Mountain View Council study session – North Bayshore neighborhood

Tonight at 7pm, Mountain View City Council will consider decisions regarding creating a car-light neighborhood in North Bayshore where Google and LinkedIn are headquartered.

The staff report proposes mixed use development in three areas with up to 10,250 housing units, in an area that is currently a office park. Topics that the Council will consider including
incentives for landowners and developers to add housing, and incentives for more below market rate housing, and policies to enable for a car-light neighborhood, including transportation demand management and parking.

Because some of the land in the areas proposed for housing currently has office buildings, it would be very helpful to allow the owners of those buildings to add more office space elsewhere in North Bayshore, if those buildings are taken down and the land used for housing.

Mountain View is already planning for higher capacity transit connections to North Bayshore. Parking ideas being discussed include shared parking for uses that need to store cars at different times of the day, unbundled parking so residents can buy/rent only the space they need, and “district parking” – where everyone parks and then walks to home, store, or park.

Another key question is the amount of below market rate housing. The staff report recommends 15% at a basic level of density and 20% at a higher level of density. MVCSP (see below) recommends having up to 25% or 30% as a community benefit.

Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning has written a letter with detailed policy comments – if you’re interested in attending and commenting, the letter is useful for information and inspiration.

North Bayshore Neighborhood Areas

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Millbrae, Belmont, and Redwood City move forward on transit-oriented development

Last week, Millbrae and Belmont City Councils made key decisions to advance new development on the Caltrain corridor.  Meanwhile, Redwood City City Council leaned against putting the brakes on growth in the downtown area, despite some community anxiety about the pace of change under the city’s downtown plan.

Millbrae City Council approved a station area specific plan allowing mixed use development with office, housing, and retail in 116 acres of land around the Millbrae transit center with Caltrain, BART, bus and shuttle service.  The first two proposed developments proposed for the Millbrae Station area would bring 400,000 square feet of office space, about 79,000 square feet of retail  and more than 800 residential units on land currently occupied by a parking lot and some underutilized commercial buildings near El Camino Real.

The next step will be reviewing developments for approval, with Republic Urban first in the queue, proposing 164,000 sqft of office space, over 300 units of housing including about 60 below market rate units, nearly 47,000 square feet of retail, and possibly a hotel.

In the Council’s review of the plan, concerns from the school district surfaced as an important issue; in the end the Council was satisfied with a plan to work with the school district to enable resources for schools.

Advocates had successfully made a case for inclusion of below market rate housing in the Republic Urban development, and for affordable housing to be considered for community benefits.  The approved version of the plan also included the option for stronger vehicle trip reduction – but only as an option, not as a requirement. The parking requirements are still higher than supporters of sustainable transportation urged.  These specifics are going to need to be worked out on a case by case basis for individual developments.

Unfortunately, in its review of the plan, the City Council included additional turn lanes for El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue, in the hopes that this would alleviate traffic, although these lanes would add even more hazards for pedestrians and cyclists in an already dangerous area.

The City Council does plan to review multi-modal transportation on El Camino Real, but not until the city takes up its General Plan update several years into the future.

The Council vote was split 3:2, with Council Members Papan and Lee unable to persuade their colleagues to turn down this plan, and to hold out for alternatives that would have more hotel, retail, and entertainment, and less office and housing. This alternative vision hoped that the Millbrae Station would be a major destination like Grand Central Station in New York, or the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, but without the dense jobs and housing in Manhattan and downtown San Francisco.

Belmont approves transit corridor housing

On a smaller scale, Belmont City Council approved a proposal to redevelop aging commercial space on El Camino Real near Caltrain into a 73-unit apartment complex with nearly 5,000 square feet of retail space.    Residents and Council members talked about the need for more housing to address a shortage in San Mateo County, which has added over 40,000 jobs and only 3,000 housing units in the last few years. The development won’t include below market rate housing, but Sares Regis will contribute $1.6 million in fees for the construction of below market rate housing elsewhere in the city.

belmont_todTo alleviate resident anxieties, the development includes more than two parking spaces per unit, even though it is a half-mile from Caltrain, a Safeway, two coffee shops, and other services, and just one minute from a bus line that’s a quick ride from the Hillsdale mall and downtown Redwood City.

