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With Mountain View poised to grow by 15,000 units, planning commissioners worry about parks, utilities and public services

Committee discusses whether the draft EIR for the Housing Element properly addressed the impacts of massive growth

Mountain View is planning for significant housing growth over the next eight years, putting pressure on infrastructure, parks and utilities. Photo by Sammy Dallal

Mountain View’s proposed housing element update – a state-mandated process that shows cities can meet housing targets set by Sacramento – suggests that the city will be able to build out nearly 15,000 new units of housing in the next eight years. That’s nearly 4,000 more units than what the state is requiring of the city, leaving some community groups concerned that the plan is too ambitious.

Like any plan for major development, the housing element must first go through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, which requires environmental review before the plan can be approved. The Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission reviewed the housing element’s draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) at its Aug. 3 meeting, giving commissioners and the public alike a chance to weigh in on the findings.

Growth impacts

The EIR evaluated the potential environmental impacts associated with building 15,000 new housing units over the next eight years.

If that maximum scenario is ultimately approved, the city is looking at a 40% increase to its overall housing stock, Commissioner Hank Dempsey pointed out at the meeting.

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“That’s huge. That is absolutely huge of an impact,” Dempsey said. “I think that’s important to reinforce because we’re talking about a level of growth, and trying to guess at the impacts of a level of growth, that I don’t know that Mountain View’s ever seen.”

The housing element EIR sorted potential impacts of this growth into three categories: those which have less than significant or no impact on the environment, those that are significant impact but can be mitigated and those with significant and unavoidable impacts. EIRs look at everything from aesthetics and air quality to hazardous materials and hydrology.

The city's review found that while the housing element would have an impact on things like cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions and utilities systems, they could be reasonably mitigated.

For instance, the draft EIR found that projects would generate greenhouse gas emissions. To mitigate that, the EIR proposes that housing element projects provide additional electric vehicle charging infrastructure and implement reduction measures for vehicle miles traveled.

The study found that the high level of growth would have an impact on air quality so significant that there is no way to fully mitigate it. But city Senior Planner Ellen Yau emphasized that individual projects will still be required to conduct a site-specific analysis to determine whether further environmental review is required.

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“As a program EIR, it does not provide detailed analysis that a project-level EIR would,” Yau said. “Instead, this EIR, you should really look at it as a disclosure of potential environmental impacts that might be anticipated if the maximum scenario of the housing element update is built out at the broad scale that it’s proposed.”

Raising concerns

During the Aug. 3 meeting, multiple commissioners said they worried about the city’s ability to meet the infrastructural needs required by 15,000 new units. Commissioners questioned whether there would be enough water to provide utilities to this many units.

City officials say they believe there is enough water for the future growth, despite concerns about dry years.

“I think there’s a lot of questions, of course, about drought,” city Civil Engineer Renee Gunn said. "... We do have (enough) supply, based off of what we have been told right now from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who runs Hetch Hetchy,” the reservoir that supplies most of Mountain View’s water.

"The drought restrictions that are in place right now are not because we don’t have the supply," she said. "They are because we have been told there is a statewide supply issue, and everybody needs to conserve."

Mountain View YIMBY, a housing advocacy group, submitted comments ahead of the meeting expressing concerns that 15,000 units is too ambitious relative to what the city can actually achieve over the next eight years, the scope of the housing element update.

“The city claims it can accommodate 14,783 units, but a more realistic estimate is 9,941,” the group wrote in its own analysis. “The primary drivers of this discrepancy are the city’s false assumption that 100% of pending projects will be built out by 2031 when historical data shows a third of pending units fail to be built in eight years.”

When asked by Commissioner Preeti Hehmeyer to respond to the group's claim, city staff disagreed.

“That is not what our analysis finds,” Advance Planning Manager Eric Anderson said. “It’s certainly the case that some projects go through multiple iterations of developers, and it’s certainly the case that sometimes projects do get hung up for a while. … That being said, looking at all of these other sites where we’ve had a developer moving forward, and they withdraw, another developer comes in almost immediately.”

