Following the 4/26 Council meeting on San Antonio Center, the developer for the project, Merlone Geier Partners, requested that further discussion of the project be postponed until further notice. Merlone Geier has said that they will need additional time to respond to the comments made at the 4/26 meeting, and therefore will not be ready to continue the conversation about the project at the 5/3 Council meeting.
Mountain View City Council Meeting Summary
Item 5.1 San Antonio Center
The atmosphere was tense as the developer expressed their desire to start construction immediately; they clearly wanted the project approved as designed. However, even before the developer’s presentation and public comment, council was apprehensive to approve the project and several members stated they had concerns about the design and affordable housing units on site.
When the developer presented their project to Council, there were several surprising changes to their project proposal. First, the developer stated they would be subsidizing transit passes for the employees of the tenants on the site. Second, they agreed to dedicate 3% of the total residential units on site as affordable units. Third, they said the Rite Aid was now out of the project, and the building edge was now moved to the street, but entrances were still facing away from El Camino. Finally, the developer offered to dedicate the Hetch Hetchy park space as public space, but through some sort of agreement, the developer would pay the maintenance costs associated with the park space.
After the developer outlined the list of new civic benefits, they turned to proposals made by staff that they felt should not be required to implement. For example, they felt requiring solar powered water heaters was inappropriate and should be scratched. They listed many other items they disagreed with, but council was baffled by their request to approve the project anyway since some this list of changes was alien to some councilmembers. Because of the many last minute changes, council decided not to vote on the precise plan amendments, EIR, or project proposal but instead review the proposed design of the project and give their recommendations to staff. Staff would then implement the changes and the project would come back to council at a later date.
After this, the meeting took on a form resembling a study session. Public comments began. A variety of points of view were expressed. Workers from Safeway corporate and retail were present to express their support for the new Safeway design along with the new jobs the store would require. Several speakers expressed doubt over transforming El Camino to a more people friendly space and felt the project should be passed as-is. Doug DeLong and another person commented on the need for a greater number of affordable units on site.
When public comment closed, council commentary started with Tom Means. He felt it the developer knew their market best and should be allowed to build what they think will work on the site. He was skeptical of the grand boulevard initiative features including wide sidewalks, and storefronts facing the street. He felt stores with two entrances were vulnerable to crime and made the space difficult to lease. However, he did request for a more refined bike treatment from Fayette Dr. to the greenway bike path. He suggested a special signal phase for bicyclists to comfortably cross the street.
Laura Macias was next, and she echoed Means’ call for the special cyclist signal phase. However, she went one step further and specifically asked for a dedicated bike signal. For the grand boulevard features, she didn’t explicitly call for storefronts on the street, but she asked for wider sidewalks and the landscape buffer to go between the sidewalk and the street, rather than between the buildings and the sidewalk. Additionally she specifically asked for the corner of El Camino and San Antonio to be tightened to slow car traffic down.
Mike Kasperzak echoed the sidewalk comments and suggested that they should be wider than staff’s proposed 10’. He debated the merits of providing storefronts on both sides of the buildings, but he believed it was possible and directed staff to find a workable solution. Kasperzak definitely supported at least 10 percent of the total units to be BMR units. The city attorney said that, due to the palmer decision, the only way to achieve this was to enter into a development agreement with the applicant.
Ronit and Margaret held similar positions on BMR units and the design of the project. They both suggested a 15’ sidewalk for the El Camino Frontage and expressed support of the characteristics of the Grand Boulevard Initiative. They both challenged the assertion that El Camino was a lifeless corridor, condemned to the exclusive use of automobiles.
This is a very informative video about the SF Park, a parking supply and demand management program with applications in other retail districts around the region with high automobile congestion.
Thousands of spaces citywide. Real time parking availability info by computer or smart phone. Prices will adjust monthly street by street based on demand. It's impressive, check out their neat PR video here:
"Cities around the world are combating parking and traffic congestion problems," said Mayor Lee. "With SFpark, San Francisco is the first city in the world to pursue a comprehensive parking-based approach to congestion management and greenhouse gas emission reduction that will also support local merchants and keep San Francisco moving." - SF Mayor Lee
"This innovative project will reduce circling and double-parking, help make Muni faster and more reliable, reduce congestion, and create safer streets for everyone," said SFMTA Executive Director/CEO Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. "The parking information on the app, the website, and the real time information signs will allow SFpark to also make it easier to park and drive in San Francisco."
