Editorial: Council should drop 'survey' ideaDoes anyone think that Mountain View voters will agree to tax themselves so the city can afford to build affordable housing projects? That's a plan that looks like a possibility after a City Council study session. But in our view, even at the relatively low proposed rate of $5 a month ($60 a year), this idea is dead on arrival, a conclusion voiced by council member Mike Kasperzak at last week's meeting.
The city already has a 51-unit affordable housing project nearly shovel-ready at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street, and is sitting on still more funds ($8.8 million) in the Below Market Rate Housing (BMR) account. Why waste $15,000 on a survey that is timed so that if a decision is made to go ahead, a measure would appear on the November ballot, along with the City Council election, potentially numerous statewide tax increase proposals, including the one from Gov. Jerry Brown, and the presidential election.
And there is another problem with the idea of asking local property owners to pay for affordable housing. In the past, the city maintained a healthy BMR account that was replenished when rental housing projects were approved. Developers would pay BMR housing fees based on the size of their project. The funds were saved until the city could fund housing like the complex moving forward at Franklin and Evelyn.
But a Los Angeles court case found a problem with the way such BMR ordinances are written and although the city made the necessary revisions to bring its ordinance into compliance, council members have not approved it and, at least at the moment, have decided to leave rental housing developers off the hook. Instead, they decided to conduct a survey to see if voters are ready to bankroll such projects.
It does not take a rocket scientist to correctly guess what the voters will say on this survey. With all the clutter on the ballot, and the recession/depression still gripping some parts of our city, we can't imagine local voters will be in the mood to add another burden of any kind to their tax bills. While there is still time, we recommend that council members cancel plans to waste $15,000 to survey support for a ballot measure that they must know is very likely to be rejected by voters next November.
Instead, the council should immediately get to work and pass a new BMR ordinance that will continue to generate funds from rental housing projects to build below-market-rate housing for the hundreds of low-income residents who cannot afford the city's high housing costs.