Greens clash with neighbors over 'Hawthorn Park' | November 9, 2007 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - November 9, 2007

Greens clash with neighbors over 'Hawthorn Park'

Council favors lowering height of row homes proposed for Hetch Hetchy open space

by Daniel DeBolt

The city's growth pains reached an unexpected intensity Tuesday night as environmentalists in favor of dense housing clashed with neighbors of a proposed development at 450 N. Whisman Road.

Ninety-six three story row homes had been proposed on six acres — a rectangular open lot between Whisman Road and Tyrella Avenue that is bisected diagonally by the Hetch Hetchy right of way. The resulting configuration of homes, named "Hawthorn Park" by the developer, put what neighbors described as a 500-foot-long, 30-foot-high "wall" of three story row homes along their backyard fences.

Though as much as 77 feet would separate the new homes from the old, a slide show rendering created by one neighbor showed how the view from his backyard would be altered for the worse. Most residents wanted the area left as open space, especially since there is a documented lack of park space in that neighborhood.

The negative reaction from neighbors, which led to a three-hour discussion Tuesday night, surprised council member Nick Galiotto, who was among a council majority that favored reducing building heights down to two stories or, at most, 27 feet. Developer KMJ Urban Communities is expected to come back for another study session on the matter.

At least three council members — Jac Siegel, Ronit Bryant and Laura Macias — said the project should be significantly altered or rejected in favor of open space.

Local environmentalists showed unusual passion Tuesday, citing global warming as a key reason for Mountain View to build more housing.

"The housing crisis is out of control," said resident Tamara Colby, a member of the Sierra Club. "We have a severe housing-jobs imbalance. We need to open our hearts to our community — we need to share with others or we will all bake."

Colby said every home the council allows to be built would mean one more person wouldn't have to commute hours a day to work in Mountain View, decreasing carbon emissions.

"Because of their compactness, these houses are efficient to build," said local Sierra Club member Jennifer Andersen, who recommended they be built differently to allow solar panels.

The Hetch Hetchy trail will run along the front porches of the homes, which Council members Tom Means and Margaret Abe-Koga said would provide a unique opportunity for biking and walking to work. The trail runs between the Shoreline district and the Whisman area's industrial park.

"How often do you get to have a trail at your doorstep?" Means said.

One resident said he wanted "to step up and buy one of these homes." Compared to the neighbors, "I'm sure I represent a much larger group of people," he said.

Neighbors responded by saying that the $800,000 homes wouldn't be affordable, and another said there was no way the city could ever meet the huge demand for housing.

"Mountain View has done its share of housing," Siegel agreed.

The project has been in the works for two years, and though it fits the zoning in the general plan, council members were concerned about the lack of public input at the start. Some neighbors said real estate agents had told them the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission could never develop on the site. The SFPUC is in contract to sell the land to the developer.

"The issue of not having public input for two years into this project is deeply concerning to me," Abe-Koga said.

Meanwhile, three neighbors showed up Tuesday night to oppose a project that wasn't on the agenda: a community garden proposed along a different Hetch Hetchy right of way near Beatrice and Bonny streets.

Making a comment some thought was satire, one of the neighbor said, "We didn't understand it would be, essentially, high-density vegetable plots."

A community hearing to discuss the garden is planned for the Rengstorff Park Community Center on Nov. 15 at 6 p.m.

Other Council news

• Mayor Macias' pursuit of valet parking for visitors who aren't familiar with downtown Mountain View was rejected by the other council members, who said they couldn't justify spending over $20,000 of city money when the Bryant Street parking garage is still underutilized.

• Realizing the council might end up rejecting Home Depot altogether at San Antonio Shopping Center, members agreed to Ronit Bryant's request for another study session on the topic. Many members opposed the project at a session in March. City manager Kevin Duggan said that if there is a fundamental problem with Home Depot it would be good to have that discussion as soon as possible.

• The meeting was adjourned Tuesday in memory of Manuel Herrera, a longtime city employee and volunteer firefighter who recently passed away.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at


Like this comment
Posted by Reed Smith
a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 9, 2007 at 3:07 pm

A main point overlooked by many participants in this discussion is an underlying issue; the Hetch-Hetchy water pipes lie right under this land. With an 80 foot easement for the pipe, not much land is left for building; thus, the crammed and odd layout to proposals. Furthermore, the easement has an obvious and latent purpose; the pipe will be maintained. At some future date, the pipe will be dug up. That is why there is a permanent easement. How odd to build houses in such a condition! The only access road to the property and everyone's front porch will be dug up someday for huge maintaince project -- someday that large pipe will need earthquake retrofitting!

Like this comment
Posted by Ago
a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 9, 2007 at 6:24 pm

If this is truly the case then a park or some other sort of open space on the site that uses grass and dirt as cover instead of housing which uses concrete cover makes perfect sense.

Like this comment
Posted by Carol Mullen
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2007 at 5:43 pm

I wish that we had a Regional Park District in the West Bay. I'm from Palo Alto, and this parcel sounds like something that might be a reasonable candidate for an urban park - if only we had a multiple-city fund for acquiring parcels that were essentially impractical under reasonable zoning laws.

It's a strange article. Whatever happened to the old Sierra Club? I won't renew our membership. Not David Brower's legacy, for sure.

We have these strange "environmentalists" in Palo Alto, too. They have crossed over to the line. Perhaps the remaining members now go from town council to town council, begging for more development, and less "greenery?"

Like this comment
Posted by Kent Scharninghausen
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2007 at 9:43 pm

I liked "old Sierra Club" better. They did good jobs to lower density in late 60's or early 70's in City of Mountain View. Former MV resident now living in slow growth Morgan Hill.