Mountain View Voice

News - December 1, 2006

City picks site for affordable housing

Lot at corner of Evelyn and Franklin will hold 50 studio apartments

by Daniel DeBolt

[CORRECTION: This story incorrectly reported that the affordable housing units would be "efficiency studios." The proposal actually calls for single-family units.] A city-owned lot at Evelyn and Franklin streets that has been considered for affordable housing for years finally got the go-ahead this week from the city council, setting the stage for 50 below-market-rate efficiency studios downtown.

The council had deadlocked in July on the issue, debating over which downtown lot to put the project on. But this time around, council members said they felt compelled to move forward.

"I reluctantly support moving the project to Evelyn to get this project moving," said council member Mike Kasperzak.

Kasperzak said he brought the issue back to the council because a state law, the newly passed Proposition 1C, means affordable housing projects will cost more if they're not pursued in the next few years.

"Every day we wait, costs go up," he said. "Costs are going up far faster than invested returns on our saved below-market-rate housing money."

In July, three council members were in support of an alternative site at Bryant and California sreets. But Tuesday's decision was unanimous, with Mayor Nick Galiotto announcing his changed vote at a previous meeting and Kasperzak and council member Laura Macias announcing their reluctant switch Tuesday from supporting the Bryant site.

The council decision came after a long public comment period, with several residents and representatives from housing nonprofits supporting the site at Bryant and California.

But many neighbors of the Bryant site spoke against affordable housing downtown, saying there would be negative impacts on business and the neighborhood. One man said he was concerned about domestic disturbances, crime and upkeep of the property.

Human relations commissioner Alicia Crank said there was a difference between affordable housing and "the slums." She said part of the project would involve educating people about how nice affordable housing developments can be. Crank favored putting the project in the "heart of downtown" at the Bryant site, near the Center for Performing Arts, Pioneer Park and the library.

Two church leaders spoke in support of placing affordable housing downtown. Representatives from the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association said they were in support of the Evelyn site. Several nonprofit housing developers were there to encourage the development of affordable housing, preferably on the Bryant site, which would allow 70 units as opposed to the 50 at the one-acre Evelyn site.

There was also talk of using the Bryant site for the grocery store that so many nearby residents have asked for over the years.

The Evelyn lot is currently used for overflow parking for the Caltrain station, with about 60 available spaces nearly filled every morning. One business owner expressed frustration that the one downtown lot, which provides unrestricted parking hours, would be gone soon.

Transportation and policy manager Joan Jenkins said that a single deck parking structure for the downtown train station was being considered by the VTA to be built in one to five years.

Funding the housing project will require state and county help. City staff described the process as "opportunistic" because funding is not always available from the state and certain projects are given priority over others.

The city's last affordable housing project, San Antonio Place, cost the city $5.5 million, but other funding sources covered the rest of the total cost of $22 million. The city purchased the land for $3 million, which would not be an expense for the city-owned Evelyn lot.

The city council is considering how to spend about $11 million in funds it has received for below-market-rate housing. The funds are generated through fees collected from housing developers who choose not to include below-market-rate units in their project. The fund is expected to grow quickly in the coming years as 3,000 housing units now in the planning stages are built.

Council lines up new planning commissioners

While it's not official yet, on Tuesday the city council ranked John Inks, Bill Bien and Arnold Soderbergh as the best choices to fill three open seats on the Environmental Planning Commission. The decision will be made official on Dec. 12.

"I have never seen such strong candidates," said council member Matt Pear.

Soderbergh had applied the day before and had experience with planning in another city. The council said he would bring a "fresh perspective" to the commission.

Bien is a human relations commissioner who studied law at Stanford and learned about planning while watching the Satake Nursery development near his home go through the planning process. He promised to recuse himself from decisions in his own neighborhood.

John Inks is a parks and recreation commissioner who recently lost in the city council election by a few hundred votes. He was the council's top pick for the planning commission.

The new commissioners will fill seats left behind by Margaret Abe-Koga and Jac Siegel, who were both elected to the city council in November. Many see the planning commission as a stepping stone to the city council.

City funds July 4th event

Also on Tuesday, the city approved its annual subsidy for Fourth of July festivities at Shoreline Amphitheatre as it has done since 1987, but this time it wasn't without concern.

The city received a $10 million settlement from the venue's operator, Live Nation, earlier this year after a drawn-out court battle with an earlier operator, Clear Channel. For years, the city had accused Clear Channel of hiding millions in profits to avoid paying the city its full due.

The Fourth of July subsidy of $75,000 for Live Nation was described as quite large by council member Greg Perry. One public speaker called it a "sweetheart deal."

The money is meant to cover 27 percent of the cost of the event. The city has felt the cost was justified because many of those who enjoy the event watch the fireworks from outside the venue. Residents also receive a discounted price on tickets, which equals about $8,000 of the subsidy.

This year, the city says, 2,000 free tickets will be given to residents.

"It's a better deal than we've had before," Macias said.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at


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