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Council tackles jobs-housing balance

Housing element approved; critics call it woefully inadequate

On Tuesday evening, residents pressed the City Council to do something about the city's worsening housing shortage while some council members, who term out this year, resisted a significant change in course.

In a study session Tuesday, council members discussed a planning document called the housing element, a key component of the city's general plan for city-wide development. It allows for 2,926 homes to be built in Mountain View by 2023, but office projects in the works could bring an estimated 30,000-plus employees, creating a more competitive housing market, and force out lower- and middle-income residents, residents said Tuesday.

"It's not, 'If you build it, they will come.' They are coming anyways," said council member Mike Kasperzak of workers at Google, LinkedIn, Intuit, Samsung and other companies that are expanding in Mountain View. "They are bidding up the (housing) prices and forcing people out of town."

Using numbers from the state and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the housing element calls for the city to identify zoning for 2,926 new homes to be built by 2023, the "regional housing need allocation" or RHNA. Council members supported it without much hesitation, but members of the public said the document was inadequate in the expectation of tens of thousands of new jobs, and derided it as simply a "checklist" required by the state. With as much as 3 million square feet of office space under construction, recently finished or proposed in Mountain View and at NASA Ames, and another 3.4 million square feet in zoning proposed for the North Bayshore area, there is the potential for 36,571 employees to come to Mountain View soon, if calculated at 175 square feet per employee.

"Not everyone has to live in Mountain View or vice-versa, but quantitatively, we have to do more than provide 3,000 units," said Lenny Siegel, leader of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View. "People are really hurting and this city and it's planning decisions (that are) partially responsible for that hurt."

A resident named David told the council that, despite his good tech job, he can't afford to buy a home in Mountain View.

"Since moving here three years ago my rent has doubled and keeps going up," he said. "I actually can't afford to set down roots in Mountain View because we aren't growing enough housing. I implore you to act to create enough housing for the jobs that are here."

Council members Jac Siegel, Ronit Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga expressed concerned about the problem, but resisted efforts to balance new job growth with housing growth.

"My three kids are not homeowners and I have no idea how they would be home owners if they live in the Bay Area," said Bryant, who sat on ABAG's board of directors for years as the board discussed how to balance job and housing growth in the Bay Area.

"It's not a cop-out to say it is a regional problem," Abe-Koga said.

"It shouldn't be looked at like, 'Mountain View is an island with all the jobs,' and 'We will resolve the problem of all the jobs,'" Bryant said.

"I hear us talking about 'we want our diversity, we want to do something about this,' then I hear, 'It's a regional problem,'" said council member Mike Kasperzak. "We sort of say we need to do something and then we talk ourselves out of it."

He added that it might be difficult or impossible to supply enough housing to keep pace with job growth but "that doesn't mean we don't do anything."

Bryant, Abe-Koga and Jac Siegel are leaving the council due to term limits this year and the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View hopes to find candidates who will take more aggressive action to correct the city's housing problem. They may also seek a referendum so voters can decide whether North Bay office growth can proceed without plans for commensurate housing, which was opposed by a slim majority of the council in 2012, including Abe-Koga, Bryant and Jac Siegel.

"I thought we closed the book on North Bayshore housing," Abe-Koga said. "It keeps coming up. At this time the book is closed." She said she couldn't bring herself to support housing development in North Bayshore, when neighboring cities, presumably pricey Los Altos, are still building single-family homes on "quarter-acre lots." She said housing would take up precious open space in North Bayshore, though there haven't been proposals for its open space.

One resident brought up Bryant's comments from 2012 when she joined Abe-Koga, Laura Macias and Jac Siegel to block zoning on North Shoreline Boulevard for 1,100 homes near Google's headquarters: "One thousand units of single-occupancy rooms, that's not a community, that's dorms," said Bryant in 2012. "It's done a lot in China. Huge factories, huge apartment blocks, I don't think everyone lives happily ever after."

The resident said she grew up in company housing and actually enjoyed it.

"It was fine, it all depends on the state of the dormitory," she said. "It's actually fairly common in Asia. I had a great time growing up in the company town. People all over were my father's friends. It's not that bad."

While planning commissioners recently voted unanimously for the city to begin tracking its balance of jobs and homes, council members were much less enthusiastic, and there was not majority support to have city staff spend much of their time and resources studying the problem, though members seemed to leave it open for staff to do some basic research on jobs-housing ratios in the region. Such research has apparently been done, according to council member John McAlister, who said little else during the discussion.

Abe-Koga, Bryant and Jac Siegel do favor some measures, such as raising the minimum wage in the city, encouraging condo development for moderately priced ownership housing, and raising fees on office development to go toward subsidized housing, which council members supported taking another look at doing, despite having raised such fees recently.

"Obviously, if our less-wealthy residents have better jobs and better paying jobs they would have an easier time finding housing," Bryant said, alluding to the campaign to raise the city's minimum wage.

Abe-Koga suggested that raising housing fees might discourage office growth, which she acknowledged as the source of the problem. She suggested that Mountain View "share some of our economic development with San Jose" -- a city where many Mountain View workers have had to go to find affordable housing. "I don't know what it would take to spread it out more. We don't have to have all these businesses in Mountain View. If that alleviates at all some of the pressure to build housing, let's spread all of it out some more," she said.

Sandy Perry, a longtime San Jose activist for the homeless, happened to be at the meeting to describe some of San Jose's own housing problems, such as accommodating many of the the county's 7,000 or so homeless, including 700 children.

"San Jose has the largest homeless encampment in the U.S." he said. "As you look more into the issue it's clear that the source of the problem is not just San Jose, but here in North County, home of the largest corporations in world. This kind of destitution in one county represents a kind of colossal, economic, political, social and moral failure," Perry said.

"If Silicon Valley can't even keep its people from freezing to death in the winter, what are we good for?" Perry said.

Council member Siegel complained that the Mountain View wasn't getting enough credit for providing jobs.

"Why don't we get some credit for the jobs we have here somehow?" Siegel said. "With ABAG, with any of these organizations, we don't get any credit for that. We supply a lot of jobs for a lot of cities. But yet it's all about, 'What's your jobs-housing balance?' It's all about transportation and I understand about not wanting to create as much noxious gases (from car commuting) and on and on and on. But we should get some credit for that somehow."

Joan MacDonald, speaking for Advocates for Affordable Housing said, "The RHNA numbers would look wonderful if we didn't have another job created."

"We are not facing reality," she said.

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