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Last Longtime Google Connection Leaves Mountain View City Hall

By Sharon Simonson

Mountain View Economic Development Manager Ellis Berns is leaving the city after nearly two decades to pursue a career in the private sector as a real estate and economic development consultant.

Ellis Berns Mountain View City Hall Google The Registry real estateBerns (pictured) has been the city’s main point of contact for Google Inc. for more than a decade. He is also the sole remaining public appointed official at the city who has grown up with Google since its early days.

At 12,000 employees in Mountain View—a third of its workforce worldwide—Google is the city’s largest employer by a magnitude of four, according to the city’s 2012 annual financial report. Though the city is home to other, upstanding technology companies including Synposys Inc., Intuit Corp. and Microsoft Corp., Google is far and away the company most strongly associated with the Peninsula city’s public profile and economic gains.

Its growth has come fast.

When Google moved to Mountain View 14 years ago, it had 50 employees; eight years ago, it still did not rank among the city’s 10 largest taxpayers. By 2012, it was the city’s largest property owner with 7.6 percent of the city’s total property tax base—$1.23 billion in taxable property value. The next largest property owner represents 2 percent of the city’s total base.

With the departure of former City Manager Kevin Duggan in 2011 and Community Development Director Elaine Costello sometime before, Berns is the last of the city’s upper appointed management to have met with Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as part of a routine “business appreciation” visit in 2000. The city workers and entrepreneurs ate an informal lunch on the back porch of the company’s rented digs in North Bayshore, Duggan said. Two years later, Google began its historic growth trajectory, almost unilaterally taking the bayshore area from 30 percent vacancy rates to full today.

Berns, whose demeanor strongly suggests the social worker he once was, played a key role in negotiating the terms of two 50-year-plus ground leases on city-owned property with Google, Duggan said. The so-called Charleston East site is separated from Google’s existing, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway headquarters only by a city park. Between those leases and two more that Google acquired in 2006 as part of its purchase of the former Silicon Graphics Inc. campus, Google sends the city $7 million a year in lease income—a revenue flow that Berns helped to nurture and then codify, Duggan said.

“Google is really delivering [for the city], and he is intimately involved in all of those relations,” Duggan said.

Berns and Duggan spent 20 years together in Mountain View.

Berns leaves at a pivotal time in the relationship between the city and the search engine and advertising company. Google is pushing aggressively to develop the 18.6-acre Charleston East site, and it is already under construction on a second campus of like size at neighboring NASA Ames Research Center. Each campus would be large enough to accommodate about 4,000 employees.

Google expects to deliver the NASA campus in 2015. But it is waiting for the city to complete a transportation study and a specific development plan for the 600-acre North Bayshore area before it starts development on its Charleston East campus. Google wants to increase the allowed development capacity on the site from not quite 600,000 square feet today to as much as 900,000 square feet.

When the planning milestones will be reached is unclear. A crucial transportation study of the North Bayshore area is due to be released Feb. 5. That study will inform the so-called North Bayshore Precise Plan, a detailed development map for the roughly 600-acre enclave.

At a Jan. 22 meeting with the city of Mountain View, Google Vice President of Real Estate and Workplace Services David Radcliffe outlined an environmental paradise to house workers at its two new campuses. Google seeks to connect the two sites by a bike and walking trail system as well as a shuttle sytem and a multimodal roadway with dedicated car, walking and pedestrian lanes.

The NASA Ames campus, already under construction, is being built entirely with nontoxic materials to ensure a superbly healthful experience for employees, he said. The company envisions a “Green Loop” surrounding its proposed Charleston East and existing Amphitheatre Parkway campus. The loop would connect existing and new green spaces in a linear park configuration with larger park nodes at various intervals. It would be limited to pedestrian and bicycle traffic and connect the Permanente Creek and Stevens Creek trail systems.

At its NASA campus, Google is pursuing the most exacting certification possible, Platinum, from the U.S. Green Building Council and recognition as the largest structure in the world to comply with the environmentally rigorous Living Building Challenge.

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