Thousands of new homes are coming to Mountain View over the next decade as a result of state housing requirements and the city has spent recent years making extensive plans for this growth. What remains an open question is how local school districts will find the money to accommodate the expected influx of students.
With Google's massive, 7,000-unit project in North Bayshore on the horizon, tensions are rising. The city and school districts have had public disagreements over how many students will actually move into the new units, what the cost will be to educate them and who should foot the bill. District officials have warned that they may have to cover fields and blacktops with portable classroom buildings, impacting the community's access to this open space.
While local school districts aren't governed by the city -- they have their own elected boards -- they often have projects and priorities that overlap or conflict with the city of Mountain View's interests. City and school officials have long negotiated agreements on everything from community use of school fields to subsidized teacher housing to traffic safety.
In recent years, the massive growth of the tech industry and the resulting spike in property values, combined with an expected population boom from planned housing developments, has substantially raised the stakes for long-running negotiations between the city and school districts.
Most recently, the Mountain View Whisman (MVWSD) and Mountain View Los Altos Union High (MVLA) school districts wrote letters arguing that the city was substantially downplaying the impact that Google's North Bayshore Master Plan development would have on local schools.
The city stresses the importance of ensuring that more housing gets built, particularly as Mountain View faces a state requirement to plan for the creation of over 11,000 additional units in the next eight years. City officials also argue that they have limited options to compel developers to provide benefits to local schools, beyond those required by law.
Both school districts have emphasized that their concerns about funding don't mean they oppose development in North Bayshore. Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph told the Voice that he supports housing growth in Mountain View, particularly to make sure students from low-income families have places to live, but he wants to a plan for how to pay to educate them.
"We've got to do this intelligently," Rudolph said. "And I do applaud the city for planning for how to welcome more people. I just think we need to welcome more kids also."
The dispute is complicated by an unusual tax arrangement in the portion of Mountain View where Google is building. Dating back to the 1960s, the Shoreline Regional Park Community Fund directs nearly all tax revenue from the Shoreline area to the city's coffers, diverting millions of dollars annually that would otherwise fund local schools. A 10-year deal that rerouted some of that money back to MVWSD and MVLA expires this year and an agreement to extend it is still up in the air.
“There will probably be a number of solutions,” said Mayor Alison Hicks in an interview. “I don’t think there’s going to be one thing that will address this situation.”
Google's construction plans for North Bayshore
Google wants to transform a roughly 150-acre portion of North Bayshore, which lies north of Highway 101, into 3.15 million square feet of office space, nearly 250,000 square feet of retail and 7,000 housing units, while also setting aside land for parks, open space and community facilities. To address the influx of new residents the project will bring, there have also been proposals for Google to give land to the city for a new Mountain View Whisman school.
Google's plans for North Bayshore took a step forward in December when the city released its draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the project, which details the effects it would have on everything from air quality and noise to public services like schools.
But some aspects of the DEIR raised red flags for local school districts. MVWSD disagrees with the city's determination that the district’s existing campuses could house all the new students generated by Google's project. MVLA took issue with the idea that existing school impact fees paid by developers would be sufficient to offset the increased costs of additional high school students to the district.
The city of Mountain View released the final EIR on April 11, which includes formal responses to the districts' letters and revisions to the expected impact of the project.
Disagreements over student growth
The disagreement between the city and school districts centers around predicting how many new students will move into the area as a result of the thousands of new housing units that Mountain View is required to plan for – and in particular, the 7,000 new housing units Google plans to construct. The city and schools also don't agree on whether existing schools can accommodate them.
The DEIR included an estimate that 1,471 additional elementary and middle school students would be generated by Google's project and concluded that they would all fit at the existing local schools -- Monta Loma Elementary and Crittenden Middle. Google’s development falls within both schools' attendance boundaries. The EIR says there’s currently room for 189 additional students at Monta Loma and 476 at Crittenden, but doesn't explain where the other 800-plus new students would go.
School officials say they were caught off guard by the draft EIR.
"This is the first time that you've seen a report clearly state that those kids need to be housed on Monta Loma and Crittenden," Rudolph said, adding that the document didn't guarantee that the district would receive land for a new school site. "All of that together really created a sense of concern amongst trustees and school district staff that we may need to revisit everything."
The final version of the EIR softened the language to say that "most" of these students could fit at Monta Loma and Crittenden and reduces the number of expected students to 1,321, a change that Mountain View city officials attribute to a reduction in the number of affordable units Google plans to build.
Either way, city staff believes the student projections are overstated.
