Editorial: Time to put brakes on San Antonio Center | March 29, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 29, 2013

Editorial: Time to put brakes on San Antonio Center

There are plenty of reasons for the City Council to put the brakes on Merlone Geier's phase-two plans for the new San Antonio Shopping Center, which would more resemble an office park with a cinema and hotel than a marketplace designed to compete with other major Bay Area shopping centers like the Stanford Shopping Center. To date, no major retailers have been signed, leaving a Safeway as the largest tenant so far.

Rather than a shopping center to serve the needs of local residents, it appears that the developer is promoting a "Village" concept that includes high-rise office buildings, a 165-room hotel, and a movie theater on the property, which is ostensibly patterned after Santana Row in San Jose but most likely without the high-end retailers.

Instead, we see 500,000 square feet of office space (enough for 1,600 employees), a seven-story hotel, a movie theater, and 330 units of housing, all of which is expected to create a vibrant shopping experience anchored by a grocery store. We doubt any local merchants will be able to afford space in this complex, which already turned heads by asking as much as $4,090 a month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment of 1,459 square feet.

Rather than rubber stamp this "Village" design, which council member Jac Siegel said "the city has not seen before," the council should step back and take another look.

So far, the council has taken only a non-binding straw vote on whether to require a precise plan for this project, which showed four members in favor of moving ahead, with Siegel and John McAlister opposed. Mayor John Inks, who owns property nearby, did not vote. Siegel and McAlister believe, as we do, that a specific plan focused on the shopping center needs to be completed before the city allows work to proceed on phase two of this project.

Such a plan would force the developer to conduct impact reports on the various parts of the design that otherwise would escape such scrutiny. The process could take up to two years, certainly a drawback for Merlone Geier, but the alternative is to give the plan a green light, with impacts to the busiest intersection in Mountain View for years to come.

Also, Mountain View parents whose children attend schools in the Los Altos School District are concerned that more than 1,000 new homes are coming to the San Antonio neighborhood, and urged the council to help "create a new school site in the Mountain View area... ."

Sadly, a number of businesses on San Antonio Road that serve the local community have already been bought out or forced out. Baron Park Plumbing Supply, an institution for professionals and amateurs alike on San Antonio Road, took a buyout offer and opened on El Camino Real. And the Halal Market at 391 San Antonio also moved away, giving the green light for the developer to demolish the historic building that once housed the Shockley Labs, said by some to be the birthplace Silicon Valley. Merlone Geier said it will build a display commemorating the place where silicon semiconductor technology was introduced to the Valley at 391 San Antonio Road.

And the Milk Pail, perhaps the most loved local business in the center, will be able to maintain its operation only until 2016, when the agreement to lease parking space for its customers runs out. After that, it is not clear how the Milk Pail, which owns its site in the center, will continue to operate.

Esther's German Bakery is another casualty that closed its doors in the center, although it does maintain a retail shop on San Antonio Road, across the street from the center.

Unless the council changes its mind before the final vote, the city will have no say in how these and other issues inside the boundaries of the center will be managed.

In voicing his support for a more detailed planning process for Merlone Geier's second phase, council member John McAlister noted that he promised during his election campaign to to put "residents first." He said residents will be impacted by the "traffic, by the noise, by the air" pollution and called for a large park to come with the project.

Another option for the council is to require the developer to provide numerous "public benefits" such as parks, affordable housing and more bike and pedestrian improvements. But such a solution misses the core issue, which is how these developments will impact the community near San Antonio Road. The only way to answer that question is for the city to create a new precise plan for this property.