People who were watching item 5.1 (San Antonio Center redevelopment and associated matters) on the Mountain View City Council agenda last night got a special treat listening to our most eloquent MVCSP speakers, of whom we can all be very proud.
That said, exactly what will or won't come out of this is unknown. There was certainly movement toward better design, and things like "wide sidewalks" stand a chance. While Council did not completely support some of the EPC/ZA recommendations, MVCSP's hard work definitely paid off!
For those of you who weren't there, had to leave early, or for some reason were puzzled by the whole thing (that was a joke--this is the closest I've ever seen a Council meeting come to deteriorating into straight farce), here's how the process situation looked to me from the middle of Council Chambers:
1. First and foremost, NOTHING having to do with San Antonio Center was voted on last night, after the developer (Merlone Geier) self-destructed and almost no one on Council felt that there was any clarity on what they would be voting on.
2. My impression was that the entire agenda item was continued to date uncertain. Others' impressions may differ, but everyone agrees that next week, May 3, doesn't seem like a possible date given the amount of work to be done before this project is ready for public view again. (Two other agenda items were continued to May 3, given the appallingly late hour.) In the interim, Staff was ultimately directed to try to pick up the scattered pieces of the developer's application, taking into account Council's comments.
3. Environmental Impact Report (EIR) (the first item proposed to be voted on, for the entire 56 acres in the Precise Plan): There was a last-minute objection from an attorney for the Carpenters Union, who did not accept the response he'd gotten from City Staff. His list of continuing objections included insufficient mitigations for greenhouse gas emissions, for example. I have no idea what the legal status of this situation is but I doubt we've heard the last of it.
4. Precise Plan: As per above, there were greater and lesser objections to the several EPC additions, which objections I think it is fair to say were largely based on their implications for this developer's proposal for 1/3 of the site.
With no resolution at this point, the PP for the 56 acres is still in limbo.
Clearly Staff will need to find a way to deal with this situation too.
5. ZA Conditions of Approval: You can look at these as pages 118-148 of the online Staff Report for the item. As always, they incorporate conditions determined by the EIR analysis (required mitigations); by various City codes; by comments from the DRC (Design Review Committee--architectural review of the project by outside consulting architects); and by the Zoning Administrator's findings based largely on the Environmental Planning Commission's recommendations. Some of them are high-level and some are low-level, like submission of color samples. This is a complicated project and there were a lot of items. It's impossible to determine from the document when MGP got these (I thought it was supposed to be 10 days after the ZA Hearing, which would be April 17), but apparently a marked-up sheaf of questions and objections was distributed to Council a very short time before the meeting last night, definitely after the official information packet for the item was delivered to them on Friday (?). It appears that it was just this original packet, minus the later unanticipated feedback from the developer, that Council spent a lot of time trying to understand over the weekend. When they (but, it emerged, not all the relevant staff members) received this last-minute temper-tantrum on paper, they said that these were things that should have been worked out with Staff ahead of time, and they had no way of dealing with them from the dais.
6. Three MGP representatives gave an extremely long presentation, mainly a glowing description of the project and (third segment) a run-through (completely inconsistent with standard procedure) of the above-mentioned list.
The last thing mentioned: Rite-Aid is gone, and MGP has moved that building closer to ECR ("This was always the way we wanted to do it.") One less thing to discuss, except that it wasn't up against the sidewalk, just closer.
7. At some point, the developer, seeing that he'd created an impasse, decided to offer to withdraw the objections he'd just spent at least 20 minutes talking about and just ask Council to pass his proposal, with Staff's recommendations intact, then and there. He wanted to work out any problems later by talking to Staff. Council still declined to vote on anything, and finally the Mayor said the item would be continued.
8. Somewhere in there there was public input: MVCSP's presentation, regarding desired changes to the design, with a request for continuation of the project approval process until these could be considered; from Safeway managers and employees, who asked that the project be approved because this would guarantee that the 65,000-square-foot Safeway would be there for everyone to enjoy; from several residents who supported various things the developer was proposing; from VTA, supporting wide sidewalks and transit passes, and several residents supporting bike/ped-friendliness; from one (very good) affordable housing advocate, plus a field rep from the Carpenters Union who said that the Emperor has no clothes, something like this: "The reason the developer wants you to approve his project right now has nothing to do with a need to know that the color samples are OK, which is the reason he gave you. The real reason is that there are affordable housing requirements for rental housing development coming down the pike and he wants to avoid them."
