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Council race: Mercedes Salem says she'll represent renters

Concern for Mountain View's middle class families struggling to pay increasing rents has inspired Mountain View resident and family law attorney Mercedes Salem to run for City Council.

"I have people in my apartment complex who are Stanford (employees) and they find it hard to make it," Salem said. "I want to help make the residents of Mountain View thrive instead of just survive. We have so many high-paid workers who are having a hard time. That's become the norm. I'm a single person -- I don't have a spouse or children, and it is still not always easy, but I can't imagine what it's like for people with families. I worry about them. If families in the neighborhood aren't doing well then I don't think we can say our city is doing well."

As a 39-year old renter in the Sylvan Park area, Salem says she aims to represent the large population in the city that rents housing -- about 60 percent of the Mountain View residents. There hasn't been a renter on the City Council in many years, but Salem is one of three in this year's race, along with Ellen Kamei and Jim Neal.

Salem moved to the United States from Iran when she was a year old with a Green Card and said she chose to become a citizen at age 18 to be able to participate in elections, voting for Ralph Nader for president in 1992. If elected, she said she would be Mountain View's first Middle Eastern council member. She says there are only three other Iranian elected officials in the U.S., including San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

"If I were to be elected and eventually become mayor, I'd be the first Iranian American mayor in the nation," she said.

She says the "overarching theme" of her campaign is to help middle class families, and her top priorities are housing, the environment, city infrastructure and services.

In this election, "housing is 100 percent the main issue," she said, but she also wants the city to find other ways to help lower costs for families, such as by providing more low-cost summer camps for kids.

With many residents discussing rent control as a solution to the city's increasingly painful rent increases, Salem says she sees rent control as something that would be "useful" to have a conversation about.

"Being an attorney, I absolutely do believe in individual property rights," she said. "I'll tell you as renter, my rents have increased about $550 in three years -- that's outrageous."

But she adds that just to say, "I'm for rent control" doesn't seem reasonable. "There's so many ways a rent control ordinance can be drafted. There are some unreasonable rent control ordinances that put too high a restraint (on landlords). Others are so lax that they are not really doing what they say they set out to do," she said.

She says she has a pragmatic approach to fixing the city's jobs-housing imbalance, which she says is "quite out of balance." She says the city needs to plan for more housing and less office space, especially in the San Antonio area.

"I am opposed to housing that's not thoughtful," Salem said. "We're small city with 12 square miles. No matter how much we build, we are not going to meet demand because housing is not just Mountain View's problem, it's a regional problem. Develop it well and have it be meaningful for the community. That building is going to be there long after we've come and gone."

Salem said she fell in love with Mountain View when she moved here four years ago. She spent the previous four years in Washington, D.C., after graduating with a law degree from Santa Clara University and growing up in West San Jose. She worked as an aide for Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, a legislative fellow for Pennsylvania Democrat Patrick Murphy and legal counsel for Southern California Democrat Linda Sanchez.

"My background is public policy and community activism," Salem said. "I can't remember a time in my life when I haven't been involved in my community."

Salem says she was a peer counselor in high school, a member of the the student government at Santa Clara University and the president of the college's Middle Eastern Law Student Association.

"Being heavily involved in legislative process, I understand how to get things done in a bureaucracy," she said. "It's not always easy and doesn't always happen, but I understand how to really persevere."

Other 2014 council candidate profiles:

Pat Showalter

Lisa Matichak

Ken Rosenberg and Helen Wolter

Lenny Siegel

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Konrad M Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 1, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Salem says she aims to represent the large population in the city that rents housing.

I am a home owner.
So, she won't represent me.

I will NOT vote for her!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Aug 1, 2014 at 3:03 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or personal attack]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bimbo-speak
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or personal attack]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Long Vision
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 1, 2014 at 5:00 pm

As a home owner, a person might think that the renter's issues aren't really their issues. Some current owners, however, will one day want to rent that house, and at that time, any and all restrictions that landlords have will be on them. Homeowners should be very cautious and pay special attention to any new restrictions on landlords, because one day they may be one.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by voter
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 2, 2014 at 12:44 am

Trying to control house prices and consequently rental prices - because they are obviously linked - is a fools errand. They are market driven. Not everybody can live in MV. Is that not obvious? The market is doing what it is meant to do. Control the balance of supply and demand.

