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Up On The Roof

Without trust it's difficult to sustain successful communication and interaction.

This week I intended to write about T-ball.

However, after attending a Zoning Administrator meeting Wednesday at City Hall, I’ve sidetracked that topic. Instead, I want to address the issue of trust. I am not speaking for any specific group or organization. I am speaking for myself.

According to the dictionary, trust is the assured reliance on the integrity, ability, character, strength or surety of someone or something.

Trust is a perception that words and actions and decisions are not driven by self-serving motives. Establishing trust involves truthfulness. Maintaining trust requires transparency of communication, which means providing full disclosure about the information and the processes behind decisions.

Trust is earned. It is a matter of character. Once trust is lost, it is difficult to regain.

The aforementioned zoning meeting was for approval of modifications to roof access structures for the Madera complex located at the former Minton Lumber site. City Council approved this project in 2010 and granted Prometheus variances for density and height. It was a contentious process that ended with a less than satisfactory outcome for many people in the community.

Following approval, Prometheus Vice President, Jon Moss, and Senior Development Manager, Nathan Tuttle, repeatedly assured the community that rebuilding good neighbor relations was uppermost in their minds.

To implement this, periodic communiqués updating surrounding neighbors during various phases of construction were issued. Despite negative opinions of the project, their efforts resulted in a steady sense of assurance that they were proceeding in good faith within the neighboring community.

But trust is based on behavior not the result of expertly crafted communications. The converse of trust is mistrust. With the appearance of several access towers on the roof of Building B, mistrust came into play.

If you’ve driven the stretch of road between Highway 85 and Bush Street along Evelyn Avenue, you’ve probably seen them. The bulk and height of the towers raised new questions from the adjacent neighborhood because the towers did not appear anywhere on any of the elevations or renderings in the Prometheus blueprints. Initial inquiries with Prometheus elicited less than satisfactory answers and when it was suggested in an email that the matter be "kept to a small group of neighbors" it raised genuine concern.

Enter Peter Gilli, Zoning Administrator for the City of Mountain View.

He informed neighbors that the towers were not legal, that a redesign had been requested from the developer and a hearing for approval was scheduled. It was only after lengthy discussion of the reasons for the access stairway towers that information regarding a rooftop recreation/entertainment deck was divulged.

This was a red flag to many stunned neighbors including me. 

I spoke to Mr. Gilli about writing something for Patch. He specifically requested I "hold off" until after the hearing. I trusted him and agreed. I’m now sorry I did.

Mr. Moss stated that the idea of designing and constructing a roof deck as an open space amenity for residents to get together and socialize took shape in the summer of 2010. This was months after City Council had voted to approve the initial design.

The size of this proposed deck is 2,200 Sq. Ft.—that is a space equivalent to five and half two-car garages. Did I mention some of the additional amenities of a big-screen TV, BBQ, fire pit and audio system? No information relating this "new" idea was ever communicated to the public or to council members. Excessive? I think so. Necessary? I think not.

City staff considered this a minor change to the original plan and because changing the flat roof to usable open space did not trigger a planning permit Mr. Gilli granted approval. What triggered the new planning permit situation were the architectural and height changes for the stairway and elevator accesses.

The wave of controversy in the community stirred up by this approval begs the question as to why no one beyond a few city staffers was informed.

A deck of this size invites use—all day, every day, into the evening use. Yes, Prometheus claims they will implement use guidelines. They claim they will enforce them. There is no noise ordinance in the City of Mountain View. They also claim their residents will be highly skilled professional people with high incomes, the type of people who won’t create excessive noise. Since when is noise relegated to certain types of people?

With 300 potential residents and their guests there will be violations and they will be heard. A few beers and a few cheers watching the Super Bowl or a Giants game or when the Final Four are playing will be heard. But the developers won’t hear it.

I’m not an engineer. I do not have a degree in acoustical engineering. But I know that sound carries. The sound from the farmers’ market, street musicians, training sessions in the plaza of 100 View Street, the Art & Wine festival, A La Carte & Art event and Thursday Night Live all create a level of sound audible for blocks. And that sound is at street level where buildings and trees can act as buffers. One can only assume that sound generated up on the roof of a four-story building will resonate outward into the adjacent neighborhood.

So, Mr. Moss, if you are willing to give us your home phone number so we can call you whenever there’s a violation to the use and noise guidelines, perhaps there’s a chance for you to salvage some credibility.

It also occurs to me that having this deck area is like having another floor added to the building. It just doesn’t have a roof over it.

Forty-seven people attended the zoning meeting. Additionally, 117 people unable to attend (and that number continues to increase) sent their signatures. Not one of those people was in favor of the proposed rooftop deck.

Trust is the foundation for everything an organization wants to become in the future. Today I do not believe that the City of Mountain View’s foundation is very strong. I’m frustrated by the way this situation was handled on all levels –Prometheus’ bottom line of financial gain and opposition to compromise, the flawed process and the lack of appropriate awareness on the part of Mr. Gilli.

Mostly, I’m disappointed and saddened. Today I watched the balloon of trust between the city planning staff and a growing number of Mountain View citizens burst. The pinprick of distrust has altered how citizens view the way the city operates.

Wherever lies ahead, re-establishing this squandered good faith and trust will take a long time.

annette nielsen April 27, 2012 at 06:25 AM
Well said. Thank you, Joni.
Claudia Cruz (Editor) April 27, 2012 at 09:12 AM
Thanks for your honesty Joni! As someone who was at the meeting, I can definitely appreciate your concern and that of your neighbors.
Jerry Steach April 27, 2012 at 01:49 PM
The City of Mountain View -- every employee, every elected official -- would do well to read this column, then move trust and good faith at the top of list of requirements for developers doing business in this city, because clearly those qualities were lacking during the Madera proposal and approval processes. Thanks, Joni.
Deborah Lacy April 27, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Thank you for writing this. I think we all feel duped at this point. I don't expect a developer to have any regard for the people of this city, especially with the way they have behaved and the nature of the project. I was hoping that the city of Mountain View cared more about it's residents and Precise Plan, which turned out not to be Precise at all...
Susanna April 27, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Excellent column that exactly captures my thoughts about the whole Madera situation. I especially love this: "They also claim their residents will be highly skilled professional people with high incomes, the type of people who won’t create excessive noise." Yet back when Madera was approved, we were informed it was partly to help create "socioeconomic diversity" in downtown MV—i.e., to allow lower-income people to move where they worked. It's clear Prometheus will say whatever it needs to to get what it wants, and many members of Council will believe them. And now I don't particularly trust either of them.
Robert Cox April 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Right on the mark, Joni! We need to turn this city around and make it place where city staff works first on behalf of the residents and voters, and only then on behalf of other stakeholders. Let's not forget who the voters are! -- Robert Cox, Vice Chair, Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association
Concerned April 27, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Excellent article Joni !! The city council has no appreciation for the citizens. Prometheus is not transparent either. Concerned citizen from old mountain view
Julie Wrobel April 27, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Thank you, Joni for describing this situation in words far more mature and restrained than I've been able to muster these past few days.
randy albin April 27, 2012 at 08:07 PM
of course, remember the song by the drifters: "up on the roof." remember to participate in the family parade on april 28. what the people involved with these cities are thinking as far as developing the cities, i can't imagine. get it together, clean up these project sites and make the overall cost of living more affordable

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