9. A number of Councilmembers supported the inclusion of BMR units on-site in this project, and at this point knew that there is a legally and economically feasible way to get this result. The developer had (earlier) volunteered 3% BMR units, which is about 10. The standard in our currently-unenforceable BMR ordinance is 10%, not 3%, which would get a little farther toward meeting the obvious demand, starting with the needs of San Antonio Center lower-wage workers. (Some communities specify appreciably more than 10%.) Council briefly discussed ways and means, including a Development Agreement; this matter is also pending.
With redevelopment agencies under threat, diminished investment in low income housing tax credits and the exhaustion of Proposition 1C funds, affordable housing is at a crossroads. If you are concerned about the future of affordable homes, do NOT miss this summit gathering city planners, key housing leaders, policy makers and community advocates to discuss solutions to our short and long term housing challenges. Looking back to look forward, we'll be joined by a panel of former Directors of California's Housing & Community Development Department, including the Director during Governor Brown's first term in the mid-1970's.
We will also honor a very special Silicon Valley Housing Hero, Leslye Corsiglia, San Jose's Director of Housing.
When: WEDNESDAY, MAY 4TH
Where: OSHMAN FAMILY JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER
3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
Cost: $40 (Includes continental breakfast and lunch!)
For more information, check out the website http://svlg.org/events/housingsummit/
A special thanks to our sponsors:
bre, Green Republic, and EAH
Eden, ROEM, Charities Housing, BD Biosciences, MidPen Housing Corporation, Prometheus, and Summerhill Homes
Questions? Special Requests? Please don't hesitate to contact me directly!
Hope to see you there,
Housing and Community Development Associate
Silicon Valley Leadership Group
This Tuesday, April 26, the Mountain View City Council will decide whether to grant Merlone Geier Partners a permit to continue with their proposed design for redevelopment of almost a third of San Antonio Center. The Public Hearing on this matter will start shortly after 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Several MVCSP members will be making a presentation at this meeting, suggesting significant improvements to the design in addition to those that have been recommended by the Environmental Planning Commission and proposed by City Staff. We believe that these improvements will make the project much more successful economically for both the developer and the City.
Please come and support our suggestions. WE NEED PEOPLE THERE, whether or not you speak. The presenters will ask you to stand or raise your hands to show your support, and the Council always counts these votes!
We also encourage you to comment on this item, after our presentation, from your personal point of view. Your own experiences, dreams, and technical expertise are what Council wants to hear from Mountain View residents. A few thoughts that might help, in no particular order:
* Why do design decisions like this matter? It is up to the Council to make sure that the project is done "right", and you are counting on them to do so.
* What have been your experiences with San Antonio Center that may make the developer's proposal look like a great improvement, but also make the MVCSP proposal look more like your dream of what Mountain View should really be like?
* Why is it important to you and to the City that this project be sustainable? (That means socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable for many years to come.) What will make it sustainable in any or all of these respects?
* Why is it important to you to be able to walk or take efficient public transit around town? And to enjoy these experiences? Why would you particularly welcome the rebirth of El Camino Real as a Grand Boulevard, with interesting and useful shopping opportunities right next to a wide, pleasant sidewalk on one side, and efficient transit on the other? (The Grand Boulevard Initiative is waiting in the wings, and this project could be a real impetus to getting it going--or, with poorly designed edges, it could serve as an excuse for not getting it done, when other redevelopment projects come up.)
In addition to the MVCSP presentation, some people will be speaking specifically to the need for affordable rental housing at San Antonio Center, both for people working right there at fairly low wages, and for others in the community who have very low incomes and need to be close to shopping and transit. (This pillar of sustainability will not be described at length in the MVCSP presentation, which will focus on design issues, but it is supported by MVCSP as "good planning", and a very obvious fit for this site.)
The developer is proposing over 300 market-rate rental units in one part of his project. We are encouraging public input saying that a significant number of them, perhaps 10%, should be "affordable". (Council knows what "affordable" means: housing expenditures are no more than 30% of household income at levels defined as various degrees of "low" (which is also legally defined); we don't need to define these terms when we speak.) There ARE legally and economically realistic ways that Council can get this done, despite some recent legal background that makes it a bit roundabout, and we are asking them to take the trouble to do it.
Personal experience on this topic should not be at all hard to find.
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