Editorial: Time for council to face jobs-housing imbalance | April 18, 2014 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

Opinion - April 18, 2014

Editorial: Time for council to face jobs-housing imbalance

When then city manager Kevin Duggan welcomed Google to the North Bayshore many years ago, no one knew that this tiny start-up-would become one of the most successful tech companies ever seen in the world, let alone Silicon Valley. Using a patented technology that could search the web in split seconds, Google offered a product now hard to live without. Its stock shot upward and its corporate footprint kept growing, spreading out in the Shoreline area, where there was plenty of office space.

It was a match that made everyone happy. Duggan had landed a whopper that had plenty of money to lease city property, even though its employees did not venture up and down Castro Street looking for daily lunch specials, although many hung around to splurge for an evening meal.

The City Council was happy with the new company and watched it become a household word whose headquarters put Mountain View on the national stage. Google eventually outgrew the office space it found in North Bayshore and leased office space in other parts of the city. Commercial rents soared, as did housing costs.

During Google's vigorous growth, the council was pondering a new general plan that would, among other things, lay out how much housing and office space the city could accommodate over the next 10 years. Many members of today's council took part in that debate from 2008 to 2012.

But perhaps in the zeal to roll out the red carpet to the tech community, somehow the council missed the opportunity to construct a balanced growth plan, with a proportionate share of housing to match the increase in jobs. It passed up an alternative plan that would have provided zoning for 16,000 new units of housing. Instead, the council stuck to a plan that allocated only 7,000 units in the years ahead.

In retrospect, this lack of insight, and the council's decision to bar any housing from North Bayshore for environmental reasons, go to the heart of the city's problems today — attempting to meet an insatiable demand for office space while the housing needed to accommodate the additional employees is nowhere in sight. Without more housing, rents in the city will continue to skyrocket and gridlock will become a way of life on major arterial streets, especially Shoreline Boulevard, which is a favorite route to the North Bayshore area and Google headquarters.

But there may be hope. Last week, the council took the rare step of telling the developer of a 1 million-square-foot proposed office building at 700 Middlefield to scale back the project by 25 percent. The decision came in part due to the realization that there is more than 843,000 square feet of office space under construction now, and plans for another 1.3 million square feet. All of this would add 12,176 more jobs in the city at 176 square feet per employee, with little provision for housing.

Surely the council can see that it is time to reassess how much new office space the city can absorb without decimating the quality of life here. Already, many low- and even middle-income workers have been priced out of the rental market, which makes up 65 percent of the city's housing stock. More and more office space and even more jobs will keep the upward pressure on rents, and cause more hardship to residents who are not fortunate enough to enjoy the high-tech dream.

The council must ask itself if it is responsible to continue to add jobs for employees who cannot find homes here. With less than a few thousand homes likely to be developed in the coming years, how can the city in good faith approve 12,176 more jobs?

And the elephant in the room is the proposed North Bayshore Specific Plan that would authorize 3.4 million more square feet of office space in North Bayshore. At 176 square feet per employee, these new offices would create 19,318 jobs, without adding any housing within walking distance.

The council should agree to put the brakes on approving new office space until it considers scaling back some office growth and adding housing, so Mountain View residents — particularly renters facing displacement from rent hikes — can cope with today's already super-heated Valley economy.


Posted by hmax, a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2014 at 5:53 am

Been saying that for years now...only not so eloquently and gracious in content...we moved away...got priced out...and now live in our little slice
of the Ideal...out of the Valley for one thing...and glad of it...and I repeat...the City Council has become Google bootlickers...mesmerized under a Hitleresque spell...

Posted by Linda Curtis, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 24, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I thought the plan was always calling for mixed use: Retail on the bottom floor to support the residents living above. As there could be many floors North of 101, and so close to Google and the other big employers, this is the place to do it. Why not add condos and apartments with support services right there, instead of along El Camino, which then tower over their single story homes of their neighbors (who had counted on zoning laws to protect them)? Hemmed in by floors of new people towering over them and looking down on their every move, their enjoyment of their homes, for which they have probably worked their whole lives, is ruined. Building tall buildings all the same height together can be planned to eliminate many of the problems of "in fill" which mismatches to the surrounding elements terribly. And high rise along major arterials will just block the roadway in the case of a very major quake.