Millbrae and Belmont both took notable steps to advance infill development on the transit corridor, although the cities haven’t yet adjusted to the different mix of transportation needs for developments in transit-rich areas.  The residents and workers in those areas are likely to drive less, need less parking, and want safer walking and bicycling environments for their day to day trips.

Redwood City Council discussions growth management, refrains from hitting brakes

Meanwhile, Redwood City City Council members leaned against calls to pause growth in the city at a study session on managing the effects of growth.   While a good number of residents expressed concern about the pace of building under the downtown plan, a large number were enthusiastic about the much livelier downtown, and wanted the city to continue on its current trajectory.

In response to high levels of resident concerns about housing affordability, council members supported the need to continue to add housing, and seek more opportunities to create below market rate housing for a broad range of income levels.  In the words of Council member Alicia Aguirre, “ housing affordability is important so that residents can stay, so children who grew up here can stay.”  Council Member Diane Howard talked about ensuring that the city remains welcoming for longtime residents and for newcomers.

Responding to residents concern about transportation and traffic, council members showed high interest in transportation solutions, especially ways to help people get around with less driving.    There was interest in renewed shuttle service, for helping seniors get downtown, and for ensuring new developments are staying within their vehicle trip allowances; for a strategy with short and long-term measures.  Council members supported the creation of a transportation demand management association to pool funds and invest in supporting alternatives to driving, including for existing businesses and developments, not just new buildings. Council members and supported conducted a traffic study for the city that looks at multi-modal transportation, not just driving.

Council members expressed different ideas about parking; Borgens talked about the underutilized Caltrain parking under Sequoia Station; whereas Seybert wanted a new garage. Council Member Gee was interested in expanding the residential parking permit program to protect existing residents from potential impacts.

Council members were strongly supportive of ongoing community engagement, so the study session is expected to lead to more opportunities for community members to participate.  City council did lean toward accepting a recommendation for more Planning Commission review of development proposals, which could create opportunities to improve sustainable transportation and affordable housing, or for those who dislike denser development to make buildings smaller.

The Caltrain corridor is original “transit oriented development”, with cities growing as walkable places around the rail stations, but in the mid-20th century development changed to a car-centric pattern, with single family homes away from downtown, and larger office buildings further from the train.  This pattern is now shifting. All along the Peninsula corridor, communities are evolving with infill development on the transit corridor, with a mix of housing, offices and stores closer to transit.  Participation will continue to be essential in helping this change to move forward, especially in addressing the region’s housing crisis, and helping cities take the next steps in supporting more sustainable transportation.

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Mountain View North Bayshore – more housing would bring less driving

This week Wednesday in a meeting starting at 7pm, Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission will provide feedback on neighborhood options for the North Bayshore area where Google and LinkedIn are headquartered.   A range of choices are being reviewed for a neighborhood with varying amounts and locations of housing, retail, and public space. One question is where to put a main retail area – on the Shoreline main transit avenue, or on a side street off the main drag, or in a square.   Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 2.09.06 PM

Retail area - street or square?

Retail area – street or square?

More residents leads to less driving Interestingly, the scenarios that would have the most residents – up to 13,000 – would result in the most walking, bicycling, and transit use (see chart),. According to city staff answers to a follow up question, the scenarios with the most housing would also likely lead to less driving miles per person, and less traffic in the peak hour and peak direction. This is logical because more people would be able to have very short local commutes.  Even though many residents wouldn’t work in North Bayshore, even the those who would car-commute elsewhere would be have a reverse commute out of the area. The high level assessment was done by city staff with consultants; a full analysis would be done in an environmental study.   Another question is types of housing – how much should be studios, 1 bedrooms, 2 bedrooms or more.

northbayshoremorehousinglessdriving

 

Share your thoughts in an online survey or in person To share your thoughts, there is an online survey open until November 9.  And if you want to comment in person, come to the Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday at 7pm in Mountain View City Hall, or the upcoming Council meeting, date tbd.

