In response to some rumors and misinformation floating around town, the League of Women Voters and city officials want to set the record straight: shopping centers like Blossom Valley and Grant Park Plaza are not closing, nor are they likely to be redeveloped any time soon.
The League’s Los Altos-Mountain View Chapter President Karin Bricker said she first heard the rumors brought up during a League Housing Committee meeting. Then, she saw a post on NextDoor that claimed Nob Hill Foods on Grant Road was closing.
“I shop there, so I went to the manager and said, ‘I hear you’re going to close,’ and he was like, ‘No, no, it’s just spreading, it’s this wild rumor,’” Bricker told the Voice. ‘He said, ‘We are not closing.’”
The League of Women Voters is an organization focused on voters’ rights but also advocates for issues important to voters, like health care, immigration and housing.
The false rumors about Mountain View shopping centers closing seem to have sprung from city council discussions around updating Mountain View’s zoning ordinance to give shopping centers a mixed-use designation. Mixed-use means that both commercial and residential are allowed on a site.
But updating the zoning for shopping centers does not mean those sites are suddenly going to be redeveloped, Bricker said. In fact, the city’s general plan already designated these sites as mixed-use 10 years ago. The plan created a new land use designation called “village centers,” and included shopping plazas like Blossom Valley and Grant Park Plaza in this category.
“These are envisioned as mixed-use commercial centers within walking distance of residences, and with improved pedestrian and bicycle connectivity to the rest of the city,” the 2012 general plan states.
While the general plan establishes a high-level vision for how the city will approach future development, the city’s zoning ordinance controls how that development actually pans out. The two documents are meant to be aligned — and per Senate Bill 1333, which passed in 2018, cities are legally required to make their general plans and zoning ordinances consistent with one another.
“Mountain View, for the most part, has zoning that is consistent with the general plan,” Mayor Lucas Ramirez told the Voice. “But not every property.”
Ramirez said one of the biggest gaps between the city’s general plan and zoning ordinance are the village centers.
“The general plan allows for mixed-use development with residential uses, but the zoning was never changed to implement that general plan designation,” Ramirez said of the village centers. “What SB 1333 requires us to do is put in place a zoning that is consistent with, that conforms to, the general plan. That’s, in part, why we have to do this.”
Under the state’s Housing Accountability Act, if a residential project complies with either the general plan or the zoning ordinance, cities aren’t legally allowed to deny it. This means that, even under current zoning, a developer today could theoretically pursue a residential project at a village center because of the general plan’s mixed-use designation.
The city is slated to approve zoning ordinance updates in January, Ramirez said. But when it does, shopping center sites aren’t suddenly going to be flooded with residential development proposals.
“There has not been any indication that any of these property owners are interested in residential development,” Ramirez said.
If a property owner becomes interested in redeveloping a village center site sometime in the future, updating the zoning ordinance today actually gives the city more control over what that development can look like, Ramirez explained.
“In addition to complying with state law, it’s in the best interest of the city to put in place development standards that help implement the general plan so we can guide the project in a way that is more compatible with our community vision for these areas,” he said. “That’s how we can do things like require minimum amounts of retail. We can require ground floor, active uses.”
“We can better guarantee outcomes that meet the expectations of our community.”