Category

Design

LIVABLE MOUNTAIN VIEW ENDORSES ALISON HICKS & ELLEN KAMEI

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

Below are our endorsements for City Council, after a written question and answer period, where some candidates asked for in-person interviews. Following are links to their written statements, if they submitted them:

LivMV Council Endorsements 2018See written answers from:  Alison Hicks (pdf), Ellen Kamei (pdf),  Pat Showalter (pdf), Lenny Siegel (pdf), Lucas Ramirez (pdf).  NOTE: Candidate John Inks elected not return the questionnaire or respond.

Based on a 5 questionnaire form and interviews (optional) the current Council Candidates received the following scores: Alison Hicks (5), Ellen Kamei (4), Pat Showalter (3), Lenny Siegel (1.5), Lucas Ramirez (1), John Inks (0).

Our questions were focused on topics that greatly affect livability and quality of life in Mountain View.

Scoring was based on one point for each signed response and comments were considered which were provided by the candidates. Partial credit was given to those who supported the spirit of the question both through comments and their voting records.

 

 

What is a Deadzone?

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

There are an alarming amount of “deadzones” in Mtn View. This is a planning term used for areas that have no public interaction or service to the community. Here in black are the areas people are barred from entering in our downtown:Deadzones in black: Mountain View's downtown

 

    Deadzones harm the remaining businesses trying to survive because they hurt foot traffic numbers and the remaining businesses feel less interesting. Less retail concentration in proximity leads to less vibrancy and sustainability for the remaining businesses. Deadzones come in many forms:
    • Permanently closed shops
    • offices allowed on our main walking streets that block out the windows and don’t allow interactive use
    • buildings with blank walls feet from our main sidewalks on Castro,
    • buildings with temporary closures for remodels or even, as we found out interviewing shopkeeps, from lack of traffic that simply means they stay open very few hours.
    • Out of town developers come to make money on land they deem most profitable: office space, but contribute to the deterioration of our downtown by putting office buildings which are not interactive, closed to the street, and contain commercial kitchens that feed their employees for free, starving our downtown restaurants. A triple threat to our downtown.
      Quora offices at 605 Castro

      Quora’s office use creates a deadzone on Castro Street.

Here is an example, right on Castro: The Quora Building at 605. Note the closed shades, right on our main street, in the middle of the day. Surrounding retail businesses struggle when some areas on the main street are closed. Foot traffic decreases in these deadzone areas.

Combining Density and Livability

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

Urban Grain and Vibrancy of Older Neighborhoods: Metrics and Measures is a new paper by Kathryn Rogers Merlino at University of Washington. It speaks to what Livable Mountain View has been saying we need for Mountain View’s downtown, which is to create density but with livability that includes a sense of place that is unique to Mountain View. One of the things we hear from Sunnyvale folks, both residents and their leaders, is that it was a huge mistake to tear out their historic downtown (all but two blocks). The 5 story boxy steel and glass buildings have tenants who live in them above, but the retail shops below aren’t all filled, and the sidewalks are deserted after 5pm. It’s not a place that is special or that people want to be. And we’ve heard that Sunnyvale is now looking to recreate that as an extension to the 2 blocks of Murphy Street so they can get it back.

We don’t want to see Mountain View lose our first three blocks (See our analysis of our Downtown Precise Plan which shows that every building, even ones that might one day be on the historic register, can be removed and bulldozed the next.) And frankly, we are concerned that without the preservation of the buildings that give us character we could end up just like Sunnyvale. Regretting it and not having the new development used as a downtown like it should be. We want density, but we want to use the lots and areas without special buildings to make it and leave the special buildings in tact and protected.

Current trends of urbanization across the country are focusing on increased density in our cities. While the idea of living at higher densities can combat sprawl, how does this affect existing, older neighborhoods? Many new buildings built for high density lack a sense of historic character and uniqueness of place, and cover entire blocks that don’t lend themselves to a quality pedestrian experience. Density must be combined with livability if we are to make quality cities that make successful places for people. This paper presents a study that suggests that a variety of age, texture and scale in buildings inherently assert a degree of richness in neighborhoods. Preliminary results of the study suggest that fine grain buildings in a block correlate with increased pedestrian activity and therefore urban vibrancy.

The study’s conclusion:

…preliminary results of the study provide quantifiable data that suggest a finer grain block with older building ages corresponds to increased pedestrian activity and street vibrancy. Higher ratings were found on blocks that had shorter average building widths that corresponded with older buildings and more durable materials. Blocks that had long, continuous building facades appeared to provide no interest or engagement for the pedestrian, nor did blocks that had open, empty lots, or buildings with poor material quality.

As the Merlino team at UW continues the study collecting data and analyzing the ways people react in different urban environments, we will keep you updated.

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.

Historic Mountain View: Airbase Laundry (Tied House)

By | Design, Historic Buildings, Livability, Uncategorized, Walk Appeal | One Comment

The Air Base Laundry or Tied House at 954 Villa St echoes famous Hamburg Warehouse district architecture.

Update Aug 12, 2017:  this is one of two historical treasures that were slated to be destroyed . . .

TIED HOUSE 964 Villa Street was completed in 1931 for the “State of The Art” Air Base Laundry Company.

The Building was typical of 19th century brick warehouse styles that were popular in Europe.  Mountain View had many German immigrants at the time and this building echoes the architecture of the famous Hamburg Warehouse district that was built in the late 1800’s.  It is reasonable to assume that this reinforced concrete structure with its classic brickwork reminded the early settlers of Mountain View of their homeland, while combining it with local materials typically found in Mission style architecture.

The Airbase Laundry opens….

Airbase Laundry announcement in the MV Register-Leader, July 31, 1931

964 Villa Street is still situated on the street in the same manner it was in 1931 as shown in a period photo. A pair of wood doors that are highlighted by a recessed arch provided a distinct entrance.  Iron mullioned windows flank the doorway in the typical warehouse style of this era.  Inside, the double height space was practical for the use of large equipment and ventilation.  The roof is made of durable Spanish tiles that were both functional and beautiful.

This building now houses the Tied House Restaurant that opened in 1987.  The Restaurant is based on the German concept of microbreweries that are “tied” to the restaurant and include serving food.

964 Villa provides Mountain View Residents with a glimpse of the town’s rich history and early immigrants.  It is one of the first brick structures built in Mountain View and is exceptional because it is still standing in its original location.