Commissioners also raised concerns about the population increase associated with 15,000 new units, which the city estimates could be around 65,000 people. The draft EIR asserted that this increase would have a less than significant impact on things like public services and recreation.

“The fact that (the) Mountain View Los Altos High School District is already over capacity and is going to have more students, was not addressed,” Commission Chair William Cranston said of the draft EIR. “... That seems like an unavoidable impact.”

Past program EIRs have found that significant residential growth would not have an impact on local schools because developer fees are, at least theoretically, enough to offset the costs of building more capacity for additional students.

School district officials, on the other hand, say the cost of building additional schools and classrooms far exceeds what developer fees provide.

Cranston said that city departments like parks and recreation and public safety would also see major impacts from such rapid population growth.

“I can’t imagine going from 80,000 people to 140,000 people with the parks that we have today and nobody notices,” he said. “It doesn’t sit right with me.”

City staff will prepare responses to all the comments and concerns raised by both commissioners and members of the public, Senior Planner Yau said. The public can continue to submit written comments on the draft EIR until Sept. 5.

“We look forward to seeing all this in a response,” Cranston said.

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Malea Martin covers the city hall beat in Mountain View. Before joining the Mountain View Voice in 2022, she covered local politics and education for New Times San Luis Obispo, a weekly newspaper on the Central Coast of California. Read more >>

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With Mountain View poised to grow by 15,000 units, planning commissioners worry about parks, utilities and public services

Committee discusses whether the draft EIR for the Housing Element properly addressed the impacts of massive growth

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Aug 4, 2022, 12:42 pm

Mountain View’s proposed housing element update – a state-mandated process that shows cities can meet housing targets set by Sacramento – suggests that the city will be able to build out nearly 15,000 new units of housing in the next eight years. That’s nearly 4,000 more units than what the state is requiring of the city, leaving some community groups concerned that the plan is too ambitious.

Like any plan for major development, the housing element must first go through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, which requires environmental review before the plan can be approved. The Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission reviewed the housing element’s draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) at its Aug. 3 meeting, giving commissioners and the public alike a chance to weigh in on the findings.

Growth impacts

The EIR evaluated the potential environmental impacts associated with building 15,000 new housing units over the next eight years.

If that maximum scenario is ultimately approved, the city is looking at a 40% increase to its overall housing stock, Commissioner Hank Dempsey pointed out at the meeting.

“That’s huge. That is absolutely huge of an impact,” Dempsey said. “I think that’s important to reinforce because we’re talking about a level of growth, and trying to guess at the impacts of a level of growth, that I don’t know that Mountain View’s ever seen.”

The housing element EIR sorted potential impacts of this growth into three categories: those which have less than significant or no impact on the environment, those that are significant impact but can be mitigated and those with significant and unavoidable impacts. EIRs look at everything from aesthetics and air quality to hazardous materials and hydrology.

The city's review found that while the housing element would have an impact on things like cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions and utilities systems, they could be reasonably mitigated.

For instance, the draft EIR found that projects would generate greenhouse gas emissions. To mitigate that, the EIR proposes that housing element projects provide additional electric vehicle charging infrastructure and implement reduction measures for vehicle miles traveled.

The study found that the high level of growth would have an impact on air quality so significant that there is no way to fully mitigate it. But city Senior Planner Ellen Yau emphasized that individual projects will still be required to conduct a site-specific analysis to determine whether further environmental review is required.

“As a program EIR, it does not provide detailed analysis that a project-level EIR would,” Yau said. “Instead, this EIR, you should really look at it as a disclosure of potential environmental impacts that might be anticipated if the maximum scenario of the housing element update is built out at the broad scale that it’s proposed.”

