At a City Council meeting Tuesday, city staff presented options for the program. Council member Margaret Abe-Koga had proposed a home loan program after being approached by several new police and fire personnel, who are hoping to buy a home in Mountain View.
One proposal was for the city to invest $1 million of its reserves into a revolving door fund that would give $100,000 down payment loans to help public safety personnel and, possibly, other city employees. A police officer's average starting salary is $92,000 a year, but that is still not enough to qualify for many home loans.
Only two of the city's 69 firefighters and 18 of the city's 97 police officers live in Mountain View. Firefighters in particular tend to live many hours away, where homes are much cheaper. Because they work long shifts, they only have to drive to Mountain View once or twice a week, working several days in a row and sleeping in the fire house. Nineteen percent of firefighters live in Santa Clara County, compared to 73 percent of police.
As for police, there is a widespread sentiment against living in the city they serve, according to Chief Scott Vermeer. Often, he said, police think it will lead to uncomfortable situations, such as seeing that "parolee in the supermarket" that you had arrested. Vermeer disagrees with the sentiment, and is in favor of bringing more Mountain View officers to the city to live.
Council member Nick Galiotto was once a police officer in Mountain View when about half of the officers lived in the city. "It was not often that you would run into that person you just arrested," he said. "If you did you probably would just arrest him and put him back in jail."
Police officers, as residents, "build relationships on a daily basis," creating a place where neighbors and friends can turn for help, Galiotto said. "This is a depth of public safety you do not get from someone who spends eight to 12 hours here and goes back to their community."
Member Matt Pear was adamant that the city should build a housing complex for public safety officers on city-owned land, calling it the most practical solution. But the others disagreed.
"How about if that's the first place that gets hit?" Galiotto said, alluding to a natural or other disaster. "You don't want all your eggs in one basket."
Boost for office projects
The City Council also considered ways to accommodate higher density office buildings north of Highway 101 to maintain a competitive edge with other cities in attracting business.
"We need to densify, otherwise we can't continue to attract the businesses we need," council member Jac Siegel said Monday in a phone interview.
During the Tuesday study session, the planning department, now led by director Randy Tsuda, proposed a new high-density zone overlay (ML-FAR) that would provide density bonuses for projects that met certain criteria. Those criteria include a five-acre minimum lot size, increased open space, possible LEED green building certification and an emphasis on alternative transportation options.
There are 10 properties within the city limits that are large enough, including two in North Bayshore and six in the Whisman area.
Some say the city already has too many offices and not enough homes, resulting in major traffic problems during rush hour, especially for those who are exiting or crossing Highway 101 along or near Shoreline Boulevard.
"It's already absolutely out of control as to how people are commuting over to North Bayshore," said council member Laura Macias.
Council members did not oppose the increase in density, however. Some proposed that fees be collected to create a shared shuttle system in North Bayshore that would serve everyone, similar to the systems many tech companies run on their own, including Google.
"We're expecting traffic not to increase proportional to the increase in density," said council member Ronit Bryant.
The test case for the zoning changes is an office development at 1615-1625 Plymouth Ave., which is now a vacant office complex. The property is being developed by Alexandria Properties, likely for a biotech operation. Alexandria wants to raise current density limits for what the city calls "floor area ratio" from .35 to .50 — shown in one example to increase a building from 113,000 square feet to 172,000 square feet. Sunnyvale is allowing .70 floor area ratio in some areas, according to a city staff report.
Also proposed is a streamlined permit process for higher density office buildings, including "T-zone" developments, which would take six to nine months for approval rather than a year.