|In one of the most intense debates for City Council hopefuls so far this election campaign, eight of the nine candidates sat under the lights in the studios of KMVT local cable Channel 15 last Thursday, where moderator Seth Shostak grilled them on live television "like shrimps on the barbie," he joked.
Shostak, a renowned speaker and senior astronomer at Mountain View's SETI Institute, is a longtime KMVT volunteer. With all of the candidates present except Tracy Gordon, Shostak started the debate by asking: What is more important environmentally, open space or high-density housing?
John Inks said parks and housing go together in a well-planned city, but "if you tighten up housing growth, that's how you get sprawl in the Valley," he said.
"Open space -- once it's developed, it's gone," said John McAlister, who believes the city should buy parkland before it gets too expensive.
However, Mike Kasperzak said voters would have to step up and approve a bond measure to make parkland purchases -- such as the Francia orchard in the Whisman area -- financially feasible. To that, Tom Means pointed out that the city needed the Francia family to agree to sell the land.
Chris Clark advocated the "healthy villages" concept in the Environmental Sustainability Task Force report, which would have parks, jobs and retail in walking distance of every major neighborhood so that cars are less necessary.
Laura Macias wanted an even stronger focus on parks. She said Mountain View is 12 square miles with over 70,000 people, and in some areas, like Escuela and Latham streets, the city has 10,000 people per square mile. "We've actually overachieved" in terms of making people fit in Mountain View, she said.
The discussion continued to point to the City Council's frequent split over housing -- often leading to 4-3 votes against high-density developments -- when a woman, whose question was recorded on video by KMVT, asked how the city would keep companies like Google from leaving.
"What's killing them is their employees cannot afford to live here," Kasperzak said. "Not everyone that works at Google is a millionaire." He added that people living as far away as Tracy "having to drive here every day and night is not a quality of life." Without some growth, Kasperzak said, "we will lose what we love about Mountain View, and that's diversity."
"We have to have supply to meet demand," Clark said about housing prices in a city with more jobs than homes.
"Go get a Google map," Means said. "You'll see a lot of empty lots that can be developed" for parks or housing.
McAlister stood up for the neighborhood groups who have complained about new developments and traffic. He said the Monta Loma group says "There's too many people," and the Wagon Wheel group wonders "What are you doing?"
Diana Wang said there wasn't necessarily a problem with increasing the city's housing supply to accommodate growing families and new immigrants.
Alicia Crank mentioned her "key point," which is that the city must plan for a better transit system, such as a city-run shuttle program up Shoreline Boulevard which could help Google employees get around.
When the discussion turned to youth crime and calls for an after-school teen center, Wang said she visited the current teen center on Escuela, which is "too small." As for keeping kids out of a trouble, a new teen center "would help a lot," she said.
Clark said the teen center should be built at Rengstorff Park and cautioned against cities' propensity to "micromanage" such facilities.
"I don't know of evidence that a teen center, while a great cause, necessarily addresses the problem," Kasperzak said, advocating for neighborhood groups to become involved with positive youth activities. Macias pointed out that the poorer neighborhoods often don't have well-organized neighborhood groups.
However, "Youth violence is not just associated with disadvantaged youth," Crank said.
The full debate, including discussions about Moffett Field, the city's murder rate and city budget problems, will be available online at www.kmvt15.org.
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