Raising concerns

During the Aug. 3 meeting, multiple commissioners said they worried about the city’s ability to meet the infrastructural needs required by 15,000 new units. Commissioners questioned whether there would be enough water to provide utilities to this many units.

City officials say they believe there is enough water for the future growth, despite concerns about dry years.

“I think there’s a lot of questions, of course, about drought,” city Civil Engineer Renee Gunn said. "... We do have (enough) supply, based off of what we have been told right now from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who runs Hetch Hetchy,” the reservoir that supplies most of Mountain View’s water.

"The drought restrictions that are in place right now are not because we don’t have the supply," she said. "They are because we have been told there is a statewide supply issue, and everybody needs to conserve."

Mountain View YIMBY, a housing advocacy group, submitted comments ahead of the meeting expressing concerns that 15,000 units is too ambitious relative to what the city can actually achieve over the next eight years, the scope of the housing element update.

“The city claims it can accommodate 14,783 units, but a more realistic estimate is 9,941,” the group wrote in its own analysis. “The primary drivers of this discrepancy are the city’s false assumption that 100% of pending projects will be built out by 2031 when historical data shows a third of pending units fail to be built in eight years.”

When asked by Commissioner Preeti Hehmeyer to respond to the group's claim, city staff disagreed.

“That is not what our analysis finds,” Advance Planning Manager Eric Anderson said. “It’s certainly the case that some projects go through multiple iterations of developers, and it’s certainly the case that sometimes projects do get hung up for a while. … That being said, looking at all of these other sites where we’ve had a developer moving forward, and they withdraw, another developer comes in almost immediately.”

Commissioners also raised concerns about the population increase associated with 15,000 new units, which the city estimates could be around 65,000 people. The draft EIR asserted that this increase would have a less than significant impact on things like public services and recreation.

“The fact that (the) Mountain View Los Altos High School District is already over capacity and is going to have more students, was not addressed,” Commission Chair William Cranston said of the draft EIR. “... That seems like an unavoidable impact.”

Past program EIRs have found that significant residential growth would not have an impact on local schools because developer fees are, at least theoretically, enough to offset the costs of building more capacity for additional students.

School district officials, on the other hand, say the cost of building additional schools and classrooms far exceeds what developer fees provide.

Cranston said that city departments like parks and recreation and public safety would also see major impacts from such rapid population growth.

“I can’t imagine going from 80,000 people to 140,000 people with the parks that we have today and nobody notices,” he said. “It doesn’t sit right with me.”

City staff will prepare responses to all the comments and concerns raised by both commissioners and members of the public, Senior Planner Yau said. The public can continue to submit written comments on the draft EIR until Sept. 5.

“We look forward to seeing all this in a response,” Cranston said.

Comments

madouglas2
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Aug 4, 2022 at 2:51 pm
madouglas2, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 2:51 pm

The concerns of the Commissioners are wholly justified. It is difficult enough to forecast the implications of state-mandated housing on infrastructure, traffic, quality of life, shopping and access to recreational and leisure services alone. Shooting for an additional 4,000 housing units - and a population growth of a whopping 75% - requires significant scrutiny and a clear articulation of trade-offs and benefits to the taxpayers that are anything but self-evident to this reader.


Concerned
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Aug 4, 2022 at 4:08 pm
Concerned, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 4:08 pm

This is madness! Clearly a ploy of lets ask for the moon and take something lesser. How can we build community with inferior infrastructure and apartments that attract tech workers who get Google on their resume and then move on. It appears anything east of El Camino is fair game, excluding Old Mountain View. Indeed in Old MV they are developing a new park where anywhere else in the city it would be more apartments. The haves and have nots!


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2022 at 4:39 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 4:39 pm

It's not going to be 15,000 units. The city's analysis is fudged.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Aug 4, 2022 at 4:49 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 4:49 pm

"Concerned" raises a good point about growth disparities across Mountain View.