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City of San Mateo updates transportation fee to help fund multi-modal improvements

Last week, San Mateo Council approved a project to modernize the city’s traffic model and impact fee, which will help the city assess and fund a mix of sustainable transportation improvements, rather than focusing primarily on moving more cars.

In the last year, The City of San Mateo passed a “sustainable streets plan” which places greater priority on bicycling, walking and transit in the city’s transportation mix.  The San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan calls for “A new development review process and fee based around transportation performance metrics that are more in line with Plan goals.” The new tools and the new method of calculating transportation fees will help the City fund a mix of improvements that is more inline with the Sustainable Streets strategy.

Like other cities, San Mateo has long had a “traffic impact fee” that requires developers to fund transportation improvements associated with new development.  The original program based the city’s assessment of the impacts, and the selection of improvements, based automotive level of service.  Auto LOS measures the number of seconds a car is delayed at intersections at the peak period of the day, then assigns letter grades to different wait times.   If a development would add traffic to an intersection that pushes delay past a threshold, the traditional solution was to add travel lanes and turn lanes to help speed the flow of traffic.

Unfortunately, the changes to speed cars often made it less safe and pleasant to walk and bike, encouraging even more driving and traffic, and discouraged infill development, which might slow cars but help shorten trips by putting more destinations close at hand.   While intended to alleviate traffic, the use of LOS as the main tool kept cities on a treadmill of widening roads leading to increased driving and increased traffic. The State of California, which had used auto LOS to measure the impact of traffic under the California Environmental Quality Act, is moving instead toward using “vehicle miles travelled” as a measurement, since reducing driving miles more directly reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities will need to follow the new state environmental laws, and can also choose additional metrics for local purposes like assessing impact fees. The City of San Mateo will assess several potential metrics, including trips, vehicle miles traveled, and vehicle hours traveled to assess which will best help improve the transportation system.    Using these metrics, the city will be able to consider improvements to transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure to reduce vehicle trips and miles.

bikebasket

Our region’s car-dependent transportation system is held in place by a set of policies such as the way that transportation impact fees are calculated.  A city’s change to the rules in calculating transportation fees is an important step in moving toward a less car-dependent and more sustainable transportation system.

 

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This week: planning for housing and offices in North Bayshore

This week there are two meetings that are important for Mountain View’s decisions about North Bayshore – study session on LinkedIn’s North Shoreline HQ on Tuesday, and a community workshop on creating a neighborhood with housing and services on Thursday.

On Tuesday evening, in a study session starting at 5pm, the City Council will be soliciting feedback and discussing the development proposal for LinkedIn’s planned new headquarters at 1400 North Shoreline.   With the transportation plans for the site, LinkedIn expects its 8,000 employees to have 35% drivealone rate, putting the company in the lead among Silicon Valley employers (Stanford and Google both have driving rates under 50%, and Mountain View’s limit for North Bayshore is 45%).  The complex is also proposed to have a 15-screen movie theater, 5,000 square feet of retail and a health club.

While the office component of the proposal is superb on transportation, including contributions to Mountain View’s bicycle, pedestrian, and transit connections, the development leaves out one element that could conceivably help reduce car trips and achieve Mountain View Council’s goals for the area – housing.

Earlier uses of the site were polluted with trichloroethylene, requiring a massive Superfund cleanup, and the legal process at the time granted release of legal liability for office but not housing.  However, the EPA has a newer policy to confirm cleanup which has the potential to address the legal liability issue.  Will Mountain View residents and Council ask LinkedIn to investigate whether this barrier can be overcome, to provide more potential housing in the area?

Proposed new LinkedIn Headquarters

Proposed new LinkedIn Headquarters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, October 22nd, Mountain View is holding a second community workshop on the North Bayshore Precise Plan, on how to evolve an office park into a neighborhood with housing and services, building on the community feedback from July’s workshop.  At the July workshop,  participants talked about wanting to have a neighborhood that will be diverse in income and demographics, and that will enable residents to live a “car-light” lifestyle.  The meeting will be held at the Mountain View Senior Center, 266 Escuela Avenue,   6:30 PM – 8:30 PM.

