

If LASD has their way, then this means MV Council is giving LASD $100M+ to educate Bullis students, 80% of who reside in Los Altos.

You think the office buildings will cause gridlock?!!! It will pale in comparison to the gridlock that will be caused by the 800+ Bullis students living in Los ALtos - all trying to drive to school at the hours of 8:00 to 8:25. I think we can all forget about using San Antonio as an onramp once the school opens.

13 people like this
Posted by LMBZ
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Dec 5, 2019 at 8:03 pm

LMBZ is a registered user.

I hope they add at least 80 parking spots.....for RV's.

14 people like this
Posted by Amanda
a resident of The Crossings
on Dec 6, 2019 at 10:10 am

The artist's rendering is deceptive. It would appear to have the sun rising in the north the way the shadows surrounding buildings' shadows are depicted. The council are fools to allow such a large building there. It wall cast a huge shadows across the street on the site of the housing being built on the old Safeway site.

6 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2019 at 10:16 am

It is ridiculous that Ramirez recused himself. Totally irresponsible! The "conflict of interest" recusal is supposed to be for FINANCIAL conflict of interest! Not because you live nearby to a project!

8 people like this
Posted by Parkland
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2019 at 11:12 am

This idea of a school would be good if LASD were serious about it,
but they are not. It's just a park that is being built on the land
they are buying.

It's pretty good for Mountain View to trick LASD into giving
them $27 Million to pay for a park for the area.....
LASD isn't treating it seriously as a school at all. They
really should relocate the Covington Elementary School
there because half of the kids in that attendance area live
right across the street from the park site, or they will
once the new Greystar project is built and occupied. It's going
to really beef up the number of kids from the Crossings who
currently make up a large portion of Covington.

But LASD still plans to force all 300 of these kids to travel
3 miles away to a school on Foothill Expressway which otherwise
doesn't have enough kids to operate.

I wish the city council would TELL LASD how to use the school.

9 people like this
Posted by reader
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2019 at 11:52 am

I look at the illustration and wonder how accurate it is. It seems that the sidewalks and area around trees are far larger in the illustration in comparision to the buildings than in real life. It seems they might even be more than 15 feet wide if this is to scale. At least the streets and sidewalks seems wider, cleaner and more pleasant than any real street corner with such a building ever looks to me in real life.

The size of things should be accurate and typical traffic should be shown along with the current smog and dirt and other things. Real sunlight levels and views would be nice too. And be from a place people would safely and actually stand on the ground.

Just saying...

9 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2019 at 8:04 pm

The article says "Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she was uncomfortable with the amount of office space in the face of the regional housing shortage, as well as with the appearance of the building, but she wasn't ready to deny a project so integral to the school district's plans."

So, MV Council let a monstrosity be built so that LASD can build a school in the former shopping mall that few, if any, parent would want to send their kids to?!

Did LASD threaten to write a nasty letter to MV Council and then cc multiple people in the California legislature if they didn't get their way? You know, just like how they wrote a nasty letter to Santa Clara County about Bullis, making outrageous accusations without close to zero evidence?!

MV Council - please wake up - this is not an entity that negotiates fairly. If you don't do what they say EXACTLY, they will treat you like they have treated Santa Clara County and Bullis. Wouldn't be at all surprised if they end up DEMANDING that MV Council retract the requirement that the new school serve MV students.

One would think it's a fair requirement that contribution of $100M by MV for a school built in Mountain View would serve Mountain View students. One would be wrong. Very wrong. LASD has no intention of serving MV students - check out the news on the Los Altos engagement workshops.

The new school is just a weapon that LASD can use in their never-ending war against Bullis. Sad that MV Council enabled them.

4 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2019 at 10:18 pm

Looks better than some of our buildings on University here in Palo Alto. Just be sure it has enough parking. And nice landscaping.

7 people like this
Posted by Resifent
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 10, 2019 at 7:39 am

Why not have some green requirements for whatever is built there- solar panels, roof garden or vertical plant walls, energy efficiency, etc.? So much concrete only adds to the heat in the area, and cities need to start thinking differently about building . How about policies that help the environment, not harm it?

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