The Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association filled the City Council chambers to the brim Thursday night and elected three write-in candidates who oppose a controversial apartment project that would take the place of Minton's Lumber and Supply.
This was the first ever contested election in OMVNA's 17-year history -- normally the events are quiet with few people showing up.
But this time, Noam Livnat, outgoing OMVNA chair, said he spent considerable time trying to prevent "tiffs and scuffles" over the apartment project outside the council chambers as neighbors waited for the finish of a one-hour presentation on a new neighborhood watch program.
When people poured into the chambers many had to crowd around the back of the council dais. Livnat calmly spoke about how the neighborhood association had been carefully built over 17 years into something "precious," and that he hoped it would remain "active and effective" for many years to come.
Three of eight steering committee positions were contested and won by write-in candidates endorsed by the newly created Minton's Redevelopment Neighborhood Alliance, or MiRNA, which opposes the 214-unit apartment development. MiRNA's Laura Lewis (147 votes) was elected chair over Hugh Donagher (84 votes). MiRNA-endorsed Robert Cox (144 votes) was elected secretary over Joan Carlin (84 votes). And MiRNA's Carter Coleman (127 votes) was elected treasurer over incumbent Aaron Grossman (101 votes).
All three MiRNA candidates said their experience and skills as managers or executives in the tech industry would help them run the neighborhood association, which is known for its annual ice cream social and star gazing nights, and for hosting a City Council candidate debate every two years.
Lewis, the new chair, said she had experience running the "Lake Cove Community Association," and that in the debates about the Minton's project on the OMVNA Yahoo group, she "took the high road, as I always have." She said living in Mountain View with her children is often "magical" and "a lifestyle, something you live and breathe."
In another contest (109 votes) Deb Keller was elected newsletter editor over newcomer Matti Scott (95 votes).
MiRNA's opposition was partly in response to a letter to the City Council that the steering committee's existing members wrote earlier this year expressing interest in "exploring even higher density" than what has been proposed for the apartment project on Evelyn Avenue (the committee later clarified that it had no position on the project). On its Web site MiRNA says that it seeks to "preserve the character" of the neighborhood.
MiRNA hopes the outcome of the OMVNA election will be seen by the City Council as a mandate on the Minton's project. The three MiRNA candidates had been campaigning with a flier about themselves and the Minton's project, and through postings on the OMVNA Yahoo group.
MiRNA candidates claim that most of the neighborhood does not support the Minton's project and that it is too large, at nearly three times the density allowed by the precise plan for the block, which is why it requires a variance. Parking and traffic impacts on the neighborhood are a big concern, and an official parking and traffic study for the project will be released in the coming weeks.
Developer John Moss of Prometheus Real Estate Group says the site is unusually opportune for an environmentally friendly, smart-growth project because of its proximity to the train station and downtown.
"A site like this comes up literally once every 100 years," Moss said.
Moss said going lower in the density would make the underground parking garage financially unfeasible, which means any reduction in density would be dramatic to make way for grade-level parking and make the homes less affordable in the process.
MiRNA also had concerns about how the elections are run under OMVNA bylaws, with the association's steering committee controlling who is on the ballot through a "nominations committee." Coleman said some candidates objected to being asked to be write-ins on the ballot.
Bruce Karney, active for many years in OMVNA, took responsibility as the nominations committee chair for what he admitted was a flawed process. Karney said it was the first year in the group's history that there were more candidates than positions on the committee. He said filling the positions usually requires some recruiting.
Candidates picked by the OMVNA nominations committee who were voted in without a contest were Kim Copher (Vice Chair), David Lewis III (Community Liaison), Becky Reyna (At Large #1) and Jack Perkins (At Large #2).
More information is available at OMVNA's Web site, omvna.org.