Every seven years, Mountain View residents have a chance to significantly change the direction of the city's housing policies, a process called "re-visioning" the General Plan's housing element. And if controversies over the past few years are any indication, the upcoming re-visioning should be a big deal.
The housing element of the city's General Plan -- "the primary policy document for the development, rehabilitation and preservation of housing" -- is under revision and will be discussed in General Plan hearings throughout the year, including a slew of neighborhood General Plan meetings in May.
Kicking off the housing discussion is a new report on the city's housing needs from Bay Area Economics. Among numerous issues, it points out that the city is becoming increasingly "jobs rich," while housing development has not kept pace. It says jobs increased by 19 percent between 2003 and 2008, while housing units increased by only 3 percent since 2000. Mountain View's population has increased 10 percent since 1990, to 72,932.
By comparison, the county has grown by 23 percent since 1990 and had three times less job growth on average.
To meet its "fair share" of the county's unmet housing needs, the Association of Bay Area Governments has calculated that Mountain View needs to accommodate -- perhaps through zoning -- another 2,123 units by 2014, including 467 very low income units. That goal may be difficult to achieve in a slow housing market: Permits for only 99 units were approved last year, while 377 units were permitted in 2007.
The report also points out that high land costs and public opposition to dense housing development have hindered housing production.
About three years ago, when the slow-growth versus pro-growth debate raged during and after the 2006 Council City election, the city had over 3,000 housing units in the planning pipeline. On Wednesday, Planning Director Randy Tsuda said there were only about 1,200 units in the works, including 450 at Mayfield and about 500 at South Whisman.
"The market has definitely slowed down," said Scott Plambaeck, city planner.
Council member Mike Kasperzak believes the city passed on an opportunity to build many homes in the past few years. Unlike other council members, he says it's more of a "community" problem than a regional one.
"It's easy to say Los Altos Hills needs to build more affordable housing on smaller lots, but I don't see any new jobs in Los Altos," Kasperzak said. "It's sort of the same old issue -- if the community doesn't want more people living here we should say no to more jobs. All those [new employees may have to drive now to get here and that's not sustainable development to me."
A changing city
As part of the 19 percent job growth, the city has seen a 294 percent increase in "information sector" jobs since 2003, according to the report. This may explain why the city has more young workers and fewer families than other cities in the county: About 13 percent of Mountain View's households are "non-family," while the county averages 9 percent.
Meanwhile, Mountain View has slowly chipped away at the high ratio of rentals in the city by almost exclusively developing new ownership housing and converting some apartments to condos. The number of people who rent in Mountain View slightly decreased from 62.2 percent in 1990 to 58.6 percent in 2008, according to the report.
For many years Mountain View has been known as a city with a relatively high ratio of renters. The county shows the opposite trend, with about 40 percent renters and 60 percent homeowners, according to the report.
The report cites other concerns. About 19 percent of the city's multi-family apartment buildings are not built to withstand a major earthquake, it says, noting that of the city's 584 apartment buildings, 111 have a "soft story" design where an "open wall condition" on the first floor can lead to "seismic weakness" in an earthquake.
Reflecting county-wide trends, the report says 32 percent of Mountain View renters "overpaid" by spending more than a third of their income on rent, compared to 36 percent county-wide. Seniors overpaid the most: In 2000, the report says, 50 percent of seniors overpaid for housing and 26 percent "severely overpaid."
The report adds that there are no assisted living facilities affordable to low income seniors in the city. It says the city has placed a 180-unit cap on small apartments -- also known as "efficiency studios," like the ones at San Antonio Place -- so only 62 more can be built.
Mountain View's median income for 2008 is slightly lower than the county median of $81,246, according to the report. Per capita income, however, is higher: $46,644 versus $37,470.
The report also points out that 122 homeless people called themselves residents of Mountain View in 2007, and 89 percent said they were unsheltered compared to 71 percent countywide. A bill passed by the state Senate, SB 2, will require Mountain View to zone an area for a homeless shelter within one year of the housing element's adoption.
The BAE report can be viewed on the city's Web site here as a staff report for the April 22 Environmental Planning Commission meeting.