As City grows, we should move away from at-large election towards district ones. This would insure one neighborhood (like Old Mountain View) is not over-represented on the City Council, shielded from most of the growth, hoarding a larger share of investments....

As to the EIR, it seems to be an exercise in documenting impacts that will all be unavoidable anyways, since the State is mandating Mountain View to grow.


Steven Goldstein
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2022 at 5:19 pm
Steven Goldstein, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 5:19 pm

Just understand,

Given the current Real Estate situation, many of these permits are likely to go undeveloped. Approving a project versus projects completed tends to be a lot less then promised.

Given that the property values are in correction state, the cost of the building will be highest now, yet sales of the projects are most likely going to be off by as much as 20% of projected sales.

Many projects are already being stopped in CA.


JustAWorkingStiff
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2022 at 7:20 pm
JustAWorkingStiff, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2022 at 7:20 pm

My impression is most of the MV housing growth is targeted for the neighborhoods.
While not putting the greatest density next to the Transit Village (CalTrain/VTA/Bus/Shuttles)

This is backwards.

In fact, most cities put their density near the main transit hubs (e.g BART stations/CalTrain)

Putting density in the neighborhoods also
- makes it harder to upgrade sewer, water, electrical capacity
Makes it harder to get to the Transit Village - first and last mile of a commute is often the hardest.
- we don't have a well developed mass transit system like SF or Berkeley

Is there some other agenda going on here?
This seems so backwards.


Add Housing
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Aug 5, 2022 at 12:07 pm
Add Housing, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2022 at 12:07 pm

Build, baby, build! To those of you concerned about adding 15,000 units, remember that Mountain View added that many units back in the 50s and 60s, and people thought that was a good thing. Why is it bad now in the 2020s? It's not. A growing city is a healthy city. A new wave of technology companies gave Mountain View a large economic opportunity, and it looks like they are stepping up to take that opportunity, although it's a little late.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 8, 2022 at 7:23 am
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 8, 2022 at 7:23 am

Not sure why funding for construction of new public schools to support a 40% increase in population did not make this list. Is this issue outside of the scope of the EPC?


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 8, 2022 at 7:58 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 8, 2022 at 7:58 pm

@Leslie; the reason we see the current MVWSD superintendent (and Board) tearing their hair out :) at this sort of "analysis" is the city staff is totally unrealistic about the cost of school building!

IF the residential builders - dedicated LAND - and if the Board started to listen to Trustee Chiang (and learned from their own excursions to SF) this school-funding problem might be mitigated.

High density / multi-story urbanized schools AND community open space.

In the '50s this was solved by multi-use suburban density schools/fields. [Bubb, Huff, Landels ...

Otherwise - the MVWSD administration is correct / ALL property taxpayers EXPECT MORE SCHOOL BONDS for paying for this new developer-residential-unit student influx.


Leslie Bain
Registered user
Cuesta Park
19 hours ago
Leslie Bain, Cuesta Park
Registered user
19 hours ago

@ Steven, thank you. As you point out, if there are insufficient funds to construct new schools, the result will either be overcrowded schools or higher taxes for existing property owners (if voters agree to raise those taxes yet again) . Meanwhile, MV Yimby leaders argue before the city council that legacy developer fees on new construction, which are collected in part to have funds to construct new schools and parks, pose a “hardship” to developers. The net result would be to shift the burden of new school construction entirely onto the backs of ordinary homeowners, rather than being a shared responsibility. Are you aware of this issue? If so, what do you think about it? In my view, a side effect of new construction is additional burden on infrastructure that we all use (our new age “commons”, so to speak). The tragedy of the commons is that we all benefit, but nobody wants to pay for its upkeep. Since new construction directly increases the population, I agree with past lawmakers who established these fees to help pay for new schools. MV Yimby leaders never explain the consequences if developer fees on new construction are not collected. Developers want to maximize their profits, of course they want to minimize their costs. It is children and parents who will suffer if new school construction is defunded.


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