The group unanimously voted Monday evening to collect the required 3,240 signatures from registered Mountain View voters in July to put the project up for a city-wide vote — if the City Council approves the project before summer break. Voters would be asked to simply reject the project as it has been proposed, potentially putting the project in the hands of a newly elected City Council next year.
"We don't really want to do a referendum in July, but we will if we have to," said campaign founder Lenny Siegel, a Mountain View resident since the 1970s and director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight.
To members of the group, the major planning issue of the day is a growing imbalance of housing in the face of skyrocketing job growth and office development, which has driven up rents and worsened commuter traffic. The campaign's membership includes everyone from younger residents facing the possibility of being pushed out by high rents to longtime residents like Betsy Collard, a resident of Mountain View for 45 years and former board member of the old Mountain View School District.
"I see so many people who grew up in Mountain View who have lived here all their lives being forced out because of the rising rent," Collard said. "We may not be able to do as much as we'd like about that, but we certainly don't need to make the problem worse by building more office space before we build housing."
City attorney Jannie Quinn said in an email that "under state law, a petition can be circulated to refer any legislative act passed by the City Council to the voters," including Merlone Geier's project.
A successful petition could mean significant delays for Merlone Geier. Quinn said signature gatherers have 30 days to collect signatures, followed by 30 days for officials to verify the signatures. Then the petition must be presented at the City Council at a regular meeting, after which, finally, "an election cannot occur for at least 88 days," Quinn said.
"Given this timeline and the current tentative schedule for the Council's consideration of the Merlone Geier Phase II project, it is unlikely that a referendum could qualify for the November general election," Quinn said.
After founding the group earlier this year, Siegel had been pushing for housing in North Bayshore, but "people at the meeting were pretty excited about this, I was surprised," Siegel said of the new focus on the San Antonio center. "This has not been on my personal radar screen."
Members of the group say they would like to see homes built instead of the pair of six-story office buildings totaling 397,000 square feet that Merlone Geier has proposed. Merlone Geier's proposed offices would make room for 2,000 to 4,000 jobs when calculated at 100 to 200 square feet per employee. The first phase of the project included about 330 apartment units.
Siegel added that many people are upset that Merlone Geier appears to be pushing out the Milk Pail Market, which owns its building but doesn't own the required amount of parking to go with it.
But simply replacing the offices with homes won't be enough to please the group, which is insisting that the city follow a "precise plan" being drafted for the San Antonio Area. It is intended to be a larger plan that addresses various community needs in and around the large shopping center. It is scheduled to be complete near the end of the year.
"A lot of people want to see a lot of housing built there and for whatever is developed there to be more oriented to Caltrain," Siegel said. "But one of the key issues here is the fact there's no precise plan. Where would kids go to school? Because there's no school in that part of town. That's an issue that should be addressed in the precise plan. Mountain View has this bad habit of telling developers, 'Oh yeah, go ahead, we'll start discussing what kind of brick you are going to use,' before they've dealt with the major planning issues."
"The city appears to be rushing through final approval despite many unanswered questions on parking, circulation, transit access, and design, including shared parking for the Milk Pail Market," Siegel wrote in a letter to the City Council. "We urge you to put off consideration of this proposal until the Precise Plan is completed, and to include in Precise Plan discussions consideration of an alternative that provides a significant number of new housing units, including a substantial fraction of below-market homes, as part of a transit-oriented development."
Member Lucas Ramirez said the group may still do a referendum on the city's North Bayshore precise plan as well. "We focused on (Merlone Geier's project) because that is likely to be approved by the council before the summer recess, and we would need to act quickly," he said.
The North Bayshore precise plan may allow office growth for as many as 20,000 new jobs for Google and LinkedIn, among others, with no new housing in that area. That was despite a North Bayshore housing proposal supported by Google that was rejected by the City Council in 2012.
All told, the city could see up to 6.4 million square feet of office growth in the near future, estimated as enough space for over 36,000 jobs. The city's zoning allows for an estimated 7,000 new homes by 2030, according the city's general plan adopted in 2012.
This story contains 984 words.
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