Google keeps growing and has become synonymous with Mountain View, California, the way Apple has with Cupertino. The Silicon Valley giant has kept pace with Apple, too, when it comes to its corporate headquarters.
Not to be outdone by Apple’s giant UFO under construction on a former HP campus, Google has proposed a new campus co-designed by Bjarke Ingels that looks like a 21st century tent city. The additional space, according to Google, promises to integrate technology, nature, workstations and bike paths. And in a pledge demonstrating the tech company wants to be a good neighbor, Google is offering its home city US$200 million in infrastructure and public benefits.
That sum sounds like an impressive figure, a gift over which any city council would faint — especially in an era where companies with marquee names usually demand, not offer, millions from cities to keep them or relocate them. The renderings of the proposed complex in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View are sweet with the sloping curves, fruit trees and modular office space: all a nice change from the concrete and glass bunkers typical throughout the South Bay.
But for some in the city of 80,000, Google’s promise to be Mountain View’s corporate sugar daddy is not sweet enough.
The challenge is less about Google’s offer than the transformation of Santa Clara County from orchards, to blue collar towns living off defense contracts, to a region choking from traffic and an exorbitant cost of living. The median price for a home in Mountain View is almost US$1.2 million, up 13.5 percent over the past year. Renters cannot plan on saving for a down payment, with median rents just below US$3,000. Talk of affordable housing (depending on the definition of “affordable”), rent control or even rent stabilization will never go anywhere in Mountain View as politicians do not want to take on the realtor or property management lobbies.
Commuters will not find much relief as the median monthly rent in Santa Clara County is at $2,750 and rising. Furthermore, few options for commuting to Mountain View exist other than highways 101, 237 or even 280. The local public transportation system has never been adequate; CalTrain is sufficient if you live along the tracks that stretch between Gilroy and San Francisco, but even then one would need to take a shuttle from the Castro Street station to Google’s offices.
And therein lie concerns with Google’s proposal for the 2.5 million-square-foot complex that could house as many as 10,000 employees. More workers and residents mean more public services, including everything from schools to waste collection. The nearby wetlands would surely be affected as the San Francisco Bay’s ecosystem is already fragile. And while Google insists it wants to be integrated within the local community, not operating as a fortress in Mountain View, some city leaders such as city council member Lenny Siegel want to make sure the jobs and housing imbalance does not go any more haywire than it is now.
Finally, Google is not the only company bidding for the land, the development of which will pretty much tap out any available space in Mountain View. Proposals from firms including LinkedIn are on the drawing board, and there will not be enough space to incorporate all of these ideas for development. But for Mountain View, with Google in for the long haul, there may not be a more creative offer. Google has taken its lumps as it has grown over the past 15 years, but from clean energy to social enterprise, the company has shown that just because it is big, does not mean it is evil. Mountain View would be hard pressed to find a better option that what Google suggests for the North Bayshore neighborhood.
Image credit: Google
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.