Google backs down from threat to cancel Mountain View housing

An artist’s rendering of Google’s planned Charleston East campus in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View (City of Mountain View)

MOUNTAIN VIEW — Google has backed down from a threat to deny badly needed housing in Mountain View if it isn’t given more office space for its futuristic new “Charleston East” campus.

After pushing for 9,850 housing units to be built in the North Bayshore area anchored by Charleston East, Google last week told the Mountain View City Council it would cancel that plan if officials didn’t agree to add more office space to the 3.6 million square feet in the draft plan. Most of the housing, if ultimately approved, would be built on Google’s land.

In a region plagued by a housing crisis caused by too many workers and not enough homes, Google’s move provoked outrage.

On Monday, the search giant sent a letter to the council saying it was sorry for what city officials and many in the public took as an ultimatum.

“We apologize that this came out as a demand, when the intent was to open a conversation to address a potential issue,” Google’s vice-president of real estate David Radcliffe wrote.

Google “strongly” supports having 9,850 housing units at North Bayshore, and is “committed to finding creative solutions … within the 3.6 million square feet” of office space, Radcliffe’s letter said.

To Mountain View vice-mayor Lenny Siegel, the letter appeared to represent Google giving in on the issue.

“I think they heard from the public and their employees that they looked like bullies, and we’d been working on all this housing, why would they pull out now?” Siegel said Monday.

“I think we’ll basically be able to move forward in designing North Bayshore with them,” he said.

Google’s letter proposed that city fees from development of housing and parks in North Bayshore could be used to offset housing costs, particularly for affordable homes.

“The possibility of using various fees to get a better mixed-use urban neighborhood, that’s fine,” Siegel said. “What wasn’t fine was saying, ‘No topping off of the offices, no housing’ — that was the problem.”

Of the nearly 10,000 housing units to be built in North Bayshore if Google and city officials reach an agreement, Google has discussed paying for 2,500 to 3,000 itself, according to council member Margaret Abe-Koga.

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 last week. About a fifth of the homes are to be classified as affordable.

Silicon Valley’s housing crisis is largely driven by the imbalance between the number of workers versus the number of homes. 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 housing-advocacy group SV@Home.

The final City Council vote on the North Bayshore plan is set for November.

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