State housing requirements are forcing the city of Mountain View to dig deep to find ways to spur residential growth over the next eight years, including a possible mass conversion of commercial properties into housing in shopping centers and along El Camino Real.
The city released a draft site inventory map with a broad list of properties that could feasibly support new housing -- a mandatory process under the state's Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). Mountain View is required to zone for 11,135 additional homes that have a reasonable shot of being built by 2031.
Although the map includes plenty of housing in the North Bayshore and East Whisman areas, where the city has long planned for residential growth, it also includes numerous so-called "opportunity sites" where housing could be built instead of other uses without the need to rezone. These sites could support a grand total of 6,830 housing units, according to city staff, and are largely clustered along El Camino.
The site list includes everything from the Best Buy and Goodwill stores near the Sunnyvale border to the Sprouts and CVS next to the San Antonio Shopping Center. It also includes the Target on Showers Drive and the El Camino Real shopping center that's home to the World Market and Diddams party store.
The city doesn't need all of these opportunity sites to flip to residential in order to satisfy the state. City officials estimate that the full forecast of housing growth lands somewhere around 15,700 homes, which is a comfortable 41% buffer over the 11,135 units required under RHNA. But residents at the March 8 City Council meeting still voiced concerns that the plan is too cautious about rezoning and, as a result, threatens to hollow out the city's much-needed commercial space.
Ilya Gurin, a member of MV YIMBY, told council members that it's troubling that so many of the opportunity sites are shopping centers, and that the city should instead consider ramping up density in existing residential areas or expanding the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance. Resident Salim Damerdji criticized the plan as business as usual, and said that the city ignored public support for rezoning.
"What people said was pretty clear -- this housing crisis is not something we can live with, and continuing with the status quo is not working," he said.
Others felt the city was on the right track. Robert Cox, speaking on behalf of Livable Mountain View, said the housing element update is the wrong time to make sweeping zoning changes, and that the city should carefully consider newly zoned housing in individual precise plans.
The list of opportunity sites is bound to change over time and already needs to be amended. In a letter to the City Council, Matt Pear, owner of the Target at 555 Showers Drive, said he had no intention of redeveloping the site to include housing. The owners of 901-987 N. Rengstorff Avenue, a property cited for future housing, also sent a letter to the council with "serious concerns" about the feasibility of building high-density housing on the site.
If too many opportunity sites drop off the map, city officials say they have a backup plan in the form of what's called "back-pocket" rezoning areas, which could include housing units on the future Mountain View Transit Center, along Moffett Boulevard and mixed-use villages within places like the Grant Park Plaza, the Blossom Valley Shopping Center and properties near N. Rengstorff Avenue and Old Middlefield Way.
Mountain View City Council members largely backed the proposed site inventory, but took no formal action at the study session. On a series of tight 4-3 votes, the council told staff to consider adding all shopping centers that allow for housing under the city's general plan into the site inventory, as well as church sites and government buildings that do not have a historic designation. In all three cases, Mayor Lucas Ramirez and council members Alison Hicks, Pat Showalter and Sally Lieber voted in favor.
Hicks suggested that the city also explore housing in the area south of El Camino Hospital, currently home to older, single-story medical offices, an idea that moved forward on a 5-2 vote. She said El Camino Hospital could replace surface parking with offices on its campus and make room for residential growth.
"I think there's the potential to keep the medical offices there -- some critical offices -- while adding housing," she said.
Although the city made sweeping changes to North Bayshore and East Whisman, now zoned for up to 9,850 homes and 5,000 homes respectively, not all of those units can apply to this RHNA cycle. Both areas are projected to be built out over multiple decades, meaning the city can only claim partial credit when reporting housing plans to the state through 2031. By the city's estimates, about 3,365 units in North Bayshore and 1,100 units in East Whisman can be added to the housing forecast, which will be spearheaded by Google.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga pushed back on the idea that the city was maintaining the status quo, and said that the city has proactively zoned for housing in between mandatory housing element updates. She said future RHNA cycles will once again prompt the city to take a hard look at ways to increase housing stock, and that Mountain View doesn't get extra credit for going above and beyond.
"This is frankly, for me, a reporting exercise that we do to the state to show that we are not hindering housing production, and I don't think we've done that in any form, at least as long as I've been on council," Abe-Koga said.