Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 19, 2011

Social Services Agency may be homeless

A key county agency that has been a fixture for years at Moffett Boulevard and Central Expressway will close in about a year, and it remains to be seen if the Board of Supervisors will be able to fund a new lease elsewhere in the city.

Although the new owner of the building housing the Social Services Agency agreed to extend the county's lease of the space, Fairchild Residential is seeking city approval to build up to 128 units of housing on the site, which is just across the street from the Caltrain and Light Rail stations. According to people interviewed by the Voice who were visiting the agency last week, the site's proximity to transportation is a key reason they choose to come to the office.

The Moffett Boulevard office and a similar outpost in Gilroy are the only locations other than San Jose where residents can obtain county-dispensed food stamps, cash aid and MediCal health benefits. The San Jose office, on Senter Road, is not easily accessed by mass transit from the North County, so if the Mountain View office closed those who receive county services here will find them much more difficult to obtain, especially those who walk or bike to the office now.

The Social Services Agency would not be the only casualty if the office closes. The Mayview Health Clinic, where two to three doctors see up to 60 low-income patients a day, receives free rent for its busy operation, CEO Shamima Hasam told the Voice. If the present site were shut down, it is not clear if the county could continue to provide free space for the clinic, which would leave a major gap in the delivery of health care to low-income residents of the city. The clinic also has offices in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, but the Mountain View site is the most popular due to its proximity to mass transit.

Supervisor Liz Kniss, who represents the North County, including Mountain View, says she supports keeping the Social Services Agency open here, and would move quickly to find other suitable space if necessary. But given the county's severe budget constraints, she cannot guarantee that her fellow supervisors would support keeping this vital office open.

The City Council appears ready to approve Fairchild Residential's zoning request to redevelop the 1.83-acre property for high-density housing, which could mean density of up to 70 units per acre, compared with the highly disputed ratio of 60 units per acre permitted at the Minton's property on Evelyn Avenue.

But in our view, as part of a decision that will essentially boot a longtime public agency into the street, the council should do everything it can to help find a new home for this office, which provides a very valuable service to the community.

Rental space, particularly near mass transit, is extremely scarce in Mountain View, in part due to Google's aggressive expansion. In this sort of hyper market, it will be extremely difficult for the county to find any space at all suitable for its Social Services Agency and the Mayview Clinic. The only good news in this story is that the county and anyone else ready to help has just over a year to find a suitable alternative that can help meet the needs of some of the North County's most vulnerable citizens.

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