Posted by Thank you!, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2013 at 9:32 am

Thank you for this editorial. I agree wholeheartedly. Phase 1 depresses me every time I drive past. I miss being able to see the hills. I cringe from the dark shadows that the buildings cast down on San Antonio. The buildiings are too tall, too bulky, and too close to the road. In spite of the name, it doesn't look at all like Carmel or like a village. With the very narrow sidewalks, the lack bike lanes, the heavily used roadways and crowded intersections, I wonder how pedestrians, bikes, and cars will negotiate this area when construction is finished. Where will the residents play? Where will they go to school? If there are 600 children already in the NEC area already, with a projected 750 after construction, then how many total residents live in this densely populated area that lacks parks/schools/community spaces? And why hasn't MV provided space in the neighborhood for all of these residents to play/meet/exercise/go to school? The San Antonio area is shaping up to be a poorly planned, densely populated, traffic nightmare that lacks even the most basic amenities for its residents. The lack of planning will affect all of the surrounding areas, in addition to the NEC neighborhood, in terms of traffic and the use of neighboring facilities.

Posted by Scott K, a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Mar 29, 2013 at 11:21 am

Again, thanks for the editorial.

I am no genius. Far from it. Heck, I can barely spell the word without spell check. That said, no one and I mean no one, invests this much money in real estate and building this kind of center WITHOUT PLANS. Merlone Geier obviously has plans, it's just that no one seems to have asked them nicely/strongly enough, to show those plans OR to get the plans ratified by the community as a whole.

Frankly if I were Merlone Geier I would much prefer to escape scrutiny for my plans too. The thing is, we are obviously seeing some negatives already to the lack of oversight. I would not want to be an elected official later, when the town's populace asks, "Who knew what and when with regard to how this area got so messed up?" This corner is way too important to so many of us not to have meaningful overview into what is going on before it's too late. We are all too educated and too intimately involved to "just build it" and then see what we need to do to fix it. If something like this happened in a neighborhood close by, while we may have empathy, we would also laugh and wonder out loud why no one asked the tough questions before it was built. This is not a "Field of Dreams" situation where you "build it and they will come." This is the very future of our bustling community (to some extent it's past too) and the future of our children's lives and perhaps their children too.

Let's have a looksee at those plans, shall we?

Posted by Monroe Park Resident, a resident of The Crossings
on Mar 29, 2013 at 12:14 pm

It is a shame that these developments occur without the input of the people in the area being taken into account. You can have all the "public input" meetings you want. It doesn't mean the city councils will take the comments under advisement. These people are often not affected by the decisions they make and see them as part of their "vision" for the "good of the community". They need to realize that the people in the community are adults that know what they want and need and can do without a nanny to guide them.

This area NEEDS A SCHOOL! Why the council continues to drag more people in without the slightest concern for where the kids go to school is reprehensible. They dump the responsibility on the LASD and make those of us that live in MV but have children in LASD look like bad neighbors. The council needs to think about where those kids will go to school and stop letting tax revenue blind them to reason.

Posted by Public Benefits, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Ideally, MV will provide land for a school in the North of El Camino neighborhood that can serve as a school by day and recreational/community space after hours. If MV cannot or will not do so, then MV should at least require the developers to provide and operate a fleet of buses to drive students to and from the LASD campuses in Los Altos as a public benefit. With a typical school bus capacity of 45 students, the number of students in the NEC area (600 now, 750 anticipated) would require about 13-17 bus trips each morning and afternoon to transport students to/from Almond, Santa Rita, Covington, BCS, Egan, LAHS, and whatever other schools will be obligated to make space for the new NEC students. 26-34 bus trips a day is a lot of bus trips, but far better than the hundreds of round trips that currently occur each day in private cars between the NEC neighborhood and LASD campuses.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2013 at 7:30 pm

I would only expect the brakes to light be applied, I don't expect the project to be approved like tomorrow or next week. Studies have to done, meetings held and input has to be given. Yes it might be to big, but lets see what else they can come up with.

A precise plan of San Antonio Shopping Center was done, I read it, it is a guide but remember this is a shopping center. We aren't going to get what was there again, new kind of retail areas has to be built. Hotels, movies theaters, offices add to the mix to attract retail. Retail is important.

Public Benefits should not be for certain kind of stores, but for improvements in and around the project. If a plaza facing all the stores with trees, and places to sit and relax that is a public benefit. Parks, improvement to parks, traffic, sidewalks, bike trails and schools. This all needs to be talked with the developers.

