Will City Council give Mora Drive businesses more time to move? | December 23, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - December 23, 2011

Will City Council give Mora Drive businesses more time to move?

Simon Printing says it will have to close if deadline not extended

by Daniel DeBolt

In a quiet corner of Silicon Valley you can find an original Heidelberg press, a marvel from the heyday of mechanical engineering, humming along daily to produce the sort of embossed, perforated and hot-foil-stamped stationery a Kinkos employee could only dream of.

"When I say craftsmen, I'm not kidding," said Cora Simon of the three longtime press operators at Simon Printing, which moved to Mountain View's Mora Drive 28 years ago. "They make the impossible possible."

The shop has found success in the high-quality printing niche as the printing industry declines. Nevertheless, it may be forced to close soon by unusual circumstances.

Simon Printing is one of 17 businesses on Mora Drive that have to close or relocate by April because of an agreement made 25 years ago to allow housing development on Mora Drive in 2012. The City Council approved a gatekeeper request Dec. 13 to allow the planning process to begin for a five-acre housing project there, and several offers have already been made on the property by developers.

The Simons say they can't afford to move to a new space within four months, saying the costs of moving their equipment and interrupting business would be "an overwhelming hardship."

"If we are forced to move with the economy the way it is right now, we'd have to close the doors and lock up," said Vernon Simon, who founded Simon Printing in 1960 in Menlo Park (his son Scott Simon now owns it). "We could not afford to make the move, even if we could find a place at a halfway decent price. The cost of moving, it just doesn't work for us."

"If times weren't so bad, this wouldn't have happened," said Vernon's wife Cora. "There was nothing we could do."

At the Dec.13 meeting the Mora Drive broker, Marty Chiechi of Grubb & Ellis, asked the council to allow businesses on Mora Drive to stay for 18 months, saying that's how long it would take to have a housing project designed and permitted anyway. The Simons say that would at least give them a fighting chance if the economy improves.

The request for more time was met with strong reactions that split the council down the middle.

"It seems to me if I saw a deadline date where this zoning would change I would have looked at a new location," said council member Tom Means while questioning Vernon Simon during the Dec. 13 meeting. Means, a San Jose State University economics professor, later added, "It's finals week at my school. I'm hearing all kinds of procrastination stories."

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga had a similar view. "I don't actually support 18 months, quite frankly, given that they've had 25 years," she said.

Council member Ronit Bryant was on the fence, saying "I would be inclined to give the businesses time to wind down, but on the other hand, there have been 25 years so I'm still somewhat open on this one."

Mayor Jac Siegel and council member Laura Macias were the most sympathetic.

"To give more time here I don't think anybody is losing anything," Siegel said. "I don't see the downside, I really don't."

"We talk a lot about supporting small business and here we have Mora Drive," Macias said. "It just seems to me that perhaps we don't need to rush into building yet another apartment complex. If we have some small businesses there maybe we should allow those small businesses to continue to have employees and to live their lives. I'm willing to hold off on Mora Drive. It's not like we can't find anywhere else to build apartments."

The council will vote early next year on whether Simon Printing and the other businesses will be given more time.

An irreplaceable business

When the land Simon Printing sits on becomes housing, it is unlikely to ever see industrial uses again. Similarly, if Simon Printing is forced to close, it is unlikely that such a business would ever be re-created. It was built on the money the business made when the printing business was booming. Vernon Simon remembers when the printing industry was one of the largest industries in the area.

"The offset presses in the back are really high end machines, multi-million dollar machines," Vernon Simon said. "We bought those when the economy was quite good. If we didn't have them paid for we could never stay in business."

The operation also runs a pair of "Original Heidelberg" presses, marvels of early 1900s mechanical engineering and one of the most versatile presses ever built, also known as "the Prince of Presses." It was with a Heidelberg that pressman Kim Reeves was printing some business cards on Tuesday made from thick paper stamped with a special die that left an imprint on the card. The machine can be configured almost infinitely, doing everything from stamping gold foil onto paper to cutting it in any shape with a die.

Many of the jobs Simon Printing gets call for an experienced hand. One of press operators, Mark Stovall, has been with Simon Printing 22 years.

Vernon Simon can recall the large printing operations that slowly went out of business in recent years, operations with hundreds of employees and huge presses. "That's just the nature of the industry," he said.

"We have a specialty niche," he said. "There's nobody else in Mountain View that can do what we can."

Vernon said the business has run almost entirely on word of mouth and has never had a sales person. "There is a real demand for nice quality, corporate identity printing," Vernon said. Simon Printing has produced business cards from high-tech companies to brochures for wineries.

Vernon is now 82 and has long since retired from the helm, giving the business over to his 41-year-old son Scott, who has a degree in printing management and has brought the company into the digital age. "His dream is to continue the family business with the same integrity it was built on," Vernon said.

But Vernon still comes into work every day, making deliveries and helping in any way he can "without taking a dime." Similarly, his wife runs the front office without pay.

"We are trying anything and everything we can think of to keep our business going," Vernon said. "We don't want our son and his family to be put out of work."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com


Posted by Steve, a resident of Jackson Park
on Dec 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Just great, Why is our city council so two-faced?

They say they are trying to promote the creation of jobs, then turn around and convert all the industrial space into housing. What kind of jobs are they creating?....burger flippers?

I'm a life-long machinist and have been for decades. Mountain View once had many machine shops. Today they are all gone, except for one specialty engine shop I know of.

Tell me,...where exactly is someone suppose to set-up a shop and create new MANUFACTURING jobs, now that M.V. is destroying all suitable sites zoned for such uses? Reducing the number of industrial sites drives up rental costs of those remaining sites, driving away potential employers in turn.

So blind.

