Last Longtime Google Connection Leaves Mountain View City Hall

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The campus is expected to use 60 percent less energy than a standard office building and 80 percent less water per person thanks to on-site water treatment to allow the reuse of wastewater. The company also will manage stormwater runoff and expects to actually enhance the environmental viability of the neighboring wetlands.

With new development capacity and densities granted by the city’s recently updated general plan, plus the ability to transfer development rights from one parcel to another, the company hopes to concentrate greater development on fewer of the many parcels it owns in the North Bayshore area. That will allow the company to abandon and demolish existing structures closer to natural habitat including wetlands.

With the new bicycle infrastructure, Radcliffe said, it also is reasonable to expect more and more Google workers to bike to work. A third of its Mountain View workers live within five miles of the campus, Radcliffe said, and 2,000 of them live in Mountain View itself.

Despite the enthusiasm that such plans might be expected to engender in Northern California’s famously environmentally obsessed elected officials, little was on evidence at the study session. The council refused to allow Google to go forward with preliminary work surrounding an environmental impact report to assess two proposed bridges over Stevens Creek to connect the two campuses. Councilmembers Jac Siegel and Ronit Bryant explicitely took Radcliffe and John Igoe, Google’s real estate director in Northern California, to task for pressuring the city to accelerate its timetable by two weeks.

Radcliffe said the faster pace would allow Google to have the bridges up at the time the NASA campus opened. That would keep traffic between it and the headquarters campus off of U.S. 101 and neighborhood streets. Without the approval, Google was contemplating at least a year’s operation of the NASA campus with no connection, an avoidable inefficiency.

Berns takes no credit for Google’s decision to stay in Mountain View nor for the city’s larger economic success. Rather he suggests that successive city councils over years created good infrastructure for enterprises to grow. Two decades ago, City Hall and a performing arts center were built downtown, he said. Then, in the 1990s the city spent $15 million to build a transit center in downtown that services light rail and Caltrain. The Mountain View station is now one of the busiest on the Caltrain system, and the downtown has enjoyed pronounced renewal. Hundreds of apartments are under construction and proposed, as is some office construction. Bike trails connect downtown to hundreds of single-family homes and apartments and the North Bayshore.

“The city created the environment,” Berns said. “The city had a vision for the North Bayshore.” Mountain View is much more than Google, Berns said.

Two years after Berns’ first contact with Google, he began to read newspaper reports and to hear from people in the community that Google intended to expand. He sent an email to the company’s founders offering his assistance in their search. “Google is a premier company and I think from both a business and a community perspective we would very much like to figure out a way to keep Google in Mountain View,” Berns wrote.

Nineteen minutes later, Brin thanked Berns, responding, “We are indeed looking for more space.” Brin said he would speak to others internally and then return to Berns.

He’s kept the email exchange for a decade, Berns said, “because it does tell a story of economic development.”

At the time, Silicon Valley was caught in the severe downdraft that followed the dot-com boom, and “there were lots of other buildings around,” Berns said. Silicon Graphics, a former high-flyer, was on the rocks, but it had built a distinctive headquarters overlooking the marshlands and San Francisco Bay. “It was built by Studios Architecture, and it was kind of a visionary building,” Berns said. “It attracted the eye of Larry and Sergey.”

In a prepared statement, a Google spokesperson acknowledged the company’s and Berns’ shared history and his contributions: “Ellis has been an invaluable partner to Google and other local businesses, helping us grow over the years and build a long-lasting relationship with the city of Mountain View.”

Berns remains at the city on light duty for several additional weeks.

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