City Council wrestles with housing policies | News | Mountain View Online |


City Council wrestles with housing policies


The City Council found itself in the quandary of trying to figure out how to encourage appropriate housing development Tuesday despite a relative lack of developable land and a housing market slowdown.

During its Tuesday night study session, the council discussed a long list of suggested policies for a new "housing element," a state-required general plan policy document that will guide housing development over the next seven years. Consultant Simon Alejandrino said the proposals, though numerous, were only "tinkering around the edges" in the effort to meet the city's housing needs.

"The cities that are successful at generating a lot of units tend to have more land than Mountain View," said Alejandrino, vice president of Bay Area Economics, a city-hired consultant group.

BAE released a report in April that helped substantiate the notion that Mountain View needs more housing for its workers because the city is "jobs rich" compared to neighboring cities.

There now appears to be more focus on redeveloping the city's existing apartment buildings, 19 percent of which are in danger of falling over in an earthquake due to their "soft story" design.

The proposed housing element doesn't present very many "new ways of doing things," said council member Mike Kasperzak, who believes the city's numerous aging apartment buildings present an opportunity for new development.

There was at least one new way of doing things presented in the draft housing element: require less parking for housing near transit. According to the Greenbelt Alliance, Mountain View requires more parking on average than other Bay Area cities, and less parking would leave more room for homes and discourage people from using cars.

The Environmental Planning Commission objected to the proposal, however, citing impacts on surrounding neighborhoods. Council member Jac Siegel agreed with the commission, others did not.

"We do need to look at parking requirements," said council member John Inks. "Our parking requirements are a little higher than surrounding cities."

"I'm all for reducing free parking," said council member Tom Means. Too many people, he said, "fill up their garages and driveways and park on the street."

To meet its "fair share" of the county's unmet housing needs, the Association of Bay Area Governments has calculated that Mountain View needs to accommodate — perhaps through zoning — another 2,123 housing units by 2014, including 467 very low income units.

But that goal may be difficult to achieve in a slow housing market: Permits for only 99 units were approved last year, while 377 units were permitted in 2007.

In a letter to the city, the League of Women Voters said the city had a poor track record in meeting its ABAG requirements for building new low income housing. To help address that problem, it has been proposed that the city try to build 150 affordable housing units per year.

Several council members also supported removing a cap on the number of "efficiency studios" that can be built. Currently the city has 118 of the small apartments at San Antonio Place, and only 62 more can be built.

Kasperzak said the city needed to talk with developers about how the city could realistically build that many affordable housing units.

"I'm sure you don't enjoy it when neighbors complain about affordable housing," said Roy Hayter of Advocates for Affordable Housing. Nonetheless, he said, building more of it "is the right thing for this group to be doing."

Council member Laura Macias suggested a cap on annual housing production and a "beauty pageant" similar to Morgan Hill's in which the best projects are selected and built. She asked Alejandrino, "Have you ever seen a city say, 'We're only going to accept affordable housing?'"

"I think the state would see that as a major constraint on housing," Alejandrino said. "I doubt you would get a (state) certified housing element that way."

Macias took issue with the terms "affordable housing" and "subsidized housing" because the words have a negative connotation. City staff suggested "assisted housing" or "rent restricted" housing. Audience members were overheard commenting that changing the name wasn't good for government transparency.

Council member Ronit Bryant said she wanted the city to encourage mixed-use development, with retail shops below housing. In General Plan hearings, "People have been telling us again and again, we want more mixed-use development," Bryant said.

While some say the city's zoning doesn't encourage mixed-use, planning director Randy Tsuda said the real constraint was a lack of appropriately sized lots on El Camino Real and elsewhere.

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3 people like this
Posted by Deborah
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:41 am

I think it is wrong to address this on a city level. Palo Alto and Los Altos and Sunnyvale may even be closer to places of work than some regions of Mountain View, so one should at least get the numbers on a more regional scale (work/housing).
Of course the city council wants more housing and they want to keep all work places too. That is their tax base, and the only way they can think about the city. But why should we not lose some work places to other area, e.g. in the East Bay? Instead of people commuting in from there, why not let work places migrate where people live rather than build more houses where they work?
I think the peninsula is precious and we shouldn't ruin it, by turning it into a completely urbanized area, with all the problems.
I think vast stretches of housing only developments should become interspersed with places to work. Regional development is not just piling it on where there is much, and letting places in the East Bay rot.

3 people like this
Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:42 am

Council member Laura Macias suggested a cap on annual housing production and a "beauty pageant" similar to Morgan Hill's in which the best projects are selected and built. She asked Alejandrino, "Have you ever seen a city say, 'We're only going to accept affordable housing?'"

"I think the state would see that as a major constraint on housing," Alejandrino said. "I doubt you would get a (state) certified housing element that way."

You have to wonder if anyone on that council has a clue about housing development and growth. The MH plan would be an invitation to political chicanery. Some council members act like developers have no choice in where and when they want to develop. No one builds lots of low income housing or "affordable housing" with out direct or indirect subsidies from government. Land is very expensive and other types of development are better uses of the land.

3 people like this
Posted by Thom
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 8, 2009 at 10:51 am

The City Council should worry about the vacancies in the commercial properties and leave the private housing issue alone. Hang a 'No Vacancy' sign. FYI - Middlefield and Whisman, where the old Wagon Wheel existed has gone vacant since they tore down the building. Kentucky Fired Chicken on El Camino petitioned to use that property and they were turned down by the City Council. I know it's a different issue but just to let you know one instance of many that they made the wrong call on. If you ever go to the KFC you know the parking is limited and leaving the parking lot is also a task trying to get back on El Camino.

