An artist's rendering of Google's planned Charleston East campus in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View (City of Mountain View).
September 28, 2017

San Jose Mercury News: Google demands more office space, threatens to block North Bayshore housing


SV@Home Deputy Director Pilar Lorenzana told the San Jose Mercury News that she was thrilled by Mountain View’s decision to create almost 10,000 new homes in the North Bayshore area with 20 percent of classified as affordable.

See the original story at the San Jose Mercury News.

Google demands more office space, threatens to block North Bayshore housing

By Ethan Baron

In a standoff with city officials, Google is demanding more office space for its futuristic new “Charleston East” campus and is threatening to block nearly 10,000 units of critically needed housing if it doesn’t get its way.

The company’s move could derail a plan — given preliminary approval by the Mountain View City Council early Wednesday morning and which Google says it still supports — for construction of 9,850 homes in the North Bayshore development anchored by Charleston East. The Mountain View search giant had earlier told the city it would work with partners to have 9,600 housing units built on its property, said Vice-Mayor Lenny Siegel.

But during a marathon council meeting starting Tuesday night, Google warned that it would not allow that housing unless the city approved another 800,000 square feet of office space, beyond the 3.6 million contained in the draft North Bayshore plan, Siegel said.

“That was a zinger. That caught everybody by surprise,” Siegel said Wednesday. “Forgetting the issue that Google has loads of cash, my view on that is that … our North Bayshore plan shouldn’t make the jobs/housing imbalance appreciably worse.”

Too many workers for too few homes is the foundation of the Bay Area’s housing crisis, leading to sky-high rent and home prices, long commutes, horrendous traffic and poor air quality. Mountain View and other Peninsula cities are often targeted by critics for encouraging business expansion while limiting new housing.

In a statement Wednesday, Google did not directly address its demand for more office space.

“We are supportive of the preliminary approval of a North Bay Shore precise plan which includes 9,850 units of housing, 1,600 of which would be affordable,” said Joe Van Belleghem, the firm’s senior director of design and construction for the Bay Area.

“In order to create an economically vibrant and balanced community, we believe the plan has to include office, retail and community spaces, alongside parks and residential units,” Belleghem said.

To add the office space Google demands without worsening the imbalance would require 2,700 additional housing units on top of the 9,850, and there’s nowhere in North Bayshore to put them, said Council member Margaret Abe-Koga.

Abe-Koga described Google’s statement early Wednesday as “surprising and shocking” and said giving the company what it wanted would “negate anything we were trying to do” on housing.

Google in June had sent the city a letter strongly supporting 9,850 homes for North Bayshore, and Abe-Koga expressed frustration at the tech giant’s sudden departure from a plan developed in cooperation between the city and the company. “This really puts into question that trust,” Abe-Koga said.

However, in a nine-page Sept. 22 letter to council members, Google had informed the city that it needed more office space to make the housing happen.

“The development of residential units in North Bayshore will require significant investment and the demolition of existing office space, while we are also continuing to grow our business in North Bayshore,” Google wrote. “Thus, the addition of net new office development in North Bayshore will be required in order for Google to develop residential units in North Bayshore.”

Housing advocacy organization SV@HomeAmong was “thrilled” by the council decision to allow 9,850 North Bayshore homes — with 20 percent of them classed as affordable — but was unsettled by the wrench Google threw into the works, said the group’s deputy director Pilar Lorenzana.

“All of the amenities that we want to see as part of a complete neighborhood in North Bayshore are contingent on having 10,000 homes,” Lorenzana said, adding that everything from grocery stores to transit service depends on having enough nearby residents. “If the 10,000 units don’t get built, traffic gets worse,” she said.

Her organization is hopeful the issue will be resolved.

“It’s a matter of figuring out how we can do that in a way that incentivizes Google to allow housing to be created on their property, but in a way that also doesn’t completely exacerbate the jobs/housing imbalance that already exists in Mountain View,” Lorenzana said.

Mountain View has 2.7 workers for every housing unit, the second-worst ratio in Santa Clara County behind Palo Alto’s 3.8 workers per unit, according to SV@Home.

If the housing goes ahead, the city can control the rate at which it’s built to help ensure that improvements to roads and transit services keep up, so the added homes don’t increase traffic, Siegel said. He’s optimistic Google will ultimately agree to the new homes.

“They have in general a high level of corporate responsibility and they’ll come to their senses,” Siegel said. “We are heavily dependent upon them to do a lot of the things we want to do, so they’re trying to use that to get what they want,” he said.

The North Bayshore plan calls for three new neighborhoods — “Joaquin,” “Shorebird” and “Pear” — totaling 154 acres. Small “micro-unit/studios” are to make up 40 percent of the housing, followed by 30 percent 1-bedroom units, 20 percent 2-bedroom units and 10 percent 3-bedroom units, according to the plan.

Those details may be adjusted, Siegel said, adding that he’d like to see the proportion of family-sized units increased.

Mountain View’s City Council is to vote in November on the final plan for North Bayshore.