The school, both Mountain View City and the Los Altos School District need to come together to look for a site. Park/School, this needs to be on going, like everyday look through the property listings

Not all the planned housing in the area will be built, it is only in the talking stages. Remember public input is needed

Also wanted to point out, which to me is something, not everyone wants to have kids, you might have singles, gay couples, empty nesters, young youth right out of college. But don't discount the face that people with have kids.

;So apply the brakes slowly, input the project, plan some more, study and then when it is right and everything in place, then approve

Posted by Learn from Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Learn from Alma Plaza at the corner of Alma and E. Meadow in Palo Alto. Alma Plaza is Palo Alto's brand new mixed-use development that is similar to San Antonio in terms of architectural style and accessibility. Miki's Farm Fresh Market, the market that was put in place as a "public benefit," is going out of business after just 6 months. Lesson: if a shopping area is unattractive and difficult to access, no one will shop there, no matter how great the stores are.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2013 at 11:59 pm

This is a different kind of mixed use project, first we all now it is a larger area. Don't design that ugly, don't make driveways hard to get in and out of. Palo Alto has their own set of issues with Alma Plaza along with their planning department. Also see Edgewood Plaza.

Public benefits should not be the promise of certain kind of retail stores. Yes the hotel, movies theaters are nice benefits to the shopping center, will attract shoppers and visitors to the center,

It could be a public benefit to have a vibrant shopping center with stores, a hotel and to have a really nice cinema.

I went to one of the high school reunions, one thing they would love to have in Mountain View is a reunion. Why we can't have one, No Ballroom in a Hotel which we don't have here.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2013 at 9:31 am

Comment 2. While having a nice shopping will be something that the public can benefit from. The idea of public safety, parks, traffic improvement and,other civic benefits must be talked with the developer.

Maybe a special account for money to be held for the sole purpose of a school funded by developers or businesses with the intent on building and outfitting a school.

This is a public civic benefit.

Posted by Sue, a resident of Gemello
on Mar 30, 2013 at 9:35 am

I feel like we are talking to a brick wall. Is anyone on the Mountain View City Council listening? Make decisions with the community and surrounding area in mind. This conglomerate will lead to a traffic nightmare. The intersection of El Camino and San Antonio is already a busy intersection. It will only get worse - how can it not with more people coming in. And more students. Build for the community-build a school. And why do we need a large movie theater? Shoreline is not far away. If we want a theater, how about a small one like Palo Alto Square with a couple quality movies? I feel the one that will benefit the most from this development is the developer.

Posted by Grumpy neighbor, a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Plazas and places to take a break from shopping are not a public benefit. They benefit the developer because people won't shop there if it is not visually inviting, and they will shop longer if they can take a break. Likewise, a vibrant shopping center is not a public benefit -- it benefits the owner and the recipients of the sales tax (ie not Los Altos or Palo Alto who also suffer from the impact of this development). The area is already loaded with hotels. My high school reunions, btw, have been held in MV at Michael's and at other MV restaurants and hotels and they have been lovely. Like Sue, I'm not sure why we need another cinema so close to Shoreline. Even if San Antonio is closer, the theater at Shoreline has better parking and easier access. A true public benefit needs to compensate for the public detriments of the development, such as traffic and overuse of area parks/schools, etc that result from the development.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm

The owner and operator of Shoreline Century 16 aren't the only company that show films.

Hyatt Ricky's in Palo Alto brought in over 1 million dollars in taxes.

What about other functions other then reunions or proms.

I am not saying a plaza is a vital benefits, a park would be. A fire station or school. Even better designed state of the crosswalks.

Retail trends have changed, the area is attracting talent, start ups, more educated people with money and the willingness to go plus grow green.

Posted by Marlene, a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2013 at 10:59 am

We don't need another hotel.
We don't need more movie theaters.
What is in this for the residents?
All that I see is ugly, bulky buildings.

San Antonio will be horrendous to drive on at all hours of the day.

There is no improvement in bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Who is benefiting but the builder and the city ? Certainly not the residents....

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