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Santa Clara to review Silicon Valley’s largest ever mixed use development

On Tuesday October 20 and Monday October 26, the City of Santa Clara will host two community meetings for the environmental review of the largest mixed use project ever in Silicon Valley.

On 230 acres of city-owned land just north of Levi’s Stadium, City Place could include up to 6.7 million square feet of office space, between 200 and 1,360 housing units, 1.7 million square feet of retail and entertainment space, and 700 hotel rooms, developed by Related Companies.

The Environmental Impact Report includes critical information about the project’s transportation and land use sustainability – including areas for improvement.

A quick read of the Executive Summary shows that the project as proposed would reduce car trips by less than 10% compared to a location without transit, despite the location near VTA Light Rail and Great America Ace train.  To support driving as the primary transportation for the project, the project has nearly 90 acres of parking spaces.  To improve car traffic flows, there are proposals that could include removing bicycle lanes.  And not least, the project as proposed would worsen the city’s jobs housing imbalance, leading to more in-commuting and greater pressure on housing prices.

The City released the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the development on Friday, October 9. With a 45-day period for review, deadline for comment is November 23. Click here to take a look at the Environmental Impact Report.

Related his hosting two public meetings to answer questions concerning the project. The evenings will start with a presentation at 6:30pm, followed by a chance to speak one-on-one with project experts from a variety of areas of expertise.

Come learn more about the impacts on housing and sustainable transportation – and start to think about how the situation might be improved.

October 20, 2015
6:30pm-8:00pm
Hilton Santa Clara
4949 Great America Pkwy.

October 26, 2015
6:30pm-8:00pm
Santa Clara Senior Center
1303 Fremont Street

Santa Clara City Place

Santa Clara City Place

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LinkedIn plans for 35% drivealone rate in Shoreline offices, with paid parking for commuters

At their presentation to Mountain View’s planning commission on September 16, LinkedIn described their plans for new headquarter buildings, where their goals are for only 35% of 8,000 employees to drive. To achieve a steep increase in sustainable commuting, LinkedIn plans to transform incentives for commuters, ending free parking, with higher prices and less convenient spots for solo drivers.

LinkedIn is still working out the details of how priced parking will work – whether it will be cash payments, or some sort of credit system that has economic costs and rewards. Commuters who don’t drive and don’t take a parking permit will get cash bonuses for not driving.

LinkedIn’s 35% drivealone target is even steeper than the 45% goal for Mountain View’s North Bayshore area as a whole.  This shows the benefits of Mountain View’s “trip cap” policy in action – LinkedIn wants a higher employee density in its new offices, so it needs to reduce driving further.

These programs will take LinkedIn further down a path that it has been travelling. Over the last year, LinkedIn has already reduced its drivealone rate from 62% to 56%.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.30.26 AM.png

To make nondriving options more effective and attractive for commuters, LinkedIn proposes to pay for key commute infrastructure, including a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over US 101, and improvements on Shoreline including a dedicated shuttle lane, and pedestrian and bicycle improvements.

LinkedIn is confident that these improvements will bear results, since “companywide surveys show that employees are willing to try other modes and have a high interest in using commuter bus, public transit and bicycling.”

LinkedIn’s robust set of programs include subsidies for public transit, long-distance shuttles in partnership with the Transportation Management Association, carpool and vanpool programs including a technology platform to help match rides, and robust support for biking and walking, including use of bikeshare for last-mile and on-campus trips.

To make walking and bicycling more practical and appealing, the buildings move away from car-centric suburban office park designs.  Walking paths will include direct connections between buildings and winding paths for exercise and leisurely strolls.   Buildings will face roadways and plazas rather than parking lots, and even driveways will be designed to communicate that pedestrians have right of way.

 Housing and services as part of the transportation solution?

However, there are a few steps that LinkedIn’s proposal does not yet take, which could help further reduce driving.   In addition to 8000 employees, the new headquarter complex at 1400 North Shoreline is intended to in addition to a 15-screen movie theater, 5,000 square feet of retail and a health club.

