Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 14, 2013

Don't move social services out of Mountain View

by Joe Simitian

For Mountain View, it really is a case of deja vu all over again.

In the late 1990s, Santa Clara County officials planned to shutter the County's Mountain View social services/welfare office and relocate out of the City to a more southerly location. This is the office that provides essential services to people of modest means, including health care, welfare and help in moving from welfare to work.

The notion at the time was that a location closer to the County's center would be more convenient to more people; and besides, the argument went, "the need isn't there in your part of the County."

Wrong. When we actually looked to see where the clients were from who showed up at the Moffett Boulevard office in Mountain View, lo and behold, the Mountain View site was actually more convenient than the proposed site. Armed with that data, the office — and services — stayed local.

Now, more than a dozen years later, we face the same debate again.

But this time the challenge is even greater. It's not a matter of choice. The Moffett Boulevard office will close toward the end of August because the lease is up and the owner has sold the property.

So all these years later, we're again faced with proposals to relocate these services to "central Santa Clara County," which is far from "central" for residents of the North County area I represent, and for Mountain View residents in particular. The challenge is even more acute for the large number of low-income residents who rely on public transportation.

While the area I represent (District Five) is undeniably more prosperous than other parts of the County, it is in many respects an even tougher place to make it for a person of modest means.

Too often people of limited resources become "invisible" because of their limited numbers and the relative prosperity of the larger community. But as too many Mountain View residents have reason to know, our region's prosperity is neither universal nor uniform.

That invisibility, and the relatively smaller number of lower income folks, means the tendency is, understandably, to provide essential services, like our social services office, in areas where the population using County services is both larger and more visible.

And, of course, the high cost of living in our end of the County, particularly skyrocketing rents, makes day-to-day survival an even greater challenge.

Ironically, one of the reasons the County has been considering sites closer to the County's center is the high cost of commercial rents in Mountain View, which just makes the point about how tough it can be to hang on in our part of the County.

Simply put, invisibility, fewer services and the high cost of living combine to make it especially tough for low-income residents of Mountain View and surrounding North County communities.

The good news is that County officials have redoubled their efforts to find an appropriate and affordable location in Mountain View — an effort I'm pushing. And I'm hopeful that my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors will support my efforts to keep these services in Mountain View.

For a great many folks, making it in Mountain View is a daily struggle. But with help that's real and local and accessible, they can not only survive, but thrive.

Joe Simitian is a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. He represents District Five, which includes Mountain View.

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