MV considers policy allowing "feasible" LASD purchase of land for school site

Lisa Matichak

The current effort to establish an East Whisman Precise Plan in Mountain View could prove beneficial to the Los Altos School District in its quest for a 10th school site.

The plan, the topic of a Feb. 14 Mountain View City Council study session, includes consideration of a policy that could transfer development rights (TDR) from a property in one area to land in another area.

The proposed precise plan, wending its way through the approval process, could allow as many as 20,400 new residents in 9,700 high-density housing units reaching as high as eight stories over 124 residential acres. The plan also could accommodate 6,500 employees in 1.7 million square feet of new office space on 230 acres.

The 368-acre East Whisman area is bordered by Highway 101 to the north, Central Expressway to the south, North Whisman Road and Ferguson Drive to the west, and the Sunnyvale city limits to the east.

The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees urged councilmembers to endorse a TDR policy in a Feb. 7 letter. Signed by board Vice President Vladimir Ivanovic, the letter touts a “win-win” outcome for a TDR, enabling both the city and the school district to accommodate anticipated enrollment growth. Additionally, it presents an opportunity for the district to purchase land at a reduced cost.

“Eventual adoption of such a policy will shift the acquisition of a school building site from implausible to feasible,” Ivanovic stated in the letter.

Search for a suitable site

Los Altos School District officials have struggled to find an affordable, suitable site in Mountain View for a 10th campus in the more than two years since voters approved a $150 million bond. Among the priorities in the bond initiative was purchasing land for a new school. The district pursued several potential sites, most notably a nearly 4-acre parcel at 5150 El Camino Real in Los Altos, only to come up empty.

Ivanovic said in the letter that a council endorsement of a TDR would amount to “creating a vital policy tool to enable LASD to engage in the incredibly expensive real estate market to achieve the goal of a new school with adjoining open space.”

Although district boundaries include a Mountain View area guided by the San Antonio Area Precise Plan, city officials said a TDR in the East Whisman plan could create flexibility for either the Los Altos or Mountain View Whisman school district.

“Currently, the San Antonio Precise Plan contains policies that allow for a TDR for a public school,” according to a city staff report presented to the council at its Feb. 14 meeting. “A similar policy could be included in the (East Whisman plan) that allows for a new public school site to either transfer the site’s development potential into the (San Antonio) plan area or transfer it out of the plan area (should the school site be within the East Whisman boundaries).”

District officials estimate that approximately 700 Mountain View students living north of El Camino Real currently attend Los Altos School District schools or Bullis Charter School.

Virtually all new housing in the East Whisman plan is envisioned as high-rise rentals, mostly studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Some developers assert that primarily young, single professionals occupy such units, with minimal impact on school district growth. Los Altos School District officials claim otherwise.

“As new housing is built in that area, we expect more students – in fact, our demographic studies show that more and more students come from multi-unit housing projects as these properties age,” Ivanovic said.

Council concerns

The Mountain View City Council’s charge at its Feb. 14 meeting was giving direction on a preferred land-use alternative so that staff could prepare an environmental impact report for the precise plan.

A council majority (three of five members, with two – Mayor Ken Rosenberg and Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga – absent), supported maximum, mixed uses outlined in the plan.

Much of the discussion centered on residential use. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak, in particular, wondered about an emphasis on potential new residents using light rail, given the fact that ridership, she said, has not been strong.

Councilman John McAlister wanted a solid transportation infrastructure in place before development.

“I share concerns about transportation and traffic in this area,” Matichak said. “I’d rather have a discussion about transportation instead of preferred (land use) alternatives.”

McAlister also raised concerns about a lack of larger units accommodating middle-class families.

“If we continue to do small units, we’re going to continue to have supercommuters,” he said.

Councilman Chris Clark noted that the market would demand rental units – lacking in the East Whisman area.

More study sessions and public meetings await the precise plan, which is targeted for city council adoption by spring 2018.

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