Id like to live in a mansion in Atherton. So I think Atherton Council should ensure more big houses are built and that the rents should be affordable to me. Freeze Atherton rents now! Build more mansions for us all.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

No one can force landlords to rent out property. Set a price above market and you get a glut. Set a price below market price and you get a shortage.

Are we going to stipulate a certain number of years someone must have lived in MV to be allowed to rent an apartment? Or that they must also work in MV?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Scott Lamb
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Scott Lamb is a registered user.

Konrad, "I am a homeowner, so she wouldn't represent me" misses the point. Renters' concerns and "less unaffordable" housing options *are* important to current middle-class homeowners who want to stay in Mountain View for the long haul. (If you don't want to stay, congratulations on your profitable sale in the near future, and please don't concern yourself with this election.)

There's a very real danger that you will realize one day that you can't afford the services of businesses in Mountain View, that you don't fit into the community anymore because your old neighbors are gone and your new neighbors are rich. The demand for single-family homes here is insatiable; they will never be affordable again. So if you want to keep Mountain View a place where middle class people can live, you need there to be a realistic, "less unaffordable", high-density alternative. You need someone thinking about what a younger version of yourself would need to live here. That probably involves at least one of seven City Council members being a renter rather than a homeowner.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

My friend's wife graduated from MVHS.... back in 92 I think. She took the 22 bus all the way to Eastridge for her job for years.

Obviously there was an overabundance of housing and not enough jobs. Opposite of what folks are saying now. right? Because apocryphal stories are equal to the entirety of a city's issues.

So all you I've-been-here-20-years complainers.... what did you do to correct the situation? You've had 2 decades to fix things. Any messes going on now are yours.

Because clearly the 30 or so regular posters--if that many-- represent all 70K+ who live in MV


 +   Like this comment
Posted by RentSmart
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 2, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Rent control has done wonderful things for cities like SF. It is a big reason why it still contains a rich, diverse and interesting creative population.

One could say it is too late for MV. Rents are high already, so why lock them in!

Because when the market turns southward again, the rents will be lower and then they will be stabilized against future increases. The benefits of this is long term, but important to build and sustain a great community.

Let's think ahead and build for a better tomorrow.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Free market
a resident of Bailey Park
on Aug 4, 2014 at 10:22 am

When it comes to my financial matters, including how much rent I can charge, I don't want to be "Locked in" (More like locked up). I want the freedom to to with my property what I want now and 5-10 years from now.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rent control will fail
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 4, 2014 at 11:51 am

Who will say what renters will be able to charge for their places? If someone charges too much, they will not have any renters. If someone charges to little, then someone will get lucky.

The best person to make the decision is the economy. Rents rise and fall with the economy. And due to the water shortage we should not be building any more high density buildings, this area is already too saturated with people.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

"If elected, she said she would be Mountain View's first Middle Eastern council member"

Sorry, but that is not correct. Councilmember Bryant is Israeli and Israel is still within the Middle East.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Free market
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 4, 2014 at 7:40 pm

I believe in the free market. If I want to bury toxic waste on my property, that is my right. The market will solve all of our problems.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by David Nia
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Aug 7, 2014 at 9:20 am

I am an owner for the past 10+ years now. However, I have been a renter for over 15 years in many cities in North America. I think due to multi-unit owners' strong voice in our community, we shall make a balance voice in the housing market otherwise the gap will enlarge rapidly! I will definitely vote for her as I think she represents diversity in our community.

Go Ms. Salem, and I hope you deliver your promises for diversity.

David


 +   Like this comment
Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 7, 2014 at 11:51 am

"Representing renters" could mean a number of different things. It's hard to know what the candidates really believe, unless they start being more specific.

It could mean advocating for rent control (I'm not arguing for or against it here).

It could mean encouraging developers to build more, denser, and higher apartment complexes (IMO, this will do nothing for renters, but will only line the pockets of the developers. New units will be high-priced, intended to extract as much money as possible from relatively well-paid tech workers. The amount of new construction necessary to actually hold down prices would ruin the city.)

It could mean trying to preserve existing "relatively-affordable" housing. This, for sure, is a good idea.