“When you look at the kinds of units that are going to get built in North Bayshore, and you’re looking at the student generation rates in the types of developments that have recently been built … you are seeing lower rates,” said Mountain View Assistant City Manager and Community Development Director Aarti Shrivastava. “They’re targeted more towards young couples or young adults.”
Staff said the city will be hiring a demographer to take another look at potential student generation rates from North Bayshore.
According to Shrivastava, the district's calculations didn't consider the size of the homes being built, an assertion that Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph disputed. The district continues to update its estimates as Google's project evolves and believes there's “clearly a need for a new school,” Rudolph said.
The district is also concerned that the environmental review process considers Google's project in isolation. Lots of other housing is on the horizon that will also impact schools, Rudolph said.
But with Google’s development expected to be built over multiple decades, and given that the students generated by the new housing will vary in age, city staff say the districts wouldn't have to accommodate the full number at any single point.
“A 30-year period where some of these students would come would imply that not all of the students would be around at the same time,” Shrivastava said.
According to Rudolph, the 1,471 figure represents the number of additional K-8 students that Mountain View Whisman would see in any given year, once Google's project is complete.
When it comes to the high school district, both versions of the EIR acknowledge that Mountain View High would not have capacity to fit the 600 to 700 new students that are projected. However, as far as state law goes, the EIRs state that developer fees constitute "full mitigation" of the impacts of new development.
“This is not accurate,” MVLA Superintendent Nellie Meyer wrote in a letter to the city. “In reality, developer fees are woefully inadequate, covering less than 10% of actual school construction and land costs in the city of Mountain View.”
City staff emphasized that they can’t legally force a developer to pay more fees than they’re required to under state statute. Any additional benefits offered by Google, beyond what’s required, must be completely voluntary.
Possible impacts to open space
As the disagreement heats up over how the school districts should accommodate a potential influx of new students, residents’ access to playgrounds and sports fields on school campuses is being thrown into question.
The city and MVWSD currently have agreements allowing the public to use open spaces on school campuses when classes aren't in session – such as at Monta Loma and Castro elementaries – and in return, the city takes care of their maintenance. Negotiations have been ongoing in recent years to update those agreements, but district officials paused those talks in response to the EIR.
At a March 2 school board meeting, MVWSD staff said that if the city believes all the students are supposed to fit at Crittenden and Monta Loma, the district would need to put portable classrooms on the schools' fields and blacktops.
"We need everyone to understand that if we do not collaboratively come up with a solution to house our kids, open space will be drastically different down the road," Rudolph told the board.
Rudolph estimated that 45 portables would have to be added to Monta Loma if all of the projected students materialize. In a rendering that he showed the school board, the school's open space would effectively be blanketed in portable buildings, with only the baseball field left.
According to city officials, roughly 50% of Mountain View's neighborhood parks are provided via district-opened open spaces.
“I don't think there's any world where they’re going to have to put portables all over Monta Loma park. … There are many better solutions,” Mayor Hicks said. “There's no reason they have to move in that direction.”
What the alternative direction might be, Hicks said, is still up in the air.
“Honestly I've talked to both residents and school board members about a plethora of solutions, and I think at this point, everything's on the table,” she said. “... I think we’re going down a good path where we can work with the school board members to come up with a solution.”
Rudolph emphasized that the Mountain View Whisman district doesn't intend to cut the public off from using its open space, but wants any agreement to account for the new students.
Building a new school
One idea in the works to make sure there's room for every student is to build a new Mountain View Whisman school on a piece of Google-owned land within the North Bayshore Master Plan area. A 4-acre site has been identified, but the school district has expressed reservations over its small size and the lack of certainty that the proposal will come to fruition. The size and location of the proposed school site has changed a number of times since the idea was first tossed around, but is currently proposed for 1345 Shorebird Way, on the eastern edge of the Master Plan area.
"We just want to see it in writing," Rudolph said.
Google plans to give the property to the city, which would then lease it to Mountain View Whisman when an additional campus becomes necessary. In the interim, the property could be used as park space, which makes district officials worried: They don’t want the community to get used to having a new park, only to have that taken away when it's time to develop it into a school, Rudolph said.
The other issue is the size of the site. At 4 acres, the new school would be less than half the size of Mountain View Whisman's typical elementary schools.
During the April 3 meeting, council members suggested that a new school could be built multiple stories high, as is often the case with urban schools. Rudolph confirmed the district is prepared to build an urban school design, despite its preference for a bigger campus.
Shoreline Community: A source of contention
The disagreements over how schools will accommodate the students generated by Google's North Bayshore development plans are complicated by a special tax district that diverts money away from school districts and other public agencies.
