Google wowed the Mountain View City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 22, with its most detailed presentation yet on its North Bayshore development plans, but council members were hesitant to embrace the company's plans for a bridge over Stevens Creek.
David Radcliffe, Google's vice president of real estate and workplace services, presented conceptual plans for a network of greenways for biking and walking around Google's headquarters and said he was "excited" about the possibility of using Google's self-driving car technology to operate its shuttle system. He said Google is planning the most environmentally friendly buildings anywhere, using 60 percent less energy than a standard building and 80 percent less water.
As illustrated by a map Radcliffe presented Tuesday, Google now owns or leases most of the office buildings in the city north of Highway 101 and is gradually transforming the area. A new 1 million-square-foot Google campus on adjacent NASA Ames Research Center property is set to begin construction this year. It will have the highest rating for environmental design, -- platinum, according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, Radcliffe said.
"While we may do the best we can with LEED, we may go beyond that," said George Salah, director of real estate and workplace services. "I don't know anyone else who is doing that, including Facebook."
Radcliffe urged the council to allow Google to begin a required environmental study for the pedestrian and shuttle bridge over Stevens Creek, connecting headquarters to a new NASA Ames campus that is expected to house as many as 4,000 employees when it opens in 2015.
"If we delay even by a month or so, we miss that critical summer period in 2014," Radcliffe said. Restrictions only allow bridge construction during dry periods between May and October. "We will be missing opening in 2015 and delivering the project sometime into 2016."
Council members clearly thought Google was trying to rush things.
"I believe we had agreed to hold off on moving forward with this (bridge study) until we finished this transportation study, which is coming out Feb. 5," said member Margaret Abe-Koga. "We are talking about two weeks."
A majority of council members said the transportation study would allow council members to decide what alternatives should be considered in the bridge environmental study, such as whether the bridge should be made accessible to regular auto traffic and whether it should be moved down to La Avenida -- an alternative Google's John Igoe said was worth studying. Google has proposed it for the end of Charleston Road where a large egret colony lives in the trees.
"Perhaps La Avenida is the preferred location," said Shani Kleinhaus of the Audubon Society. "That means the analysis begins there, not where Google wants it."
"We have a lot of talking to do on what we want in North Bayshore," said council member Ronit Bryant.
"One of the best weapons we have in the growth of our company is proximity," Radcliffe said. "Having our employees shoulder-to-shoulder is critical to our success."
To that end, Radcliffe said Google plans to build densely -- "up, not out, as we say" -- and make room for park space and wildlife areas on properties that it owns near Stevens Creek and the Bay wetlands.
Radcliffe said the goal is to create an "urban center," something that is "very consistent with the general plan you adopted last year," he told the council.
"The general plan update contemplates another 3.7 million square feet of development in North Bayshore," Radcliffe said. Google plans to build nearly 1 million square feet on the empty lot known as "Charleston East" next to its headquarters at 1600 Amphitheater Parkway.
"The remaining 2.7 million would come from razing existing buildings and building new," he said.
"If we took down a 100,000-square-foot building with 0.3 (floor area ratio), we could build 300,000 square feet on that property," Radcliffe said, explaining how the general plan allows for higher densities. But to create parks space and buffers for wildlife at the edges of North Bayshore, "We might ask for 500,000 and knock down 200,000 square feet somewhere else. That would help save areas like the Charleston detention basin."
With all of the development that could come as Google potentially doubles in size in Mountain View, there's plenty of concern about traffic on the only two roads into the area, Shoreline Boulevard and Rengstorff Avenue/Amphitheater Parkway.
Council member Mike Kasperzak asked Radcliffe if Google had any interest in a personal rapid transit system for North Bayshore, a system of computer controlled vehicles that move on tracks or rails. Such a system has been suggested as a way to connect the downtown train station to Google and NASA Ames.
"With any fixed rail system, once it's put in place it's very hard to move," Radcliffe said. "What I'm really excited about is a shuttle program enabled with the technology from our autonomous vehicle program. Basically, a PRT system without the rails. I think that's the future for North Bayshore."
"We believe technology is a big part of the solution to this problem," Radcliffe said. "We are trying to solve this on a global level, not just on a local level."
Radcliffe said the most difficult employees to get out of their cars are those that live 10-15 miles away. "We are really trying crack that nut," Radcliffe said. "We are not sure PRT is going to get those people out of their cars."
As for people who live within 3-5 miles: "We can get those people on bikes," Radcliffe said.
Google's famous bicycle sharing system may see huge boost with a network of new parks and green-ways Radcliffe presented Tuesday. A map showed two major bike and pedestrian paths running east-west through North Bayshore, one running through the middle of 1600 Amphitheater Parkway and Charleston East out to Stevens Creek, and another running parallel through Google's buildings south of Charleston Road. Two large parks were shown, one south of Charleston Park and another on Shorebird Way. Both were connected to the greenway system, forming a car-free loop for Googlers on foot or on bike.
"You are lucky to have this problem of a corporate citizen wanting to expand their campus and do so in a responsible way," said Corinne Winter, director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. "It seems to me the interest on the part of Google to really do this in way that benefits Mountain View and complies with the general plan is spectacular."