As Mountain View discusses adding housing to North Bayshore, the LinkedIn proposal does not currently include housing.  Earlier uses of the site were polluted with trichloroethylene, requiring a massive Superfund cleanup, and the legal process at the time granted release of legal liability for office but not housing.  However, the EPA has a newer policy to confirm cleanup which has the potential to address the legal liability issue.

In earlier Mountain View’s environmental review of the city’s general plan, an option that included housing was modelled to have fewer car trips.   Similarly, in Menlo Park in the area near Facebook, the City is proposing scenarios with thousands of units of housing, and currently doing environmental review to verify whether this would reduce car commuting overall.

While not everyone who would live near LinkedIn would work there, providing more options to live near work is estimated to reduce driving. If the environmental liability issues could be solved, housing could help reduce the transportation burden.

Also, one of the tools that LinkedIn proposes to reduce trips is to provide “a wide variety of amenities and services to its employees including but not limited to meals, medical/dental, grooming, dry cleaning, vehicle maintenance, bicycle maintenance, shared vehicles, and package delivery.”

By contrast, in Menlo Park’s plans for the area near Facebook, the retail services that are currently provided only for employees in the inside of a gated campus are proposed to be turned “inside out”, to also serve residents of the new neighborhood, and other employers in the area.  This “main street” strategy could potentially help LinkedIn and Mountain View as well, by providing services to the new neighborhood.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 3.26.46 PM.png

 

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Live or work near transit? A tale of Palo Alto, San Mateo, SurveyMonkey, and housing affordability

Are you more likely to use transit if you live near transit or work near transit?  The answer, according to a recent study is “both” – with workplace playing a greater role than home location.   Researchers at the University of Denver studied the commute patterns of 3,400 people who lived or worked near three light rail lines in the Denver area.

Not surprisingly, the highest rate of transit use is found among people who live and work near light rail stations. People who both lived and worked within a 15 minute walk of a light rail station had a 62% likelihood of a non-car commute.

The next most likely to use transit were people who worked close to transit, but did not live close to transit.   People who worked within a 15 minute walk of light rail, but didn’t live near light rail, were 37% likely to have a non-car commute.    People who lived within a 15 minute walk of a station, but didn’t work near a station, has a 26% nondriving commute rate – higher than the 16% regional average, but lower than those who work near the station.  This study’s results very similar to earlier studies focusing on the Bay Area.

denvertransit.png

Palo Alto limits office near transit

This evening, Palo Alto City Council is about to implement a strict cap limiting new office development to 50,000 square feet per year in the areas closest to the city’s two Caltrain stations, and the El Camino Real corridor with bus service every 10-15 minutes.  Tonight, City Council plans to vote on the cap, which would stay in effect for two years or until the City completes its Comprehensive Plan update in the works.

While one of the goals of the cap was to address parking and traffic challenges, a recent survey found that 45% of the 10,000 employees who work in downtown Palo Alto commute by transit and other non-car modes, even before the implementation of new programs to reduce driving downtown.

Meanwhile, Palo Alto is not imposing an office development cap on the Stanford Research Park.  SRP is farther from transit, and currently has about an 80% car commute rate for its 23,000 employees.  According to the staff report, SRP has seen more office growth than Palo Alto’s other jobs areas over the last 15 years.  Palo Alto Council intends to eventually require SRP to reduce car trips – this is feasible, but more challenging and costly, since it requires an extra shuttle ride to connect to Caltrain.

Survey Monkey moves to San Mateo which encourages offices and homes near transit

In response to the office cap, fast-growing SurveyMonkey announced that they planned to leave Palo Alto, where their current headquarters is across the street from the Caltrain station, and move to Bay Meadows, a development in San Mateo adjacent to the Hillsdale Caltrain station.  The San Mateo location is about four times more spacious than the Palo Alto location.   The Palo Alto cap restricts annual office growth to the size of one current SurveyMonkey building.

