On Tuesday evening, the City Council is expected to discuss a package of housing policies that may not do much to fix the city's worsening housing shortage, possibly spurring a referendum to block office plans for Google and LinkedIn, among others.
At the May 13 meeting, council members are set to hold a study session on the city's draft housing element, the document that guides the city's housing growth for the next eight years. It has already drawn public concern about its adequacy at Environmental Planning Commission meetings. It calls for 2,926 new homes in the city by 2022, at a time when the City Council is mulling over zoning that could bring tens of thousands of new office jobs.
All the proposed office growth is like the proverbial "iceberg" headed for the Titanic in terms of creating a city with more commuter traffic and landlords able to charge a premium for scarce housing, says Lenny Siegel of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View.
The housing element could potentially help the city's housing shortage, but "the city seems to be treating it like it's just an update and we're just going to deal with details of various programs that are listed," Siegel said.
At its last meeting, Siegel said the group of balanced growth advocates expressed interest in the possibility of having voters pull a little used lever in Mountain View politics: the referendum. Siegel now says it is doable. The group would have to collect 3,240 signatures (equal to 10 percent of the city's voters) to force the City Council to either kill the North Bayshore precise plan or put it on a ballot for Mountain View voters to approve or reject, probably next year.
"Basically we're looking for any council action that approves major increases in employment without providing for commensurate housing," Siegel said.
Such a move could potentially block Google and LinkedIn from building 3.4 million square feet of offices in North Bayshore until a plan for more housing is created. In 2012 Google supported a plan for 1,100 homes near its headquarters, along with a wide swath of the community, but a slim majority of the council and the Adubon Society opposed it, citing wildlife impacts and making complaints about the potential for dorm-like housing.
Depending on the timing of the council's vote on the precise plan, which is expected to happen near the end of the year, the referendum could also pass key decisions onto a new City Council. It will only take one new council member to create a majority in favor of building a new neighborhood in North Bayshore. Three newcomers will be elected in November and seated in January. The six candidates now in the race are divided on the issue.
"There's still this attitude left over from the not-too-distant past that Mountain View has more apartments as a percentage of our housing stock than a lot of other cities, so people say, 'We've done our bit,'" Siegel said. "Even if you say we have done our bit, we haven't done anything for this wave of (office) development that's been planned."
Siegel said there's also interest among his group's members to hold a referendum on developer Merlone Geier's plans to include a pair of six-story office buildings totaling 367,000 square feet in phase II of the San Antonio shopping center redevelopment. While office is apparently a lucrative development prospect, the group says the space would be better utilized to meet local housing needs. "It's in an area where there aren't a lot of Mountain View residents that feel threatened by housing as they do further down El Camino Real," Siegel said.
Using numbers from the Association of Bay Area Governments, the draft housing element says the city needs only 2,926 homes by 2022, including 814 homes for very low income households and 492 for lower income households. That may be sorely inadequate if all of the office buildings in the works are built, potentially adding well over 30,000 jobs to the city in the coming years, including 15,000 to 20,000 just for North Bayshore as Google and LinkedIn expand.
The planning commission said the council needed to look at raising more funds for subsidized housing projects, and to start tracking the relationship between job growth and housing growth.
"The good programs in there won't do much good if we keep moving the city further out of balance in terms of jobs and housing," Siegel said of the housing element.
Siegel also points out that the housing element claims the city has only 48,000 jobs when the number is at least 66,000, according to data obtained from the employment development department, an error that has probably lead to the calculation of a lower "regional housing needs allocation" in the document (2,926 homes).
The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening at City Hall, 500 Castro St.