Earth to Google: Reduce, Reuse, Redeploy

(The following is a guest blog post written by CGF Intern Laurel Smith. We hope to follow up on these issues in the coming months. -Brian)

For the past 14 years NASA has controlled Moffett Field and kept it within federal jurisdiction, thus subjecting all new development to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NASA requires 7 million dollars each year to maintain the site, and rents space to agenda-fitting private businesses to carry the cash inflow. One such qualified business is Google, who is willing and able to dish out $3.7 million a year for a plot of Moffett land. Google and NASA began their relationship three years ago when the NASA Research Park was establishing new partnerships; today the two superpowers have a very strong bond as they collaborate on revolutionary projects such as Google Earth.

In June, NASA got Google’s signature on a 40-year lease that has the option of being extended up to 90 years. See NASA’s press release here. The lease grants 42.2 acres of “underdeveloped” land to the company, which will be used to build 1.2 million square feet of office space. Google already has 2 million square feet of office space in the area, and constitutes the biggest employer in Mountain View. The project will bring 4,000 new people to the city, and with that comes employee housing, fitness facilities, dining rooms, conference halls, childcare centers, and the potential for a bridge over Stevens Creek.

The project has been undertaken by William McDonough + Partners, an architecture firm known for their environmental sustainability. Construction will include 13 buildings, and will take place in 3 phases, starting in 2013, and following with stages in 2018 and 2022. All construction and permits will be overseen by NASA, who is acting as a city would if the project were taking place within municipal boundaries. NASA will be responsible for approving the design, and completing regular inspections of the project. Google will also be building parking garages, and outdoor recreation facilities and parks for all of NASA’s inhabitants to use. Further, the project will require basic amenities such as roads and a sewage system, which on their own take a heavy toll on the land and existing environment.

Primary concerns regarding this project are issues of environmental welfare, housing, transportation, and taxation. (See a great article from San Francisco Gate here.) Northern Santa Clara County currently has more jobs than available housing, and this imbalance can only tip further with the new Google campus. With 4,000 new employees in the area, speculation arises as to where everyone will live, what the new population will contribute to traffic, and what role the new roads and sewage systems will have on the fragile ecosystem. Google will be constructing and running the whole operation in what they claim to be a cutting-edge, environmentally sound way, but this may not be the most earth friendly option.

What Google seems to have overlooked is that there are millions of square feet of unoccupied and available office space within miles of the planned construction site. Just minutes past the Moffett exit along highway 237, one can’t help but notice the abundance of vacant office buildings decorated with “For Lease” and “For Sale” signs. These empty structures could easily be modified to suit the needs of Google, but instead the company has chosen to create anew. The company could spare itself the millions of dollars in Moffett rent, development costs, and mitigation efforts by purchasing the already existing space where roads, plumbing, and basic infrastructure are already in place. Such locations could then be maintained in the greenest way possible, and could be used to preserve Google’s progressive image. We might not be in a position to stop Google from pursuing the establishment of this new campus, but we can certainly put pressure on the company. Hopefully this will lead Google to mitigate more than is required by NEPA, and to thoughtfully consider a fuller realm of options in its future endeavors.

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