Housing crunch takes center stage
A major shift in local politics made itself felt at the start of the year as residents felt the effects of two years of skyrocketing rents. The city's worsening housing shortage amidst exploding job growth — known as the jobs-housing imbalance — became a serious issue, and not just among lower-income residents. A group of middle class families with solid jobs at Apple and Google spoke out about their fears of being displaced by looming rent increases and their inability to afford to buy a home within their school district. Community members lamented the city's loss of human relations commissioner Nilda Santiago, who moved with her husband to Washington to be able to buy a home.
Longtime residents said they couldn't afford to stay in Mountain View — in just the past two years, the price for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment rose from $2,250 to $2,981. There were even some calling for rent control, a topic Mountain View hadn't broached for decades.
In March, longtime community activist Lenny Siegel launched the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View, which sought to educate residents about the "social, environmental and economic disaster" caused by the housing shortage, as more people commute from further away. An analysis by the Voice found that new office development in teh works could accommodate as many as 42,000 new jobs, while council-approved zoning for new housing would bring only 8,000 new homes by 2030. Residents sounded off at City Council and Environmental Planning Commission meetings to express concern about the worsening jobs-housing ratio. City Council members didn't offer much relief, backtracking on a move to allow more housing than offices in the San Antonio area, and continuing to oppose zoning for as many as 5,000 homes in North Bayshore, saying it could impact job growth and endanger the rare burrowing owls at Shoreline Park.
City Council election
The city's jobs-housing imbalance also took center stage during the City Council election. Three of the five candidates who took the issue on most aggressively won seats on the Mountain View City Council: Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg and Lenny Siegel. In the crowded field of nine newcomers for three open seats, candidates who opposed North Bayshore housing lost.
Also notable during the election was an influx of outside money. Over $75,000 was spent by the shadowy "Neighborhood Empowerment Coalition" on mailers and polling in support of Ellen Kamei, Showalter and Rosenberg. All three said they kept to the city's $22,689 voluntary campaign expenditure limit, and had not cooperated with the independent group, which appeared to be backed and funded by various real estate groups. The National Association of Realtors also independently spent $26,000 on mailers and polling to support Rosenberg.
Big changes for key areas
After spending years developing new zoning laws in a general plan approved in 2012, in November and December council members finally approved more detailed blueprints for future development for three major areas of the city: the El Camino Real corridor, the large North Bayshore office park north of Highway 101 and the area in and around San Antonio shopping center. After some false starts, Merlone Geier made a deal to save the Milk Pail Market with a shared parking agreement, signed just before the council approved its movie theater, hotel, retail and office development at the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road. LinkedIn is expected to move into new offices at the development.
El Camino Real was rezoned for higher densities to encourage redevelopment throughout the corridor, particularly at key intersections, and plans for more crosswalks and bike lanes were approved.
A great deal of public interest focused on the North Bayshore plan, which will allow 3.4 million square feet of office space, mostly above retail along North Shoreline Boulevard. Council members and housing advocates sparred over whether there was a "mandate" from voters who elected new council members supporting the inclusion of housing in the plan, something that would likely reduce the amount of new office space. The issue is likely to come up again in 2015 when the new members take their seats on the City Council this month.
Big steps for transit, bikes
With all of the new development in the city came new requirements aiming to help people get around without cars.
Office developers were asked to form the Mountain View Transit Management Agency, which on Jan. 12 will launch the MVgo commuter shuttle to ferry commuters and the general public between the downtown train station and the city's office parks. A shuttle that aims to help residents get around town will be launched on Jan. 5 and was approved by the City Council in October. The city shuttles are due to a partnership with Google, which donated electric shuttles, a goodwill gesture in a year that saw irate protesters blocking Google's buses in San Francisco as the Bay Area grappled with the growing impacts of tech company dollars.
In November the council approved plans for a bike boulevard on Church and Latham streets as part of the El Camino precise plan, which could include diverters for car traffic to encourage cycling on the street. Bike lanes extending the whole length of El Camino Real were deemed too dangerous and difficult to create, though portions of El Camino Real from the eastern border to Calderon Avenue will have bike lanes soon because of the lack of alternative routes for cyclists.
In 2014, developers were increasingly asked pay for "public benefits" that often included new infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians nearly everywhere a large project was approved. Through a new development fee, Google is likely to fund much of a plan to transform the North Shoreline Boulevard and Stierlin Road corridor into a bicyclist- and shuttle-friendly path between the downtown train station and Google headquarters north of Highway 101, with protected bike lanes and a shuttle-only lane down the center of the street.
Hangar One saved, Moffett Field leased
After many years of making headlines, the fight by residents to save Moffett Field's landmark Hangar One came to a close when it was announced that Google finalized a deal with the federal government to lease the structure, along with 1,000 acres of runways and two other large hangars at Moffett Field. The lease saves NASA $6.3 million a year in operation costs for the federal airfield, which is expected to remain largely closed to private use.
In February the federal government announced that Google's Planetary Ventures won the bid and would conduct "research, testing, assembly and development" of emerging technologies related to space, aviation, rovers and robotics in the large hangars. In November, the deal was finalized, pending an agreement with environmental agencies overseeing groundwater contamination cleanup on the site, and it was reported that Google would pay $1.16 billion over 60 years to lease the site. Hangar One, the iconic 200-foot tall structure that once housed the USS Macon airship, will be restored at an expected cost of over $40 million.
Planetary Ventures will also provide a 90,000-square-foot building initially slated as an incubator and museum space. Shortly after the deal was finalized in November, the nonprofit Earth, Air & Space Educational Foundation announced that it is receiving seed money from Google to create an interactive museum called the Earth, Air & Space Collaboratory at Moffett Field.
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