One of Mountain View's largest ever office projects won the council's approval Tuesday night, paving the way for Google to build out 800,000 square feet of office buildings in North Bayshore along a stretch of Highway 101.
Dubbed the Landings project, Google is seeking to build out a large part of its tech park in a series of cascading office buildings linked together with a sawtooth roof between Rengstorff Avenue and Permanente Creek. Along with Charleston East and Bay View, the trio of projects heavily expand the tech giant's presence in the city.
The full scope of the Landings project encompasses a grand total of more than 41 acres, demolishing several smaller office buildings in the area and replacing them with close to three times the original office space. The project proposes removing a whopping 1,058 trees, but would replace them with 1,279 native and more regionally appropriate trees, about one-fourth of which will be planted offsite prior to construction.
Representatives from Google touted the project's environmental sustainability, including a geothermal system for heating and cooling and a massive solar array expected to offset 28% of the energy demand of the building. The project would also transform a segment of Permanente Creek from a narrow channel into an expanded riparian habitat, said Drew Wenzel, a development executive for Google.
Rather than wedge all of the parking needed for Landings on the site, Google is proposing to build a separate four-story parking garage with 1,709 spaces between Alta and Huff avenues. The company's development plans for Landings and Charleston East depend on the centrally located parking garage for future parking demands, making it an integral part of the proposal Tuesday.
Council members said there is a lot to like about the project itself -- along with a community benefit package for the city valued at more than $44 million -- but hanging heavy over the discussion was whether the Landings project was ever going to get built.
Multiple council members revealed at the meeting that they had met with representatives from Google and found that the company's appetite for new office space may be drying up. Partially influenced by the coronavirus pandemic and the temporary shift to remote working, Google is currently reevaluating its need for additional offices, according to council members. Google officials at the meeting did not indicate that the plans to build the Landings project were in jeopardy.
Council member Lucas Ramirez said he worries about the possibility that Google will move forward with one part of the project -- the parking garage -- and simply drop the plans to build the Landings offices, when both were intended to be built together. The city would then be stuck with a parking garage that may not have won approval on its own, an outcome he described as "immensely dissatisfying."
Other council members weren't as bothered by the prospect. Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga said the parking garage could provide much-needed parking for future office development throughout North Bayshore as a sort of central hub. Plus, the garage has the added perk of including 10,500 square feet of badly needed public retail space in the area.
"Whether Landings gets built or not, my hope is that the extra spaces can be used for future office buildings that Google plans to build in other neighborhoods," Abe-Koga said. "Everything in this area is pretty walkable and close, so this could be a centralized parking structure for future office buildings if Landings doesn't happen."
Also a lingering concern is whether ambitious plans to build thousands of homes in North Bayshore will come to fruition if they are not directly tethered to the office growth in the area. Members of the advocacy group Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning urged the City Council not to approve any massive office developments without a corresponding increase in housing.
Google is reportedly working on a development proposal called the Shorebird master plan that includes thousands of homes, which is currently in the works and will hopefully be revealed in the coming months, said Michael Tymoff, Google's real estate director. When asked whether Google can provide some kind of assurance to the community that the housing will get built, Tymoff said it comes down to trust.
"Google has demonstrated a deep commitment to housing and being a partner with the city to identify viable economic solutions to deliver that much needed housing," Tymoff said. "I think their commitment has been demonstrated in past actions, and all I can give you tonight is our word that we'll continue to partner with the city."
With the fate of the Landings project at least theoretically up in the air, council members took a cautious approach to allocating the community benefits that are tied to the office development. Notably, the company is offering $2.5 million for the city's homeless initiatives and $900,000 to fund a Magical Bridge playground at Rengstorff Park, and there was a question of whether the money would ever make it to either cause.
Given the uncertainty over Landings, Councilman John McAlister pitched that Google could just donate $900,000 to Magical Bridge out of the "good nature" of the company, but Wenzel said that amounts to a financial commitment that he wasn't cleared to make at the time of the meeting. Given the tentative nature of the project, council members ultimately voted the hold off on deciding how to spend the possible trove of community benefit money.