When Google moved to Mountain View in 1999, it had a dozen employees and a search engine known only to computer aficionados. Now, its 20,000 workers make it the city’s biggest employer, and a proposal for new headquarters is causing a stir in a city bursting at the seams.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. —
Apple is moving into a Silicon Valley headquarters building that looks like a spaceship. Facebook is expanding its campus with a new building designed by Frank Gehry. Now it’s Google’s turn.
This week, Google, the search giant, is expected to propose new headquarters — a series of canopylike buildings from Heatherwick Studio, a London design firm known for works like the fiery caldron at the 2012 Olympics, and Bjarke Ingels, a Danish architect known for his innovative designs.
The project in Mountain View, which Google has not made public but has discussed with members of the City Council, is likely to aggravate an increasingly testy relationship between the company and community leaders who fear the company is overrunning their small city.
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When Google moved here in 1999, it had a dozen employees and a search engine known only to computer aficionados. Now, its 20,000 local employees make it the biggest employer in a city that is bursting at the seams.
“Our problem is that we have too many good jobs,” said Leonard Siegel, a 66-year-old environmental activist who was recently elected to the City Council. “Everyone else wishes they were in our situation, but it’s a crisis for the people here.”
The same story is playing out across Silicon Valley. In Menlo Park, home of Facebook, the November election featured a measure — ultimately rejected by voters — that would have cut downtown office growth in half. Citizen groups in nearby Palo Alto have rebranded their City Council’s most anti-development members as “residentialists.”
“Nobody wants change,” said Gilbert Wong, a councilman in Cupertino, Apple’s hometown. “It’s my role as an elected official to explain to our residents that either you get on board and help us figure out the balance between jobs and housing, or other people are going to make that decision for us.”
Google owns or leases about 7.3 million square feet of office space in Mountain View — roughly equivalent to three Empire State Buildings. That includes most of the property around its headquarters on the north side of the city near Highway 101, which cuts the length of the valley, according to Transwestern, a commercial real- estate brokerage.
That success has brought Mountain View loads of tax dollars and a 3.3 percent unemployment rate, as well as skyrocketing home prices and intolerable gridlock. Good and bad, tech is responsible for most of it: Technology companies account for 27 percent of the jobs in the Silicon Valley region, compared with 7 percent in California and about 5 percent nationally, according to Moody’s Analytics.
Mountain View, about 40 miles south of San Francisco, has close to 80,000 people; with its strip-mall thoroughfares and streets of single-family homes, it looks like a sleepy suburb. But since hiring has boomed, the city’s roads swell with commuters during the morning and evening rush.
Google has tried to reduce traffic, for both the city and itself. It transports its employees to work in private buses and was at one point experimenting with bringing some of its San Francisco workers in on boats.
Since so much of the traffic is associated with Google, Mountain View has spent the last two years debating a plan to redevelop the city’s North Bayshore area, which surrounds Google’s main offices and is close to major highways.
Google’s vision for a new Googleplex, the nickname for the company’s headquarters, will include bike and pedestrian paths and is one of several development proposals from various companies expected to be submitted to the city Friday.
“These companies are world-class corporations bringing worldwide attention to Mountain View, and Mountain View needs to evolve to a world-class city,” said Ken Rosenberg, one of seven members of the City Council. “One of the criteria of a world-class city is that it is architecturally interesting.”
Even if Google’s proposal is accepted, the city’s most divisive issue — how much new housing to build and where — has yet to be settled. Google executives have said on several occasions that they want to add housing to North Bayshore, but Mountain View’s departing City Council members found many reasons to say no.
Last November, in an election that was widely viewed as a referendum on the city’s housing policies, Mountain View elected three candidates, including Rosenberg, who campaigned on the idea of adding housing near Google’s campus, an idea that runs contrary to the previous council’s redevelopment plan.
Google’s headquarters proposal does not include any plans for housing. But the company has told the City Council that it wants housing, and lots of it. Councilman Jac Siegel, for one, agrees. He wants to amend the city’s plan to allow at least 5,000 new housing units.
That this could bring in even more Google employees is just what some people fear.
“This last election we had maybe 12,000 voters,” said Jac Siegel, a city councilman who left office this year and is not related to Leonard Siegel. “If you brought 5,000 people in and they all work for Google and they said, ‘We want you to vote for this candidate,’ they can own the town.”