You may recall that last January, the city council denied a redevelopment request for the Creekside Apartments (Web Link). Denial was the right thing to do, but they did it for the wrong reasons. Never mind that the proposal would have violated the General Plan (adopted just 2 years ago)...the problem was that the planning department was "too overwhelmed to handle the work".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2014 at 11:16 am

We need rent control.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Bayshore
on Aug 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I encourage the community and candidates not to jump straight to rent control.

As a current renter who has moved four times with in Mountain View over the last ten years, I understand personally the hardships of keeping up with rent increases.

Rent control sounds emotionally satisfying, but its long term regional impacts may outweigh the immediate security it brings.

The debate between some homeowners and renters is that some homeowners seek to lock in the status quo that benefits them (in increased home values) to the detriment of renters. Any renter who sees this as unfair should recognize that rent control will do the same: lock in benefits for a select few (stabilized rent), there by perpetuating laws that benefit a particular group, albeit initially vulnerable group, when laws should benefit the greatest number of people possible.

How so? First most, rent control reduces the amount of housing on the market, since people are incentivized to stay even when other parts of their life circumstances may lead people to move. For example, those who were at first vulnerable and benefited from the protection may later improve financially, but are reluctant to move from their rent controlled place, making harder for those in the future who are then economically vulnerable.

Rent control also discourages develop, which understandably many residents welcome less development, but few would welcome a decrease in capital investments and maintenance in current properties (aka more worn down housing around town). Owners are less quick to drop rent when demand dips in an overly cautious guessing game with future market demand.

A better solution, though one that can't be simplified to a sound bite, may be a package of reforms:

1) The city requiring landowners to report to the city all rent increases (reporting percentages, not the dollar amount). The city could then publish all rent increases and thereby empowering residents with more information before choosing housing. Thereby incentivizing owners to be thoughtful about the long-term legacy of gouging. The city could even publish a dirty top 10 list. This data could be open API so that rental websites could easily share them.

2) The city could require that all rent increases above inflation be announced to their tenants at least 3 months before their contracts expire, there again empowering residents to make informed decisions, giving renters more time to move if they do not agree to the prices.

3) The city could more aggressively incentive (demand) developers to build even more affordable housing among new development, the city could offer housing vouchers to targeted vulnerable groups paid for be developer fees or even high-end rental taxes. A high-end rental tax is another incentive to the creation of a diverse range of housing.

4) The city can explore with an open mind micro-housing designs from around the world and consider micro-housing adjacent to, and in coordination with MV companies (micro-housing that is less than 120 square feet, which the by state law limits to two occupants, so you don't create future tenements).

5) The city can open up talks of reducing some office growth in North Bayshore and replace it with a blank slate to create a small inspiring 21st century urban community as described by Bruce Liedstrand that can only be done when you have: a blank slate, high expectations of ecological innovation, money, and large number of local employers: which North Bayshore has all four. North Bayshore (and Moffett) are unique pieces of land in the region that have global legacies and demand unique visions that will continue to boldly inspire the world.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Really?
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 9, 2014 at 10:25 pm

"How so? First most, rent control reduces the amount of housing on the market, since people are incentivized to stay even when other parts of their life circumstances may lead people to move. For example, those who were at first vulnerable and benefited from the protection may later improve financially, but are reluctant to move from their rent controlled place, making harder for those in the future who are then economically vulnerable."

Do you understand how silly this reads? We want long term residents in this city. It adds stability and allows people that are not wealthy to live here. You say it takes housing off the market... Well, by on the market I surmise you mean an apartment that is vacant and available to rent. Well , we don't have rent stabilization today and we have virtually no vacancies... We do have high turnover as people move in, spend too much on rent and then leave completely depressed.

Sorry, but there's got to be a better way. Your ideas around trying to shame a landlord for raising rents... Seriously?? It's money, honey. Can't shame them.

Forcing developers to build affordable housing or have the city contribute money l???? Talk about a non-starter.

