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City Planning

Santa Clara Wants to Reclaim Its Downtown

By | City Planning, Historic Buildings, Livability, Walk Appeal | One Comment

Santa Clara, which tore down its downtown in the 60’s, wants to rebuild it as a central walking, meeting and human scaled space.

Old Santa Clara downtown, demolished in the 60s.

 

New vision for Santa Clara

 

 

 

 

 

Last November, ABC News covered Reclaiming our Downtown’s efforts. For more on their vision, see the group’s webpage.

 

Click on the image to watch the video: ABC News on Santa Clara Downtown rebuild

CBS Video on “Mountain View City Council Rejects Boxy Architecture, Seeks More Organic Designs”

By | City Planning, Livability | No Comments

KPIX in SF (CBS) posted a video titled “Mountain View City Council Rejects Boxy Architecture, Seeks More Organic Designs

Boxy design reminds me of the proletariat 60s design that went out of style fast.. within 10 years in fact. Those old 60s buildings quickly became eyesores.. and I suspect the buildings we are putting up that benefit developers (every inch of the box can be sold and building them is cheap) will not stand the test of time either, leading to more ugly reputation for Mountain View. When I moved here, people had horrified looks on their faces, when I told them. I asked why, as Old Mountain View is lovely and I hadn’t seen anything ugly. They replied that the proletariat 60s apartment buildings were all over the rest of it, and I live in one of two nice neighborhoods. The rest was awful, as I quickly discovered. But still I’d hoped we’d learned from those old design mistakes. However, we appear to want to repeat history and do it all again. And the community will suffer while the developers and architects will live elsewhere, no need to live with the bad buildings they leave us with.

I’m happy to see our City Council of Mountain View is recognizing that these new boxy slightly refreshed but still 60s-proletariat buildings aren’t cutting it. But can developers think of anything to come up with truly livable designs?

Today in the Downtown Committee, Robert Green of The Robert Green Company presented a hotel and office, and said to us, “Mountain View doesn’t have a style.” And then “We are trying to find it….” And this is what he presented (along with Rob Zirkle of brick. who presented the Villa proposal):

Hotel and Offices proposals

Where is the livability in that?

Mountain View does have a style. Neither of these guys live here, so they don’t even realize our style. But it’s west coast craftsman arts and crafts, Queen Anne, Victorian, along with Spanish Mission (Tied House uses this with a mixture of that and Hamberg Warehouse style). Just because developers have ripped out and ruined some of our heritage and mostly put up garbage design that’s boxy, doesn’t mean we don’t have some remaining style left in our town. We want to save the stylish parts and build where we aren’t removing our heritage, with design that makes sense and is beautiful, with quality.

Other more imaginative developers have been able to muster that sense of quality and design. See these View Street Condos (just off Villa and Dana) for reference. In fact I would prefer to see the City ask the Hotel, and offices all be built in this style and quality:

Villa Condos Example of Mountain View Style

What makes the View Condos a great development isn’t just the design but good quality materials, attention to detail and a variety of special spaces such as the balconies, entries and courtyard, different heights and varying levels of facade. It’s still a very large building and yet standing at the front at street level it feels very human and livable. Also, high quality troweled stucco instead of popcorn pin point stucco is used, as is great thick wooden treatments for balconies and trims, doors and windows. No flimsy vinyl window divides here.. it’s a highly desirable building.

We need more of this.. and no more boxy proletariat buildings. These proposed hotel and offices are $100 million each buildings. Amazing that Green and Zirkle would propose such short sighted construction and design for Mountain View that won’t stand the test of time.

The 10 Commandments of Smart Growth

By | City Planning, Design, Walk Appeal | No Comments

From Smart Growth America. Note #2 and 5. That’s the way we make Mountain View distinctive and unique.

The 10 Commandments of Smart Growth:

1. Mix land uses.
2. Take advantage of existing community assets.
3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.
4. Foster “walkable,” close-knit neighborhoods.
5. Promote distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place, including the rehabilitation and use of historic buildings.
6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
7. Strengthen and encourage growth in existing communities.
8. Provide a variety of transportation choices.
9. Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective.
10. Encourage citizen and stakeholder participation in development decisions.

Can This Downtown Be Saved?

By | City Planning, Design, Livability, Walk Appeal | No Comments

Mountain View’s Poor Growth Planning Can Be Stopped.

