Mountain View office project targeted in referendum challenging growth

A Mountain View citizen’s group may target a major office proposal at the ballot box, the latest sign that the city’s development wave is leading to pushback in some quarters.

The recently formed Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View told city council members this week that it would begin a referendum if the council approved the next phase of Merlone Geier Partners’ Village at San Antonio Center. The phase would include a new hotel, an eight-screen movie theater and 500,000 square feet of office at the center. Merlone Geier has already completed the first phase, which includes 144,000 square feet of retail and 330 luxury apartment units at 645 San Antonio Road.

The project has been in the works for several years, but it’s coming up for a vote this summer as numerous developers have proposed their own office projects amid worsening traffic and ever-rising housing costs.

“This project will aggravate Mountain View’s jobs-housing imbalance by creating workspace for a minimum of 2,000 employees, and probably more, yet providing no housing — in an area suitable for housing,” wrote group leader Lenny Siegel in an email to council members.

Siegel said the council should not approve the project before it ratifies a new “precise plan” that would outline specific land use guidelines for the larger area. The council is slated to weigh in on the project July 1, while a new precise plan is a long-term effort that could take years.

Siegel told me this morning that he’s confident the group would be able to gather the 3,240 valid signatures required to get the issue on a ballot, possibly a special election because there may not be time to qualify for the November ballot. The referendum would basically ask voters to overturn the council’s approval, should it give the Merlone Geyer the green light.

“Our group is very optimistic in this day and age — with all the neighborhoods having their email lists — that we could get a PDF petition out to hundreds of people within 24 hours of the council action,” Siegel said.

Whatever happens will be of major interest to real estate developers and other industry professionals. Mountain View has become one of the most attractive markets for development thanks to the space needs of tech titans like Google Inc., LinkedIn Corp. andIntuit Inc., plus a burgeoning startup scene. But new projects have also started generating complaints of too much traffic and other growing pains.

Siegel said his group is not “anti development,” and in fact would support much more dense housing in the city.

“There’s this development wave happening, and we’re about to adopt a housing element (plan) that will provide — if we’re lucky — 3,000 new housing units by 2023,” he said. “We’ll have that many new jobs by the end of the year.”

The referendum threat carries weight given recent history. Last year, a Palo Alto ballot initiative killed a 60-unit senior apartment complex that the city council had already approved.

Also, in Menlo Park a citizen’s group is also seeking to use the ballot box against new projects in that city’s Downtown and El Camino Real corridor.

Merlone Geier didn’t return an email by the time of this post

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