SF is one of the best cities to live in the world, thanks to rent control.MV can be too, but we have to wrest control from the developers and landlords that rob us blind.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by BEWARE
a resident of Castro City
on Aug 13, 2014 at 12:04 pm

The Chamber of Commence is selling tickets to a private event of August 27,: a forum for Council candidates to figure out if any candidates with buck special interests - including landlords. Candidates should consider declining to attend.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lilly
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 13, 2014 at 12:45 pm

@BEWARE

The Tickets are free,and is a public event!
I will suggest you get your facts straight before posting!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 20, 2014 at 11:16 pm

I spent 2 hours with Mercedes Salem Sunday, discussing what is best for Mountain View. Her thoughts follow:

Mercedes has 3 goals:
1. Neighborhood preservation is # 1
2. Preserve open spaces and the environment
3. Improve Mountain View infrastructure and services

Mercedes is concerned about rising rents as it affects her personally as well as her neighbors. However, she realizes that it is a regional problem and there is no magic bullet. She says "No matter how much housing we build, we cannot meet demand. We will just have additional expensive housing." The solutions are BMR Housing, Low Income Housing, assisting medium income residents by providing more services such as free summer day camp for children, and providing training for high-paying, in demand jobs, such as IT technician.

Mercedes is against building 5,000 residential units in North Bayshore. She points out that there are no services or infrastructure in North Bayshore and those 5,000 residential units is too small to form a real community. Increased traffic is also a concern.






 +   Like this comment
Posted by Trimming down the list
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 21, 2014 at 6:49 am

Thanks Kondrad for the report. It doesn't sound like she's the kind of candidate I'm looking for but I appreciate the honest opinion.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by BMW not Mercedes
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2014 at 8:46 am

Mercedes is against building 5,000 residential units in North Bayshore. She points out that there are no services or infrastructure in North Bayshore and those 5,000 residential units is too small to form a real community. Increased traffic is also a concern.

This shows that she doesn't understand the tech workers that want to live in North. Bayshore. They get all of their essential services from Google. That already have police, recreation , streets, sewer and fire services in that area. What is missing for her? Library services?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2014 at 9:16 am

Once again, it needs to be pointed out that North Bayshore housing would NOT be occupied just by Google employees. Any rental or ownership units would be open to anyone with the money to rent or buy. With demand high, I'd expect the same mix of occupants as anywhere else in MV, in terms of location of their jobs. 5000 units, or even 1100 units, would be a significant contribution to traffic congestion.

And Google does not supply "police, recreation, streets, sewer and fire services" outside of buildings under their control, as far as I know.

5,000 units? Think about it. That is something like 20 Madera projects.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by BMW not Mercedes,
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Let me clarify. Google employees would be the most likely residents. Google supplies food and many other benefits on site. The city provides the usual public infrastructure of which many are already in place. So where is the big need for infrastructure? Its already in place except for the ones i mentioned. This is why its a false argument to claim this would not be a community and needs infrastructure. There are plenty of services available to Google employees which is why they might prefer to live in the north bayshore. Others may choose not to .


 +   Like this comment
Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 22, 2014 at 12:06 am

There is only one way I can see to develop North Bayshore in a way that would attract renters who actually work in North Bayshore, and exclude those who would work elsewhere and clog up the roads.

That would be to provide little or no parking, or to provide it only at a fee. That would discourage commuting, and renters would "self-select" to produce a walking/biking mini-community. It might help also to build those tiny 250 sf living units that Christopher Chiang is recommending, thereby excluding families with school-age kids.

No need for restaurants or stores - as you say, free food from Google. Residents would not have to go anywhere for anything, and would not have to communicate excessively with "Old" Mountain View. The city (that is, taxpayers) could take care of police, streets, sewer and fire services. We could call it "Googleville"!

I'm sure that any number of developers (Prometheus, Greystar, Merlone Geier) would be more than happy to help us achieve this vision. All they would need is the right new City Council, which they could help to elect...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Riighhtt
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 22, 2014 at 6:44 am

The jokers who claim to be innovative will never agree to restrictions on the proposed housing, because it would reduce profitability and create a serious risk if (ok when) the economy tanks again .

Regardless, it's easy enough to do the math. Put enough housing in E Bayshore to significantly impact regional home prices would also unquestionably mess up the fragile environment along the shoreline. So, if only insignificant housing is added, then why take the risk?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MVResident67
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 8:53 am

Uh, Mountain View Voice editor(s)...

It seems like there are several comments that have disappeared from this thread. Is there a reason that these comments were deleted? It would be appreciated if comments are going to be deleted, that the comment box is left in tact with a comment by the editor as to why a comment was deleted.


Thank you.


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