Downtowns are to our cities like kitchens are to our homes — the heart. Downtowns are gathering places for our community. Downtowns are where we discover a new book or the perfect outfit. Downtowns are where we can bump into a neighbor while walking our dog and decide to stop for a cup coffee or a glass of wine.

My family and I moved to Mountain View six years ago after falling in love with the wonderful downtown. We loved the quirky, one-of-a kind shops and restaurants housed in historic buildings. We loved the small-town accessibility, knowing we would walk to downtown for restaurants, coffee houses, bookstores, live music, and specialty shopping. We loved the vibrant streets and ambiance.

At that time, it was clear that the downtown reflected the diverse interests and vitality of its neighborhoods and we wanted to be a part of it. We also recognized that growth was inevitable, but were confident the city management would protect the assets that made the downtown unique. It appeared that the City Council had not sold out to developers and large ubiquitous, box and chain stores. We believed we had found our dream town.

For a while, our downtown appeared to avoid the pitfalls of poorly planned growth. Then slowly, one by one, pieces of our history and Mountain View’s public usability began disappearing.

One of these fatalities was the destruction of Pearson House at Villa and Bryant Streets, a very important historical building that residents fought to preserve 12 years ago.

It was taken down by the City, only to be replaced by a closed-to-the-public, 24 hour-guarded office building.

That plan was approved by the City Council with the Developer’s commitment that the first floor would be designed for public use. That promise was broken.

Why ruin the historic charm of Villa Street, part of our walkable downtown welcoming people to Mountain View?

See those tables / umbrellas? No one uses them. The landlord and WhatsApp refuse to put in the cafe they promised.

Office buildings create “Dead Zones” in our downtown.

Dead zones and dark windows on Castro Street (our main st) at Quora HQ.

These Dead Zones discourage us from exploring other open businesses further down the street. Almost overnight, a number of new office buildings have sprung up on Castro Street, some with opaque windows, some with no name, providing no public access or interactivity, and creating more Dead Zones.

Now we are faced with the imminent threat of losing Chez TJ and Tied House on Villa Street to another office complex again, with the promise to build a restaurant on the first floor. Tied House and Chez TJ have been recognized by the City Council as historic buildings.

WeilHeimer House, now and for the past 30+ years, home of Chez TJ.

Chez TJ has capitalized on this historic designation, using the history in its advertising materials for years! Structures of historical, architectural, and cultural significance enrich the quality of life in Mountain View. They provide the unique character that draws residents and visitors downtown.

The popular Tied House is proposed for demolition.

Growth is not inherently bad, in fact it can be welcome, but only when it is well planned. Office buildings as part of smart growth are welcome as they bring jobs to our community, but our downtown center is not the place to build them. “For Lease” signs are seemingly everywhere. “Public Notification of Building” signs are popping up, construction cranes are towering over St. Joseph Church.

This lovely church is now blocked from pedestrian view from Castro Street.

I found myself asking what is the “vision” for our wonderful town? Is there a plan? It looks like Mountain View is for sale to the highest bidder.

How can our Council permit the destruction of our downtown’s assets and replace them with office buildings? How are these office structures affecting our cherished businesses, the lifeblood of our downtown?

Over the past few months, I visited many of our downtown businesses. Shockingly, I learned that many are not thriving at all! The few that are surviving do so because they own the building and don’t have to pay exorbitant rent. All the businesses I spoke to reported that for the past two years their revenues have dropped, and many question if they can survive another year.

The downtown assault began with the promise that corporate expansion would provide more foot traffic for our restaurants, cafes and boutiques. Instead, what happened was that these corporate offices provide their own food, which keeps employees sequestered in their buildings.

23 & Me right off Castro across from the Train Station.

Restaurants such as La Fontaine, which has been serving MV residents for 16 years, told us they have no patrons from these offices.

When an office building developer does not build enough parking for its employees, the city collects fees in lieu of these needed parking spaces. It doesn’t matter how many fees we collect, we don’t have the parking we need to support small restaurants, cafes and shops. Office workers park their cars in our public parking spaces all day, or in front of residences nearby. This explains, in part, why it is nearly impossible for our residents, visitors, small business owners and their employees to park during peak hours. Neighbors and visitors are so frustrated by the limited parking that many no longer enjoy going downtown. Several small business owners have been paying over $300 per year to park per space. While the City Council is considering raising the price per space for these office workers, it’s also considering charging for all parking regardless of time or use! This would be devastating for our small downtown businesses.

Several dead trees sit on Castro, outside our City Hall, and one is missing, for the past couple of years.

