Moffett Park development can anchor Sunnyvale’s future
Construction on Google's new campuses along Caribbean Drive in Sunnyvale's Moffett Park area continues on July 20, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Nearly two decades ago, Sunnyvale Planning Commissioner Larry Klein helped lay out a plan to support continued growth of the city’s burgeoning Moffett Park into the major corporate office and research hub it is today.

    Now, Klein is the mayor, and the city is once again plotting out a vision to help revamp Moffett Park over the next two decades. But this time, with a deepening housing crisis and shifting market trends, the focus will be on adding 20,000 homes, up to 10 million square feet of commercial space and large swaths of interconnected green spaces.

    “It’s really aspirational,” Klein told San José Spotlight. “Basically we’re designing a whole new walkable, livable city in the north part of Sunnyvale.”

    City officials and advocates say transforming Moffett Park’s nearly 1,300 acres along the city’s northern boundary from a completely office-focused, asphalt and car-heavy area into a balanced and sustainable locale will be herculean, but the now complete multi-year effort to update the area’s guiding plan is a big first step.

    “It’s the biggest change we’ll see in our city over the next 20 years. And it reimagines a new community to address our critical needs of housing, environmental sustainability and retail well into the future hopefully,” Klein said.

    Construction on Google’s new campuses along Caribbean Drive in Sunnyvale’s Moffett Park area. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Building on history

    Moffett Park has long hosted critical economic and innovation developments for the city and the region, dating back to the 1930s when Moffett Field Naval Air Station was commissioned on the site, helping to spur growth in the city.

    It later became home to Lockheed Martin Corporation—a major military contractor worth more than $100 billion—near Moffett Federal Airfield. By the 1990s, tech companies started piling into the area, including NetApp, Yahoo, Juniper Networks and Atari.

    Today, more than 60% of the land in the area is owned by Google, developer Jay Paul Company and Lockheed Martin, and companies including Google, Amazon, Meta and Cepheid, a molecular diagnostics company, have campuses there.

    This overhead digital map outlines the nearly 1,300-acre Moffett Park area of Sunnyvale where city officials are envisioning adding up to 20,000 homes and 10 million square feet of commercial space, along with large swaths of green spaces. Image courtesy of Sunnyvale.

    Moffett Park is a triangular portion of the city bounded to the west by Moffett Federal Airfield, to the south by Highway 237 and to the east by Caribbean Drive, Baylands Park and the Twin Creeks Sports Complex.

    Kenneth Javier-Rosales, program manager for housing advocacy nonprofit SV@Home, which had input in the updated vision for Moffett Park, said the plan is a big achievement.

    “Overall right now, Moffett Park is just a suburban, industrial and light industrial R&D area with a lot of impervious surfaces, adding to the heat island effect, adding to more chances for polluted runoff to go into our bay,” Javier-Rosales told San José Spotlight.

    But plans to redevelop it with more green spaces, including bioretention areas to filter runoff and control flooding, along with offices, retail, 20,000 new homes and better transit connectivity, is groundbreaking, he said.

    As the city grapples with planning for 12,000 new homes to meet state requirements by 2031, Moffett Park could help account for roughly 4,000 of those needed homes, city leaders said.

    “This is a huge leap forward for Sunnyvale, and for all of us in the South Bay,” Javier-Rosales said.

    The new plan calls for at least 15% of homes to be affordable, which is the current city standard, but has a goal of 20%, city officials said.

    “That translates to 3,000 to 4,000 affordable homes over the next 20 years. That is a major win in itself,” Javier-Rosales said.

    Construction workers are seen along different levels of Google’s new campuses along Caribbean Drive in Sunnyvale’s Moffett Park area. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Time to grow

    The city, like others in the Bay Area, has barely made a dent in affordable housing goals. Since 2015, Sunnyvale has failed to provide even a fifth of the state-mandated targets for homes affordable to people earning low and very low incomes, though it has seen 235% of the need for market rate homes built, according to city data.

    Right now, Sunnyvale has about 153,000 residents and 55,000 homes, but in another 20 years, it could be up to 99,000 homes, including the 20,000 at Moffett Park, according to Trudi Ryan, the city’s director of community development.

    “Moffett Park provides yet another style of housing that expands choices for people in the community, allows businesses to stay and grow and allows families of different needs to remain in Sunnyvale,” Ryan told San José Spotlight.

    While in the past, many businesses in the area used hazardous materials in their work, and ran operations that wouldn’t make good neighbors, city officials said. The shifting dynamics of manufacturing markets means there are more areas in Moffett Park where homes can now be built.

    Google is currently building two new five-story office buildings along Caribbean Drive totaling just over 1 million square feet, which are estimated to be complete by the end of the year.

    And now that the city has completed its updated specific plan for Moffett Park, Google is likely to pursue mixed-use projects in the area, a company spokesperson told San José Spotlight.

    Similar to how the company has planned out inclusive community projects in San Jose, with Downtown West, and in Mountain View with its North Bayshore and Middlefield Park plans, Google would aim to create housing in Moffett Park, along with a mix of office and other small business spaces and parks.

    The city’s specific plan for Moffett Park lays out prospective neighborhoods, what level of housing and office density can be built where, and outlines critically needed green space locations, including what will be known as The Diagonal, a linear strip of open spaces connected through the heart of the district.

    Ryan, the city’s community development director, said these kinds of plans are critical for providing developers and investors with enough information and context to encourage needed growth.

    “Plan it and they will build,” Ryan said.

    Challenges ahead

    The plan is not all roses and colorful renderings, however. It also notes a series of challenges the city and region will need to overcome to make the vision a reality, not the least of which are climate change and rising sea levels that will require beefed up water intrusion protection along the bay and sloughs that border Moffett Park.

    The economic effects on millions of people and work culture changes stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic also bring uncertainty into the plans.

    “In 2023 it is not possible to fully predict COVID-19’s impact over the next 20 years. Projections and trends described in this specific plan may differ from future conditions if there are long lasting, fundamental shifts in the economy and/or our behaviors,” the plan report says.

    Mayor Klein has seen plans for the area come together successfully before, and though he acknowledges the hurdles ahead, he’s optimistic the city will be able to make its vision for Moffett Park a reality.

    “We’ll see what the next 20 years hold,” he said.

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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