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.
The result is an existential argument that pits residents who want to halt the city’s growth against people who think Mountain View needs to grow up and become a real city.
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.
While this may get extra attention because it involves Google (does that do no evil pledge apply to the communities in which its offices are based?), this is a question that many suburbs face at one point or another. When new developments are proposed, whether commercial, industrial, residential, or something else, how might these change the existing character of the community? Jobs are often seen as good things: they provide employment and the buildings for employees generate property tax dollars, reducing the dependence on residential property taxes. Yet, what if those same jobs lead to new office parks that take up a lot of land, new infrastructure needs such as roads, water and sewer lines, and schools, and an influx of traffic? Or, what if such jobs require tax breaks or special deals for a single business or industry?
Two possible outcomes here (and this is not an exhaustive list):
1. Why aren’t urbanists calling for companies like Google to move to large cities? A lot of the issues with infrastructure and space could be more easily absorbed by a major city. Three Empire State Buildings worth of space is still hard to come by but Granted, this hasn’t gone smoothly recently in San Francisco but developing new land leads to particular challenges, especially in places used to a smaller population.
2. At some point, Google could go the way of other companies and organizations and start making demands to push Mountain View to accept what they want. The end of the article hints at this; if Google brings in a lot of new employees, they could even sway local elections. Could Google hold the suburb hostage to get what it wants?