June 29, 2017

Mountain View Voice: Calls for North Bayshore housing cap sparks concern


The Mountain View City Council’s June 27th study session on the North Bayshore Precise Plan left key questions about the proposed phasing policy for new housing development up in the air.  Mark Noack of the Mountain View Voice provides a recap of the meeting, highlighting the efforts of SV@Home and other housing advocates to ensure that Council sticks to its original vision of adding 9,850 new housing units to North Bayshore.

See the original story at the Mountain View Voice.

With the issue set to come back to Council in the coming months, SV@Home, Balanced Mountain View, the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, the Mountain View-Los Altos Chapter of the League of Women Voters, and many other advocates will continue pushing for an implementation plan that allows the City to achieve 9,850 new homes in North Bayshore.

To join us, please sign on to our letter to the City Council and continue to check our website for additional opportunities to take action!

Calls for North Bayshore housing cap sparks concern

Goal of 10,000 new units remains, despite plan to reassess impacts at 3,000

By Mark Noack

If you read the recent headlines, it would seem that Mountain View officials were scheming to slash plans for new housing in North Bayshore.

But that’s not actually what played out on Tuesday night as the City Council met once again to debate the future of the city’s high-profile tech hub in North Bayshore. In a 3-3 impasse with Mayor Ken Rosenberg absent, the council failed to reach a decision over how to gradually phase in thousands of new homes to build up a bustling new neighborhood.

The Tuesday, June 27 meeting was dominated by concerns that a staff proposal for an early “check-in” cap on housing could be exploited to block construction on thousands of apartments. Conversely, supporters described the proposed limit as a crucial review to ensure the city was growing responsibly.

At the meeting, passions over North Bayshore reached a fever pitch. Known worldwide as the site of Google’s headquarters, this area has also become iconic for the city’s ambitious plans to launch a building spree of new housing.

Plans called for the construction of 9,850 new apartment units in an area consisting almost entirely of corporate tech offices. For Bay Area housing advocates — as well as those in need of cheaper rents — this aggressive push for residential growth became a hopeful sign that one city was ditching provincial politics to help solve the regional crisis.

Best of all, Mountain View had found a way to harness the tech industry, long seen as the force behind gentrification. Google officials have signaled eagerness to partner with the city and help foot the bill for building most of the 9,850 new apartment units. The reasons aren’t entirely selfless — the company desperately needs to house its growing workforce.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bay Area housing advocates heaped praise on Mountain View officials and reiterated the importance of North Bayshore housing for the wider Silicon Valley region.

“We really appreciate Mountain View and your leadership,” said Leslye Corsiglia, executive director of the South Bay housing nonprofit SV@Home. “We use Mountain View as an example of a city that is doing the right thing in planning for growth and its residents.”

But then Corsiglia came to her main point to city leaders: Please don’t falter now and settle for less. She was followed by dozens of other public speakers — many sporting tags with the slogan “Housing Near Jobs”. The unifying message implored Mountain View leaders to keep their sights on building all the 9,850 homes.

After two years of planning, why was this political groundswell coming now?

It all boiled down to a few cryptic lines in the city staff’s memo for the night that mentioned setting a new checkpoint. This early threshold would come when the North Bayshore reached either 1,500 or 3,000 apartment units, depending on how much parking was required, explained senior planner Martin Alkire. This would give the city a chance to evaluate how these new homes were doing, especially in regard to the area’s stringent traffic constraints, he said.

“As we approach that number we would return to the council and provide additional information on how it’s performing,” Alkire said. “At that time, the council could decide if the area could support additional residential growth, or if it should be limited.”

With the precise plan due to be complete shortly, the eleventh-hour possibility of putting a cap on housing was seen by some as ruinous to the goal of transforming North Bayshore into a new neighborhood. Many pointed to a story in a South Bay daily newspaper that cast the meeting as the city “slashing” housing down to 1,500 units. For their part, city staffers and sympathetic council members clarified that the city would still be studying the full 9,850-unit plan for the area.

It was a confusing display that become only more perplexing as it came to the City Council. Many members echoed similar priorities for monitoring growth and needed services for residents, even through they were starkly split on the issue.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who had previously opposed North Bayshore housing, expressed doubt that the area could handle all 9,850 units. It would require a suite of new transit lines, roadways and other amenities that the area currently lacks, she said. But she gave assurances that the city would someday get there, describing the early check-in as a way to accelerate this process.

“This is an experiment, it’s all new territory,” Abe-Koga said. “This is staff saying that under the current conditions, this is what we can handle right now.”

She was joined by council members Lisa Matichak and John McAlister in supporting the check-in limit.

Three other council members were skeptical, repeatedly calling the new threshold an “arbitrary” barrier that would serve to only slow down new housing. They didn’t contest that Mountain View needed to gradually phase in new housing to balance it with other infrastructure, but they suggested it would make more sense to use the regular development approval process or a master-plan process proposed by staff.

“Government in California gets accused of slowing down housing because we put in all these extra steps.” said Councilwoman Pat Showalter. “This sounds like an extra step.”

Google officials were equally circumspect about the proposed checkpoints. In a series of letters, Google’s real estate director John Igoe signaled concern that capping housing at 3,000 units, even temporarily, could end up crippling efforts to develop a functioning neighborhood with transit and retail.

“We can live within the 1,500 to 3,000 units for the first phase, but the 9,850 units is the total that should be there,” Igoe said, speaking to the council.

The phasing of new housing primarily circles back to the core challenge of North Bayshore: traffic congestion. The precise plan strictly limits traffic to 18,900 car trips per weekday morning, which must be addressed before any new construction can go forward. New housing has been touted as a possible remedy, since it would allow local workers to walk or bike to their jobs. But that remains a hypothesis, and critics point out that it is just as possible that North Bayshore residents could add to the daily traffic jam by commuting elsewhere.

As it became clear that the council was stuck in a 3-3 impasse, City Manager Dan Rich called for a hiatus, suggesting staff could return in early fall with a menu of options for the full council to consider.

The council zipped through other topics up for discussion on the North Bayshore precise plan. Among their decisions, members approved allowing so-called gatekeeper projects to exceed building guidelines set in the precise plan, including for more office construction. They also agreed to collaborate with local school districts to find property in the area suitable for a new campus.

Photo: Austin via Flickr