Lawrence Santa Clara

A tabletop model of the Bay Meadows housing development in San Mateo. Bay Meadows, built at the location of the former Bay Meadows racetrack (demolished in 2008),is touted by developer Wilson Meany as comprehensively sustainable transportation-centered vi

Landing SurveyMonkey is a coup for the City of San Mateo, which planned the Rail Corridor area, from Hillsdale to Hayward Park, for transit-oriented development with a mix of offices and housing, in the mid-2000s, when Caltrain ridership was about half its current level. Tenants in the Rail Corridor area are required to have a plan to reduce vehicle trips, to share trip reduction investments, and to publish their results to City Council once a year.  It shouldn’t be hard for SurveyMonkey to comply with these conditions – the company has reported that over 60% of their 450 employees in downtown Palo Alto commute without driving alone.

Palo Alto has long been a place where start-up companies (including Google and Facebook) grow to adolescence and then move on – in office cap discussions, City Council members expressed confidence that the city would remain attractive to the next generations of startups, even as other places such as San Mateo and Redwood City increasingly provide office space in pedestrian-friendly, mixed use areas.

In addition to being able to keep their Caltrain commute, SurveyMonkey employees will have additional options to live near where they work.  The Bay Meadows development has apartments and for-sale homes walking distance from the offices.  Additional housing is being added elsewhere nearby in the San Mateo Rail Corridor area, and San Mateo is working on a new Downtown Plan that could increase the amount of housing and jobs available near the downtown Caltrain station and the 15-minute frequency El Camino Real bus line.

Tonight: San Mateo grapples with housing price spike driven by jobs influx

Even though San Mateo is adding more housing – market rate and below-market rate – it hasn’t been enough to keep housing prices from rising sharply.  An overall employment boom in the region is leaving San Mateo County with a severe undersupply of housing, like the rest of the region. Over the last 3 years, In the last three years, San Mateo County has added 40,000 new jobs but built only 3,000 new homes.   The housing crunch is resulting in spiking prices – a 49% increase in average rent over the last 4 years.

Also tonight, the City of San Mateo is holding a study session to explore a comprehensive set of options to address the housing crisis, ranging from more housing in transit areas, making it easier to add “in-law” units and smaller apartments, more funding for below market rate housing, and a variety of renter protection measures.

Palo Alto has a chance to update policies – key meeting October 20

Meanwhile, Palo Alto is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan, and has the ability to update its strategies relating to offices, housing and transportation.  The next upcoming citizens’ advisory committee reviewing transportation strategies is on October 20, with housing policies coming up at later meetings.

In earlier discussions about land use in Palo Alto, there have been proposals to increase the allowable housing in areas with the best transit access, in the Downtown and California Avenue areas.   The research reports suggest that merely living near transit does not create a huge boost in transit use – but there are many people who also have jobs in San Francisco and other job centers along the Caltrain line. Palo Alto could consider a variety of policies to attract residents who prefer non-car commutes – including the ability to buy or rent less parking (without the ability to park for free on the street!), and transportation benefits that come with the buildings, similar to policies implemented in San Mateo in Rail Corridor developments.

Palo Alto is also distinctive in having the highest ratio of jobs to housing in the region. An important question that wasn’t addressed by the Denver study is how much more likely it is for people to choose to live near work – if that option is available. Mountain View’s environmental study for its General Plan suggested that it helps – that adding housing in the North Bayshore area near Google, LinkedIn, and other employers would result in fewer vehicle trips.  Menlo Park and Sunnyvale are also studying plan options that provide more housing near jobs – there will be more information analysing the likely impact on car trips, given more options to live near work.

 

Obviously – and as the Denver study shows – not everyone who lives and works near light rail uses transit.  Nearly 40% still drive alone.  And not everyone who lives near a job center will work there.    The question isn’t whether everyone will use these options, but whether having the options available results in more people using the options.

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Santa Clara Lawrence Station development: 3,000 homes, 7000 parking spaces

Santa Clara moves forward with a mixed use development near Lawrence Station with 3,000 homes – rental and for-sale, multi-family and single family attached – roughly 85,000 square feet of retail space, with a 10-plus acre park at the center. More people living walking distance of the underutilized Lawrence Caltrain, more housing to address the housing shortage.

