How would you spend $10 million downtown?
Council candidates debate housing, high-speed rail in Old MV
By Daniel DeBolt
If the six candidates for City Council were given $10 million to improve Mountain View's downtown, the area could end up with a subsidized grocery store, more park space, incentives for new retail stores, a revamped Civic Center plaza or tiny new "sidewalk parks," depending on which one you asked.
At Landels elementary school Monday night the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association asked the candidates what they would do if an "anonymous wealthy benefactor" gave Mountain View $10 million for downtown improvements.
"Well, we have tried for years to get a grocery store downtown," said mayor and incumbent Ronit Bryant. "If we could use the interest on the $10 million to open a grocery store, I would be interested."
Google employee Aaron Jabbari said he was "very much against" "throwing money" at certain types of businesses to attract them downtown, such as Safeway.
For incumbent Jac Siegel the answer was easy. "Parks, parks, parks," he said.
He said the downtown is underserved by park space with only 2 acres of space for every 1,000 residents, when the city's goal is 3 acres.
Most everyone agreed that more park space is needed downtown. Waylonis wants small parks around downtown where people can sit down and have some lunch. Jabbari called for tiny parks placed on sidewalks, with tables and chairs that would encourage people to "sit down and play a game of chess, just like in Europe."
Bryant also mentioned the city's Civic Center plaza as needing some work to be more inviting.
Incumbent Margaret-Abe Koga added that the money could be used to add diversity to the retailers downtown, such as a shoe store she thinks is missing. It could also provide a shuttle service for the whole city, she said.
Loaded HSR questions
The OMVNA chair Laura Lewis asked the candidates to describe three benefits of bringing high-speed rail to Mountain View, which Ronit Bryant and Jac Siegel refused to answer directly. The other candidates did.
"It makes Mountain View even more of a regional center for employment," Jabbari said, presumably about putting a high-speed rail station downtown.
Google engineer Dan Waylonis said downtown merchants would "benefit greatly" from an influx of visitors with a high-speed train station downtown.
Bryant said she did not actually see any economic benefits of high-speed rail.
"If done wrong it could seriously damage us," Bryant said.
Bryant said there would be more trains coming through the city every hour, which would "not define for me a neighborhood where I want to live" because of the noise. Siegel pointed to the 3,000 parking spaces required in the area for a station.
Candidate Greg David disagreed, saying that while trains would be more frequent, the sound of the electric trains would be a "whoosh" instead of a "rumble."
Expressing concern that Moffett Field could be turned into another airport someday without an alternative to flying, Abe-Koga was more supportive of high-speed trains for their "convenience."
Whether the city should subsidize affordable housing came up, as the city is sitting on $18 million in affordable housing funds collected from special tax districts and development fees on market rate homes.
"If you asked residents whether the city should be subsidizing affordable housing, I think you would probably get a pretty negative response," said David, who was joined by Waylonis in opposing housing subsidies.
"Some people would say it's a supply and demand issue," said Waylonis, who recommended higher density infill development along El Camino Real and other areas to solve the problem. He said it should be ownership housing as the city's high proportion of rentals means the city does not get as much taxes as other cities under Proposition 13.
Bryant and Siegel both said that Mountain View could not solve the Bay Area's housing problems, but Bryant pitched her idea for mixed use, mixed income projects that use smaller city subsidies. Bryant said she is concerned about losing the diversity that many residents love about Mountain View.