As the city wraps up a year busy year — a new General Plan adopted, construction underway on San Antonio Shopping Center and the Mayfield Mall ready for a $90 million makeover for high tech offices — there are nagging issues that will occupy much of the council's time over the next four years. Among them will be finding a way to unravel North Bayshore's traffic gridlock, making city streets safer for bikes and pedestrians, which could mean reducing car lanes, and whether to continue sharing Shoreline tax revenue with local schools.
Another sticky issue will be whether to impose a higher BMR housing fee on developers of what will likely be a huge number of office projects.
With the departure of Tom Means and Laura Macias, who are termed out, the council is certain to see at least two newcomers take office in December. We support returning the two incumbents, Mike Kasperzak and John Inks, to the council and recommend newcomers John McAllister and Chris Clark for the remaining two seats. The incumbents are running for reelection to complete their second and last consecutive term. Kasperzak is actually running for his fourth term. He stepped down for several years after his first two terms and then ran again in 2008.
Members of the Voice editorial staff conducted interviews with all candidates (except Jim Neal, who answered questions via email) last week. Here are our endorsements.
Mike Kasperzak, an inspired legislator who knows the job
Mike Kasperzak, the current mayor, lives and breathes Mountain View. As he moves into his 13th year on the council, it is no surprise that he is up to speed on virtually every issue, from the budget to transportation policy. But he is well aware that by 2015, he and John Inks, if they are reelected, could be the only council members with more than four years experience. It is important that the city, which also has a relatively new manager, has a council that knows the issues. Kasperzak definitely fills the bill.
We admire his strong support of charging developers a fee to pay for some BMR housing, in order to protect economic diversity among city residents at a time when an "affordable" home here could cost $800,000 or more. Kasperzak also supports the ambitious addition of housing called for in the new General Plan, which could see hundreds of units built in the next 10 years.
Kasperzak was an early supporter of adding bike lanes and safer pedestrian corridors to local streets. As a fan of SkyTran, he would consider investing some city funds in a $5 million test of the pod car system, which could whisk commuters from the Caltrain station downtown over the Bayshore Freeway to their jobs at Google and other high tech companies in North Bayshore. Such a system could put Mountain View on the map, he said.
He is also cautiously in favor of continuing to share Shoreline tax revenue with local schools, although he noted that the city must hold adequate funds to maintain Shoreline, especially its vulnerability to sea level rise.
The Voice urgers voters to return Mike Kasperzak to the City Council.
John Inks offers a fiscal anchor on council
Incumbent John Inks has not been our favorite council member. He often votes no on good projects that he says the city cannot afford.
But Inks is not a total slave to his Libertarian philosophy, and without his termed out colleague Tom Means, also a Libertarian, on the council his conservative spending message will have less clout. Nevertheless, we admire Inks for his willingness to investigate issues and draw his own conclusions. We understand when he said it pains him to approve additional funding to pay overtime for a fire department battalion chief.
Inks said he does see a need for special needs housing, but he is opposed to the new BMR project on Franklin Street at Evelyn Avenue, a very expensive way to provide 50 families with a place to live. Instead, he supports allowing developers to build denser housing that costs less to construct, an unpopular position on the council. He said he could support housing for runaway children or for domestic violence shelters.
We agree with Inks' support of the Grand Boulevard concept for El Camino Real, which envisions taller buildings or mixed-use projects like the one planned for the Austin's Barbeque site on El Camino Real. And, like many other candidates, he does not see a problem with drive-through lanes at new fast-food restaurants or other businesses that want to offer customers easy accessibility.
The Voice urges voters to return John Inks to the City Council.
John McAlister deserves to step up from EPC
John McAlister knows Mountain View from the multiple perspectives of his work on the Environmental Planning Commission, and owning and operating a popular ice cream shop on El Camino Real, where he employs many teenagers who are working their first job. And he sees the big picture of the city through his long tenure on the planning commission, which just completed work on the new General Plan.
He is no stranger to public meetings, saying he has attend more than 80 during his service on city bodies. Housing is an important issue for McAlister, who laments that often his store managers are priced out of the local rental market. He does not favor assessing fees on developers to pay for BMR housing, but instead would prefer passing a small sales tax to pay for it. Bikes and pedestrians deserve more space on some city streets, he said, although he would first study traffic counts and a new transportation plan that is due out in a few weeks before making a final call.
On El Camino Real, McAlister favors the sensible course of mixed-use growth and would make sure public transportation is available before adding huge housing projects. He says he is a big supporter of local schools, but would be cautious before renewing an agreement to share Shoreline tax revenue.
The Voice urges voters to elect John McAlister to the City Council.
Chris Clark is young, but has done his homework
A high-tech worker, at 29, Chris Clark already has served on the Human Resources Commission and the Environmental Planning Commission, giving him a good inside look at how the city operates. He lost a close council race four years ago, but brings much more experience to the campaign this time around. We agree with his contention that the council needs a younger person who can speak for the city's huge tech labor force, which is mostly under 30.
In supporting more bike and pedestrian lanes on major thoroughfares, Clark said people his age like to get out of their cars and away from the "automobile-centric" street grids that we have today. Clark would keep options open for a solution to the "huge bottleneck" and economic loss created bringing employees in and out of North Bayshore during commute hours. He believes the problem presents an opportunity for the city to make a statement in the region — something really innovative — with support and planning shared by companies and the city. He also looks forward to seeing a traffic study that will be out in a few weeks. He said he would be cautious about making a commitment to build a podcar type project, which could lock the city into one technology for a long time. Instead, he would prefer to see smaller investments like Google's self-driving car.
On other issues, Clark believes plans to redevelop parts of El Camino Real have so far succeeded in avoiding a wall of tall buildings facing the street. He also is against any ban on drive-through lanes on El Camino, saying they are valid uses for many businesses. If the city does impose an impact fee on developers, it should be in line with neighboring cities and shared equally between residential and commercial projects, he says. And although he supports sharing the Shoreline tax with local schools, the North Bayshore should be the top priority for use of these funds, he said.
The Voice urges voters to elect Chris Clark to the City Council.
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