Although the development is at the Caltrain station, the development plans for over 7,000 parking spaces, including more than parking space per bedroom.  This reduces the incentive for residents to be car-light – less than one car per household.  And also increases the cost of housing, at a time that the region faces a housing affordability crisis.

Parking in Santa Clara Lawrence Development

Parking in Santa Clara Lawrence Development

It is not clear how much if any below market rate housing there will be.  Affordable housing was a city general plan goal for the area… “Highly encourage the development of affordable housing and senior housing that is well designed and compatible with adjacent uses in the Lawrence Station Focus Area.”

Lawrence Santa Clara

Lawrence Santa Clara

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A car-light, complete neighborhood in North Bayshore

Last weekend, Mountain View hosted a workshop on how to turn the North Bayshore area – the office park that hosts Google, LinkedIn, and other companies, into a neighborhood with homes and services. First, a set of experts provided perspective on what’s needed to create a neighborhood, and gave participants food for thought on what might be done in North Bayshore.  Then, participants had a series of exercises to share ideas and preferences.   The slides from the professional presentations and the notes and pictures from the workshop  exercises will be posted to the city’s website but aren’t there yet, check back here in about a week.

After the workshop, discussion continued on the mailing list of the Coalition for Balanced Mountain View, a group that discusses housing-related issues in the city.  To join the online conversation, you can sign up here.

How many people are needed to support a grocery store?

The basic service a neighborhood needs is a grocery store, so one of the key questions about creating a complete neighborhood is the level of population needed to support a grocery store.   Karen Alschuler, of Perkins and Will, explained that 7,000 housing units (not people) are needed to support a grocery store.  Doug Farr, of Farr Associates, gave examples of neighborhoods that could support grocery stores with a smaller number of people.  Harbor Town, a quarter-century-old neighborhood built on a sandbar in the Mississippi river north of downtown Memphis, supports a small grocery store with only 3000 housing units.  Since it is inconvenient to leave the island, the smaller store can thrive.  Farr also noted that a corner store can be supported by 1000 units of housing.

In the email discussion after the workshop, planning commissioner Robert Cox was skeptical of the “island” hypothesis.  He noted that there are other grocery stores within a mile or two, and a store on North Bayshore would need to compete on price and quality with other stores in the area.  Mountain View resident Janet Lafleur suggested that the workday population would also help support a store, sharing her experiences picking up groceries at Trader Joe’s in San Jose, during her bicycle/transit commute home to Mountain View.

Turning corporate amenities “inside out”

Today, in North Bayshore, Google and other employers provide food and other amenities for employees within their corporate campus buildings.  The onsite services have made it more difficult for retail businesses to survive and thrive.  Douglass Farr suggested turning the amenity areas in North Bayshore “inside out”, opening the private cafes, food service, dry cleaners, gyms to the public.  Serge Bonte mentioned on the mailing list that many college campuses work this way, allowing non-students to pay for facilities, while students and employees get no-extra-cost or discounted services.

This “Inside out” transformation is currently being planned for the next phases of development in Menlo Park near Facebook.  Today, Facebook has internal services (food, bike repair, dry cleaning, etc) that are not open to the public. In Menlo Park’s planning update for the area, with Facebook’s support, the goal is to make the services open to the public, also serving workers in other companies in the area, and residents in new housing that is proposed to be added.

Google already taken a first step down this path in North Bayshore.  In an application for office space, Google proposed to make some retail services open to the public, on a corridor between two office buildings.  Providing services that are near other companies and near a residential population would help make this into a viable retail district, rather than Google-focused services that happen to be open for people without security badges.

One challenge in today’s market is that brick and mortar retail businesses need to co-exist in a world with Amazon Prime, Google Express, and other e-commerce services offering online ordering and convenient delivery.  At the table attended by this blogger, participants talked about retailers that overcome the barrier by creating an experience, giving the example of Bumble in Los Altos, a cafe with an onsite play space with child care.

