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[whitespace] NASA officials unveil Moffet Field plans 'Underutilized' facility poised for massive upgrade

Sunnyvale--Officials from NASA held the last of three public meetings last Thursday night on their plans to develop Moffet Field into shared-use educational and research and development park. Sunnyvale and Mountain View residents and many other professionals who have a stake in the development plans packed Sunnyvale's City Council chambers for an update on the plan and to offer community feedback.

A representative of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Development Office Chief and the Chief of the Environmental Services Division were all on hand to represent NASA and to give a quick overview of their four development alternatives.

Moffet Field, which was originally built as a Navy air base in 1933, has been owned and operated by NASA since 1994. Since then, the field has been used in what officials describe as a somewhat underdeveloped capacity as NASA Ames Research Center.

NASA officials call Moffet one of their most underutilized resources. Their plan for the field is to join with universities, high-tech industries, government agencies and other organizations to create a campus focused on aeronautics, information technology, nanotechnology, space sciences, life sciences and astrobiology.

Before they can begin work on this park, however, officials must come up with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The NASA officials rattled off more than 10 key traffic areas that will be greatly affected by the new jobs that will accompany the new development. However, many community members scolded them for not coming up with any plan to combat the current housing shortage.

The most ambitious of the four plans NASA unveiled would, according to NASA's Development Office Chief Marla Harrison, add almost 5 million square feet of new floor space. That would almost double the existing footprint of the site.

Figuring that three employees can fit into each 1,000 square feet of space, NASA officials say they could add up to 15,000 new jobs to their current workforce of 5,500. Many of the people who fill these jobs will look for housing in the Sunnyvale/Mountain View area.

"This would be like creating a whole new city. [As many as] 22,500 new units of housing would have to be built in order to accommodate the amount of people who will be working either at or around Moffet Field," said Susan Russell of the nonprofit Mid-Peninsula Housing Organization.

Irvin Daweed of the Sierra Club, speaking on his own behalf, recommended that NASA join with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to solve this problem. He also noted that since 1995 the new jobs to new housing ratio in this area has been 11.6 to 1. By ignoring this issue, NASA is just "adding fuel to the fire." Another speaker joked that the new workers could live in Modesto.

Besides the need for additional housing, many people present agreed with Sharon Neiderhaus from Stanford University. "You need to create a walkable, connected community," she said. Neiderhaus later presented NASA Environmental Services Division Chief Sandy Olliges with a book entitled Suburban Nation, describing such a community in detail.

Many community members voiced their requests and concerns for restaurants, medical facilities, and other businesses that cater to everyday needs. A simple theory behind these demands, some said, is that 20,000 people working at the field would need places for a quick bite to eat in the immediate vicinity. If there were none they would clog up the streets of Sunnyvale and Mountain View all day long.

Despite the public's view that NASA lacks enough planning for housing and other facilities, a few were encouraged by some of NASA's commitments. Harrison said that there would be no new development of wind tunnels, airfields or disturbance of the existing wetlands. She vowed that they would protect the existing animal habitats, landscape with native plants, irrigate with reclaimed water, and maintain the Bay Trail.

Some of the residents, however, don't think that maintaining the Bay Trail is enough. Sunnyvale resident Thomas Mayer said the amount of added vehicle activity would make a bad situation for bikers even worse. He complained that it's already difficult for even the most experienced of cyclists to navigate their way from Sunnyvale to the San Francisco Bay. With 15,000 additional vehicles on already congested streets, the task will be almost impossible.

Mayer wants more bridges for bicycles so that they won't have to compete in a losing battle with the overload of cars. He also demanded that more entrances be opened into Moffet Field. Under NASA's existing plan, there will only be one entrance, located on the western side of the field. This made no sense to Mayer and others. They pointed out that the existing light rail station was on the southern side of the field and the exits from Highways 101 and 237 in the southeast corner.

But not everyone voiced concerns. A few audience members applauded NASA's plans. Some even said they thought that the plan wasn't ambitious enough.

All of the comments from the public were recorded by an official court reporter, and they will all be taken into consideration by the proper authorities. NASA still has a long process ahead of them before they can break ground on the site.

Officials plan to compile comments from the three public meetings and include them in their considerations as they develop an EIS plan during the next year to 18 months. After completing the EIS, officials say they will take it back to the public and ask for more feedback.

After the final report is concluded, NASA will take one to two months to decide which of the four alternatives--ranging from changing nothing to adding 5 million square feet of buildings--is most feasible.

NASA will still be accepting public comments until July 31. Written comments should be mailed to:

Sandy Olliges
NASA Ames Research Center
Mail Stop 218-1
Moffet Field, CA 94035-1000

Comments can also be emailed to: [email protected]

For more information, call: Mike Mewhinny at 650.604.9000
Daniel Hindin

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