General Plan 2030

by David Lewis

While the voting for the General Plan (GP 2030) thus far has been generally in favor of even higher density, it should be noted that Mountain View is one of the highest-density cities in the Bay Area today.

The Greenbelt Alliance, which supports higher density and transit-oriented development for Mountain View, notes on their website that “The housing density in Mountain View…is one of the highest in the Bay Area outside San Francisco, and the city is unusual in having far more multifamily units than single family detached homes.”

Mountain View also ranks third in population per acre in Santa Clara County, behind Sunnyvale and Campbell, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

Given this reality, one has to ask, what do we want Mountain View to look like in 2030?

To be sure, we all want an environmentally sustainable city. The question is, what tools are at our disposal to make our lifestyles green?

One is transit-oriented development. This presumes by building close to transit we can get Californians out of their cars and onto buses and trains and thus reduce traffic and air pollution.Historically, only about 5% choose mass transit (the national average) and about 85% drive to work, almost all in single occupant vehicle.

My view is that greater use of public transit might be possible if Caltrain and VTA provided both convenient (e.g., buses every 5 to 10 minutes) and affordable (subsidized as much as cars) service.
In studies that have looked at higher rates of transit usage, those areas often had diversity in services within walking distance. It makes intuitive sense that if you can walk to a grocery store, gym, dry cleaners, or deli, this will reduce auto use.

Especially with the train station as a traffic hub, we might consider encouraging a greater diversity of services.  Wouldn’t commuters coming to Mountain View in the evening stop at a deli or go to a gym before starting home if they were easily accessible from the station? (An added benefit is that these would increase city revenue through sales tax.)

GP 2030 looks at six areas in particular for higher-density development, and there’s two that could directly impact Old Mountain View.

The first is the planning for El Camino. Planning for the Grand Boulevard Initiative—an effort to remake the El Camino Corridor in 19 cities, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties—has already been underway in Mountain View since 2007.

One of the thrusts of this initiative is to make this corridor a site for smart, higher density, transit-oriented development.  While this kind of development has been done with some success elsewhere, the possible downside is that the higher density part will happen, but the transit-oriented won’t, leading to even more traffic congestion on an already congested El Camino Real. Vice Mayor Jac Siegel and EPC Chairman John McAlister shared these concerns.

On the other hand, El Camino could certainly be improved substantially over its present state. For this area, Option B got the most votes, to allow for building up to 5 stories.

Another area that could have an impact on Old Mountain View is development of North Bayshore around the Googleplex. Some proponents of high-density in Old Mountain View have pointed out the need for housing Google employees. In the visioning sessions, residents community-wide supported high-density, multi-use developments for the North Bayshore. In addition, Google Real Estate Director David Radcliffe, has stated that Google would like to see mixed-use residential and commercial development in this region. In the February 2 session, residential housing was rejected. However, this subject will be revisited in a special Council session.

The new General Plan could have some beneficial effects such as improved pedestrian and bike access, improvements to the ambience of Castro Street and more local shopping venues.

David Lewis is the Community Liaison for OMVNA. The opinions expressed are Mr. Lewis’s personal views, and do not reflect the views of OMVNA.

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