Empty store fronts, “Dead Zones,” lost historical buildings, limited parking and constant construction do not make for an inviting downtown. The streets and sidewalks are not being cleaned of litter, food, and waste. Street and median landscaping is dismal, even our City Hall median is populated by dead trees.

There is no decorative sign welcoming visitors to our downtown. Palo Alto, San Carlos, Los Altos, Burlingame, Campbell, Los Gatos, as well as many other California towns have sensible planning and protections in place that strengthen their downtowns.  Why don’t we?

Actually, we do. Mountain View does have what is known as a <em>precise plan</em>, a plan that has a strict process of identifying community-valued assets, such as historic buildings, green spaces, interactive walking spaces, etc., which are protected when designing a community. Our downtown precise plan was written by experts: architects, historical preservation and business development specialists. This is an important practice that all of our neighboring cities follow. The bad news is that Mountain View has not adhered to its precise plan for many years and the negative impact is easy to see.

There is something we can do to save the Mountain View we love. We have the power, but we must act.  Several dead trees sit on Castro, outside our City Hall, and one is missing, for the past couple of years. We must demand that the City Council PAUSE on any future development and follow the Downtown Plan that taxpayers funded.

The City of Sunnyvale is a lesson we should learn from—they stood up for their historic downtown when it was almost too late and all that is left is a block of Murphy Street, the most vibrant part of their downtown. They continue to regret their decision to tear down the rest of their historic downtown.

Help us save Mountain View! Visit www.livablemv.org/savedtmv-petition to sign our petition and learn about other ways you can help.  Together we can make a difference in our city.

Please contact us.   It’s time to remind the City Council who they work for.

WE CAN DO THIS!

– Carole W.

Ten Reasons to Save the Weilheimer House and Tied House Building

By | City Planning, Historic Buildings, Livability, Walk Appeal | One Comment

<strong>We are losing our history, piece by piece. There’s not much left, but together we can stop further losses.  </strong><strong>Please read these ten reasons to save our historic resources — and join us!</strong>

#1 We must preserve our valuable urban/historic downtown. Once you tear down or move historic structures like the Weilheimer House and Tied House building, they can NEVER be replaced. Mountain View risks eroding one of the most important reasons so many people have moved and continue to visit here: a vibrant, eclectic and historic downtown. Saving these historic properties is still possible, however. Mountain View’s city council had the opportunity to protect them in June when a developer made a proposal. It did not. We need to work together so they’re preserved and remain in place, while we revitalize the downtown.

#2 There are currently 78 proposed developments in Mountain View — and a full 5 of them are in downtown alone. Do you want developers to design your downtown? No, you want to have a voice in what happens to your town.

#3 Do you want to lose your distinctive small businesses that serve you to make room for more office buildings. These projects are ruining the downtown and create more DEAD ZONES. There are other suitable places for such development other than where historic buildings are located.

#4. Why should large businesses and their developers take away your livable city center? You can’t get a cup of coffee in their lobbies or sit in their concrete gardens. We don’t have to choose, there are plenty of locations in Mountain View to build office space. In fact, the city itself owns plenty of land.

#5 The downtown center and surrounding blocks should be reserved for its citizens and visitors, not corporate office buildings, which don’t allow public use.

#6 In order to keep our small businesses thriving, it is critical to keep our historical, walkable downtown distinctly different from the modern San Antonio development. Our historical buildings are what help make our downtown distinctive, attractive and the reason so many residents of Mountain View and other communities visit our downtown.

#7 Part of Castro Street is overflowing with activity. Now is the time to enable spillover foot traffic from Castro Street onto these side-street offerings. Villa Street is one such side street. Moving or removing the Weilheimer House and Tied House building would inhibit that opportunity to capitalize on spillover foot traffic.

#8 When the Castro/Moffett automobile crossing is closed, Villa Street will certainly become one of the more active gateways to our downtown. The “Front Door” to downtown Mountain View should be unique and inviting, and feature attractive, historic properties in place — not another office building.

#9 We don’t have to continue building without a sensible plan. It’s time to stop the destruction of our heritage buildings and assess that we as a community want our downtown to provide for us.

#10 What about the owners? Cities face this question all the time. There are several options if the owners want to sell or lease their properties: The city can buy them; it can offer incentives given the historic nature of the properties or it can offer the owners/developer a transfer of rights, for example, to a property more suitable for an office building. The city could also say “no.” There are many comparable examples and best practices from other cities that can be followed if the owners want to sell or lease their properties.