A walkable shopping area

Attendees at the workshop wanted to see the retail area in North Bayshore to be a place that residents can walk to, without needing a car. Multiple groups recommended mixed use buildings, with residential and office uses above ground floor retail on a shopping street.

Most recommended concentrating retail on a pedestrian-friendly corridor, inspired by Castro street in downtown Mountain View. As for which street should become the shopping corridor, different people and groups at the workshop expressed different opinions. Some made the case for Shoreline Boulevard so the retail can prosper by attracting customers who may be passing by.  Others, concerned about the level of vehicle traffic on shoreline, recommended housing along Shorebird, a quieter side street off of Shoreline.

Car-optional living

Walking to shop was one piece of an overall goal that many residents shared at the event and afterward – wanting to create a neighborhood that was less dependent on car use.  Bruce Liedstrand, former City Manager commented on the list that “we need to design the future North Bayshore so it is car-optional – so no one needs to own or drive a car.  This means designing the neighborhood that way and providing car-free mobility within NBS and a [transit] connector to the Castro Street Caltrain station.  This will connect future NBS residents to the regional transit network without needing a car.

On the mailing list, Mountain View resident Charles Bransi proposed partnering with Google to make the neighborhood closest to Google’s HQ the first place to adopt autonomous vehicle technology.   Self-driving cars, foresees Bransi, will be provided with Car-as-Service business models.  “Instead of owning your car (and using it so little on a day to commute), and having to park it, a self driving could be parked in a different location, and used by many people (so fewer cars are needed).  You want to do a grocery run, you call a self-driving car.  Using GPS, the nearest car will come pick you up.”

Google self-driving car

What kind of housing and where?

There was a workshop exercise where participants discussed the types of housing they wanted to see, and put markers on a map of NBS to show where housing should go.

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The table attended by this blogger wanted to see housing for a community that was diverse in age, household type, and income level.   The group didn’t think it would be desirable to house only young, single, North Bayshore tech workers.  Even people who are currently young and single are likely to partner and have families.  The housing should include 2-3 bedroom housing for families, as well as smaller units and micro-units, and should include below market rate subsidized housing, perhaps favoring teachers and others providing needed local services.  Other tables reported similar preferences for diverse housing types for diverse residents.   The groups wanted to see amenities for families, including potentially a school, tot lots for little kids, and would love to see Google open its playing fields to the public.  Preferences for building height varied, with some preferring Parisian-style mid-rise, and others comfortable with some high-rise towers to accommodate more housing.

In her introductory presentation, Alschuler talked about the level of density that helps create vibrancy.  She gave examples of vibrant urban places have about 20K people/square mile; some she listed were the Pearl District of Portland, at 18,350 people/square mile; Uptown in Oakland, at 22,200; and Adams Morgan in D.C., at 28,275. The area being considered in North Bayshore is 138 acres, so to get 7000 housing units to support a grocery store, the average density would be 50 dwelling units per acre.

Not everyone at the workshop was comfortable with housing in North Bayshore. Some continue to prefer to keep the area as office park, and to add housing in other parts of the city. One attendee, for example, expressed a belief that suburban place design is essential to the character of Silicon Valley, and wants to maintain the view back from Shoreline Park to Mountain View.  Some remain skeptical that the office park can be successfully evolved into a neighborhood, and dubious that it is possible to add residents and retail without worsening traffic problems.

Neighborhood public spaces

In his introductory presentation, Fred Kent, of Project for Public Spaces, talked about how to make the a neighborhood lively.   He explained that a place where people want to be is a place where people can see other people out doing things.  He talked about making public spaces comfortable, like by adding benches; and he talked about making sure there were 5-10 destinations to make a space worth going to.

Participants talked in the workshop sessions about whether the social space for residents should be open to the public. The table attended by this blogger, and other groups, wanted to see spaces open to the public, rather than internally facing and gated.

Next steps

The workshop was only one step in a process for Mountain View to decide about how to create a neighborhood in North Bayshore.  The material from this workshop, including slides from the professional presentations, along with notes and annotated maps from the table discussions, will be posted online here. The next public meetings will be held in the fall

 

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