Berkeley-based designer Alfred Twu wondered the same thing. He created a digital rendering of what 10,040 apartments (800 square-feet each) could look like if built on the parking lots of Google's headquarters at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View. Housing everyone required 39 high-rise buildings, ranging in height from seven to 50 stories tall.
Twu explained his motivation for creating the image: "The booming tech industry has created huge demand for housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, driving up housing costs and leading to long commutes," he writes on his website, google.com/site/techcampushousing, where he also posts images of housing for other major valley employers.
Mountain View is under increasing pressure to do something about Google's growth. Twu noted recent protests in San Francisco have targeted Google's iconic white commuter shuttles, now a symbol for the Bay Area's soaring housing prices and spiking commuter traffic.
Twu says the renderings are not a serious proposal, just a way to visualize how much housing might be needed. A more realistic plan could make use of Google's many other properties nearby, including the vacant 18-acre "Charleston East" lot next door, for example.
"I simply matched the number of jobs to housing to show how much housing a certain amount of office space requires," Twu writes.
While striking, the image does not capture the full picture. City officials estimated last year that Google actually has around 20,000 employees in Mountain View, double what Twu's rendering accommodates. Only about 2,000 of those employees live within city limits, according to the estimates.
In July of 2012, the City Council decided against North Bayshore housing proposed by Google, voting 4-3 to remove zoning for 1,100 Google homes north of Highway 101 from a new city general plan.
Instead of housing, council members gave a preliminary OK to six- and eight-story offices for Shoreline Boulevard last week as a "precise plan" for the area is developed this year. The offices would be built above ground-floor retail in a transit-oriented downtown-like corridor north of Highway 101 and south of Charleston Road where the Google housing had also been slated. The plan makes room for an additional 15,000 to 20,000 employees by 2030 (many more are planned elsewhere in Mountain View), though the city's new general plan will allow for fewer than 7,000 new homes elsewhere in Mountain View — likely making the city's jobs-housing imbalance much worse.
Council members Ronit Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga supported the office concept last week, along with Mayor Chris Clark and Mike Kasperzak. Members John McAlister and John Inks thought the plan was too restrictive on office growth. The move wasn't unusual. The council has approved well over a million square feet of new offices in recent years.
"It's hard to blame the city for doing that because of the state's tax policies," Twu said. "It's in every city's interest to have as few residents as possible and as many businesses as possible. So to really solve the Bay Area's housing problem would take something from the state level."
In their opposition to Google housing north of Highway 101, council members expressed fears about feral cats and stray dogs endangering the rare burrowing owl at Shoreline Park, and compared the idea to Chinese factory dorms where workers do not live "happily ever after." Voting against new North Bayshore housing were members Jac Siegel, Ronit Bryant, Margaret Abe-Koga and Laura Macias (Macias termed out shortly after.)
As candidates line up to replace Abe-Koga, Bryant and Jac Siegel this fall, there's increased questioning of the council's position against North Bayshore housing while supporting so much office growth.
"I don't understand the comments about housing in North Bayshore resulting in insular, private towns, and comparisons to Chinese workers, coal towns, 'needing to grow up and get out' and so on," wrote one commenter on the Voice's Town Square reader forum. "Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought that employees who live on military bases (like Moffett Field), students who live on college campuses (like Davis, Chico, San Luis Obispo) and even seniors in retirement communities do lots of shopping, eating, and participating in the local community. Everyone I know who works at Google is married with kids who attend public school in MV. Google already provides their employees with numerous on-site amenities, but getting there causes the huge traffic mess."
Twu says the image may be surprising because the Valley's job growth has happened in such a small footprint, and inside low-rise buildings. Computer programmers don't use much office space, he said.
He explained his focus on company parking lots: "Right now in the Bay Area we have situation where we don't want to build on open space and generally don't want to build in existing residential areas either — or existing industrial areas," Twu said. "So that really leaves the parking lots."