Means: Say what you mean
New mayor calls for concise meetings, clear directions from council members
When incoming Mayor Tom Means told the Voice what his goals were for the year, he didn't talk about fixing major problems like transportation, crime or housing. He said he simply wanted to make sure council meetings didn't run late into the night, and that the council spoke with clear direction.
That was the subject of his first study session on Jan. 15, when the mayor and member Matt Pear made the case for shorter meetings. One reason they gave was that parents with children who had business before the council should be able to get home at a reasonable hour. But other members disagreed with their approach, saying they didn't want to limit public input.
Clarity, Means' second issue, came up on Jan. 22, when the council discussed preferred design features for small-lot housing developments zoned R3. Means and Pear hoped to give clear direction to a room full of developers with R3 projects. But the message differed among the council members.
To council member Jac Siegel and the slower-growth majority, the direction was, "We want quality, not quantity." When the Voice talked to Means a few days later, the message he got was that the council majority was too hard to please and often vague, using terms like "quality" and "walkability" in their directions to developers.
"You are being kind to say they are slow growth — they are no growth," Means said off the cuff in an interview Monday. He continued, "You can never figure out where they are coming from or where they're going."
Council member Jac Siegel disagreed, saying that for all the projects rejected last year, the reasons were clear.
"I think we're totally consistent," Siegel said Tuesday. "I don't want to get into a squabble with the mayor, but I think it's a lack of understanding."
What's baffled Means is that some council members who seemed to oppose high density housing are now saying they will support it if it's well designed and fits into the neighborhood.
"I'm not necessarily against numbers and density," Siegel said. "Some of them could be good projects if they were thought up better."
But Siegel added that with projects built to the maximum density, "usually something goes wrong somewhere." He wants developments that make people "want to stay in Mountain View, five to 10 to 20 years or more — not just provide a box to live in. That isn't what our community is about. I really want to keep in Mountain View the character that it has."
Bryant agreed, saying, "I am not against high density, I'm just against bad design. I feel it's possible to be very clear what good design is."
Bryant said her idea of good design is described by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which provides checklists that developers use to acquire LEED certification. Developers can get points for maximizing open space, development density and "community connectivity." Increasingly, LEED is being talked about in Mountain View as the gold standard for environmentally friendly development, though some developers say its requirements increase the cost of housing.
This year is sure to be filled with discussion about standards for housing design as the housing element of the General Plan is discussed through 2009 and the planning department asks the council for clarification on certain project types — such as last week's R3 housing discussion.
Bryant says she is looking forward to a discussion at some point about adding housing in an area she's focused on: El Camino Real. She and member Laura Macias would like mixed use housing and retail developments along the street frontage there, though the idea has been criticized because many of the lots are deep and oddly shaped.
'Hawthorne Park' developer complains
Bruce Burman of KMJ Urban Communities was disappointed to read the minutes for the Nov. 6, 2007 council meeting, which he believes incorrectly summarized the council's direction on his project at 450 N. Whisman Road. He was especially concerned with the conclusion of the minutes, which stated that "the council directed the applicant to reduce building heights to 27 to 28" feet.
In fact, there was no summary or clear direction at all, according to a recording of the meeting, Burman claims.
"The meeting was notable in fact that there was no summary or specific direction to the applicant," he wrote in a letter he presented to the council at the Jan. 22 meeting.
The letter underscored Means' concerns about a lack of clear direction from the council, forcing city staff members to "read the tea leaves" after a meeting in order to write the minutes concisely.
"I was a little surprised by the developer's summary," Bryant said. "The general trend had been clear. Summarizing it in the end might have been useful — we'll be going in that direction. These are study sessions, not decisions made."
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