Posted by Karen Koshgarian, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Dec 23, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I find it hard to believe that the voice of Mountain View, as expressed by our City council, adequately represents us anymore. Who among us actually prepares for a move, 25 years before it happens? To say that Simon had 25 years to make changes is ludicrous. To scold them is even worse.

How are jobs created by building more housing, beyond the temporary employment of construction workers. Where is sustainability in that use of the land? A print shop that is still in operation, Heidelberg presses and all, is a resource that gives back to the businesses and community a service of craft and beauty.

How much longer can we afford to be so hypocritical about our ideas of sustainability with the land, and with the resources we have, by turning another quick profit for the housing industry. What will be there in 25 years?

Posted by A. Lincoln, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I posted this comment with the news story. Looks like I'm not alone in my view.
I can't understand why the council would not give this firm the time that they need, which will impact no one else.

Don't they understand that no sane person expects a 25 year old timetable drawn by long forgotten councilors to proceed like clockwork, or even proceed at all? Who would bother to plan for relocation in such circumstances. In the end, when they get around to environmental impact studies, there will probably be years and years of industrial pollution to contend with, and a better use of this land might be to leave things as they are.

I'm a retired computer professional and I've never had anything to do with small business or printing, and I've never used this firm's services or know anyone who has. I had to look up the location on the map, and I certainly don't have a dog in this fight.

This is a matter of simple common sense and good will, and a certain revulsion at the lack of reasonable judgment that such "zero tolerance" responses demonstrate.

Shame on councilors Means and Abe-Koga for being so literal and small minded. What in the world are such by-the-book people doing in city givernment?

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 23, 2011 at 6:14 pm

The solution is simple. Lay off the employees and close down the small business that's been going for 52 years. Raze the business and build apartments for Googlers hired from overseas. Ship the printing operation overseas where the labor is cheap. The laid off employees can pick up work at the Day Worker Center. Am I missing anything here?

In the meantime, Means should try getting a job in the private sector before preaching to a business with a payroll.

Posted by donnasue jacobi, a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2011 at 9:12 am

for a council member to say that someone had 25 years to find a place to move is absolutely ridiculous -- we've already lost Goodco Press who was wonderful at doing small print jobs for artists, must we lose another family business. Do you really need more apts and condos that will be too expensive to rent or sell in this economy? the council that do not support small businesses should be fired/recalled because they do not have the community's interest at heart -- sounds like a big under the table payoff to me. Destroying this and other small businesses is like destroying alot of other people's livlihoods. Build that crap someplace else and leave these busineses in peace.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I remeber that fuss that happened in Palo Alto in the 80s, the rezoning took place in the 60s. Maybe it is time to create space for business and future housing needs and not just for tech and theit workers

Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Dec 26, 2011 at 3:02 am

The idiots running this town are determined to put all of the eggs in one basket. They don't see the resemblance between Mountain View, 2011, and Flint, Michigan, 1964.

San Jose is tomorrow's Detroit. China is going to pull the rug out from under this entire valley.

Posted by GSB, a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm

First of all, some of the council members should cease and desist with their color commentary (specifically Tom Means). It has no place in the meetings.

Second, if even the DEVELOPER doesn't see any harm in it, why is it a big deal to give Simon Printing and any other of the businesses the extra time? Why have empty buildings for 18 months instead of letting the businesses continue and earn a little bit of sales tax for the city.

2012 city council election should be interesting.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm

This rezoning took place in 1986, I doubt very like the council today, was the same council back then. Did they have a magic ball to look into which they saw Google and Facebook. 1986, Moffett Field was still open. We still need away to provide places for businesses (non-tech), retail, and housing.

Posted by Ron Chestnut, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I quite agree that giving the 18 months, which even the developers say will not impact them, is the right thing to do. This business is a perfect example of what Mountain View needs. Things have changed a lot since 1986.

Posted by DCS, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 1, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I don't see the harm in giving this business some extra time to leave. It sounds like they are going to have to fold if business doesn't pick up, so they want the extra time to see if that happens, and the buildings would be empty anyway. It sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Posted by Matthew, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jan 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I was nearby so I took a walk around Mora Drive. I can think of a few suggestions to accommodate everyone (or almost everyone):

1) Mixed-use zoning. This doesn't have to be either-or. Allow both commercial properties and residential properties to be adjacent, the way things used to be before Euclidean zoning. There are already homes on either side of Mora Drive, there is no reason why the businesses on Mora Drive cannot share that street with homes as well.

2) The street is too wide. You could easily park 6 cars side by side. Since it is a dead end, this capacity will never be used. There is no reason for the street to be so wide -- it just represents a pure waste of space and lost opportunity cost for the city.

3) It's a dead-end. There are a few places where connections should be made -- for pedestrians at least. Just a small fence separates Mora Drive from the Towne Circle walkway. Even better, a way could be found to connect College and Mora -- making a walking cut-off to Rengstorff.

4) Multi-story buildings: commercial on first floor, residential above. These have the potential to be more affordable as well.

Hopefully, some of these ideas could be used to bring both jobs and affordable housing to this part of MV. One possible way to help current businesses survive during the transition would be to take the narrowed Mora Drive, and add some small cross streets that connect the existing properties. Initially, development can take place on parcels that have been freshly carved out by this new street layout. A number of years later, there will be available commercial space for businesses to move into, and then they could consider renovating or redeveloping the old sites.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Matthew you have the right ideas, we need to look at more creative ways, mixed use zoning is the best. We need to think beyond the single use, large parking lot with small building. We need to think height, density. I am not saying we need high rises, bnut something that will cater to the plumbers, machine shops, printers and landscaping firms, and other service non auto repair shops

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


2017 guide to summer camps

Looking for something for the kids to do this summer, learn something new and have fun? The 2017 Summer Camp Guide features local camps for all ages and interests.

Find Camps Here