The Shoreline Regional Park Community Fund is one of only two such tax districts in California, and includes the area Google plans to develop. Established in 1969, the vast majority of the tax revenue from the Shoreline area goes to the city of Mountain View.
It was intended to fund improvements to the region, which at the time was largely undeveloped, save for the landfill that became Shoreline Park. Fifty years later, the land has skyrocketed in value and is now home to some of the world's most prominent technology companies, including Google.
Schools typically receive a large portion of city property tax revenue, but not in the Shoreline Community – something that’s been a point of tension over the years.
Local school districts' concerns have only grown as land values, and the resulting tax revenue, have increased with the explosive growth of the tech industry.
In a compromise, 10 years ago the city and the school districts entered into a joint powers agreement (JPA) to ensure that the school districts get some of the tax revenue. The current JPA expires on June 30 and coming to a new agreement is proving challenging.
City and district staff have been negotiating since 2019, but according to an April 3 city staff report, “it has become clear that more time is needed to craft a long-term agreement.”
In November, the JPA board (composed of Mountain View’s city manager and the two districts’ superintendents) sought to develop a short-term agreement to ensure that the school districts receive at least as much money as last fiscal year --$5.3 million for MVWSD and $3.4 million for MVLA.
The school districts believe they should be getting a larger piece of the pie. Last year's payments are less than half of what the districts would receive if the tax district didn’t exist at all, MVLA Superintendent Meyer wrote in her letter.
Negotiating a new JPA
Responding to the mounting tensions, the Mountain View City Council held an April 3 study session and agreed unanimously to move forward with negotiating a short-term agreement on sharing the special tax district revenue.
The city staff recommendation for that short-term plan is to largely maintain the status quo: the districts get the same cut that they received last year, adjusted to account for property taxes growth, plus an extra one-time payment amounting to 10% of the property tax increase. The full payment would also get into the districts’ hands sooner: Upon execution of the agreement, rather than at the end of the year, as is typical.
As for an eventual long-term deal, the city’s vision is to increase payments to the school districts over time, but also continue to fund the remaining development needs of the Shoreline Community – things like maintaining Shoreline Park, adding transportation and utility infrastructure, and mitigating sea level rise.
School officials argue that the districts should be receiving payments equivalent to what they’d get if the special tax district didn't exist – and that those payments should start now.
Rudolph argues that children currently in the school system should benefit from the tax revenue that is going to come in as a result of Google's ongoing development in the area. With more money coming from Google's developments, it will also be easier for the city to both fund its needs in the area and give schools their full tax increment, he said.
The current JPA was amended in 2019 to give the districts their full tax allocation on all new residential development, a stipulation that city staff said the short-term agreement would also include.
While Rudolph stressed that it's good the district is getting its full tax allotment for new residential development, he wants to see the same deal on new commercial construction. According to Rudolph, Mountain View Whisman's property tax funding currently is roughly equally split between commercial and residential buildings.
What comes next
If the districts received their full tax increment from the Shoreline Community, Mountain View Whisman Chief Business Officer Rebecca Westover said the school district “could reduce class size at the elementary and middle school, provide an additional adult in every classroom to the primary grades and have dedicated counselors at every site.”
Ramberg said that, from the city’s perspective, the districts’ desire to receive their full tax rate allocation “is tantamount to defunding the Shoreline Community and its essential purposes, and would have a disastrous impact on the city’s general fund.”
Rudolph disputed that idea.
"We're not arguing for the dissolving of the Shoreline tax district," Rudolph said. "No one's arguing that there aren't other needs that exist out there."
Ramberg said that right before the April 3 council meeting, the city received an edited draft of the short-term agreement from MWVSD and that staff is currently reviewing the suggested changes. In the draft, school districts ask for their full tax rate allocation from the Shoreline Community – which means the two parties have more negotiating to do. Ramberg said city staff aims to respond to the districts by late April. The final EIR will come back to the Mountain View City Council for review on June 13.
Rudolph said that while the district appreciates that the final EIR acknowledges the impact the city believes Google's development will have on schools, the updated document "fails to assuage the concerns staff have."
"Our response remains the same; the Shoreline funding is being used to develop North Bayshore instead of addressing the needs of our kids after the pandemic," Rudolph said. "What is clear is that the Board of Trustees and the City Council need to start meeting jointly to address these concerns and create solutions that are amenable to all."
Assistant City Manager Ramberg said the city recognizes that local schools are “integral to the quality of life” in Mountain View, “and we want to be good collaborative partners.”
“But we have limits, just like the school district does,” she continued. “We need to balance what our resources are used for.”