3 people like this
Posted by Laura Macias
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Jane Jacobs' seminal book, The Life and Death of American Cities is a good reference for city planning which includes respect for existing community residents in its planning. Personally, I also reference the smart growth website for key principles and other great sustainable planning information- Web Link. As a councilmember, the reason that I want to focus on affordable housing is that that is where the need is for our residents. This is the third Housing Element that I have worked on. Housing Element Plans for each city are required by state law to be updated every five years based upon Association of Bay Area Government, ABAG and Regional Housing Allocation, RHNA allocations and then submitted to the State Housing and Community Development department. HCD provides fairly detailed analyses in response to the submission. See the website if you're interested in learning more- Web Link
When we, the City, go back to review our housing element results, the group that is neglected remains the low and very low-income residents. A focus on a city in this case, an affordable one, can change behavior. And yes, of course, there are city, state, federal, tax-credit and other source of monies that provide incentives and contributions. When I was on the Planning commission, and then my first years on council, we overbuilt rowhomes when we created the rowhouse guidelines so I know the market responds. We also need larger homes for growing families and that's been included in the housing element. When developers know what a city is looking for, they do tend to build something that they think looks like those specs. That's why I threw out the example of Morgan Hill. Morgan Hill gets to choose from multiple developments at one time. MH decides from many which projects are the best to proceed, rather than the serial approvals which is the approach MV has. Planners and developers twitch at the mention of MH.
I understand as a small city, 12 square miles that we have real, physical limits. This is what our BAE consultant referenced in his comment on MV designing around the edges. He meant that is all we CAN do. It also important to remember that we have more rental housing and multi-family housing than any other city in Santa Clara County. We start from the position of having developed quite a lot of residential housing already. Can we do more? Yes but carefully I believe that what we do build and renovate should be a complement to existing communities in our city. We also do need all cities in the Bay Area to step up to housing too.
Also, the Study session, which this meeting was, is to provide for info and discussion. It was an advisory meeting; we don't take motions for final decisions. As I stated at the meeting, I would like to see council have more dialogue with one another and with resident input. I want to hear less monologues as that is not resulting in real discussion about these critical issues.

3 people like this
Posted by phm
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 8, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Ms. Macias, thanks for explaining why you like Morgan Hill's system for approving housing projects.

Mr. Kasperzak, if you're reading this, I'd like to know what was meant by "the city's numerous aging apartment buildings present an opportunity for new development." The old apartment buildings are the only housing affordable to most poorer residents.

3 people like this
Posted by Konrad Sosnow
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm

My wife and I moved to Mountain View more than 40 years ago because we enjoyed the quiet neighborhoods, parks, and quiet streets.

ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, would turn Mountain View into a city filled with high-density apartment buildings, low income public housing complexes, and multi-unit homes.

If we wanted that, we would move to the South Bronx.

3 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:35 pm

More housing? More affordable housing? Smart growth? Green solutions? When I graduated in 1949 the world’s populations was around 2 billion. Our class just had our 60th year reunion. The world’s population is over 6 billion (Goggle – Pop. Est. Jul 08 6,706,993,152.)

Four billon more people were added to the 2 billon (2 +4= 6) that the world had when I graduated 60 year ago. Do we need more affordable housing for the next 4 or 6 billon (or will it be again possibly adding a doubling of the number of people in the world today (6 +12 = ? in the next 60 years).

What most people and politicians have not figured out is that we do not have to few jobs or housing; we have too many people for jobs necessary to support the civilization. Are you ready for the next bubble and bust cycle?

More people are unemployed today due to the mild recession than were unemployed during the great depression!

(Population 1930 - 5,677,251 and 1950 - 10,586,223 and in 2009 - 38,292,687 -Web Link)

Good Luck!

3 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Oh, I forgot. The reunion was the Mountain View High School Class of 1949. They tore down the beautiful Mountain View High school on Castro Street for more housing in 1980. The same age Schools of Palo Alto and Fremont High are still standing. Room for redevelopment I presume.

3 people like this
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 8, 2009 at 5:21 pm

USA is a registered user.

Ms. Macias, with all due respect, the people supporting this are the same type of people that think it is a good idea to cut down the trees in Cuesta Annex to put up a museum for people to see what Mountain View was like before all the tree were cut down. While we certainly do need long term planning and zoning to keep the community in balance, it is silly to think that every community from Los Altos Hills to EPA needs to have a lot of low-cost housing.

Mountain View already has done more than its fair share in terms of supplying the region with multi-family housing (e.g apartments). Look at the crime stats maps of Mountain View. Compare the apartment-dense areas of the city with the single family residence areas. Enough already.

3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 10:14 am

The population figures were interesting. My hometown of Glendale has also increased since I graduated and left there in '69. It is now over 200,000, which I believe is a 100% increase from when I left. It is extremely clear that most of this density increase happened in the central transportation corridor - AND NOT in the surrounding single family areas built in the '30, 40s, 50s. The very old central core is much higher density - and I think an improvement on what I see are remnants of the old pre 1920s structures.

I fully agree with Council member Kasperzak on the issue of earthquake safety and 'soft story' redevelopment. This is a disaster waiting to happen (San Fernando earthquake replay). Larger development parcels are probably part of the solution - how to encourage property owners to do this - without eminent domain grabs? There must be some examples of city codes that have used planning preferences to help developers conglomerate properties (and helped property owners get increased values when they sell to conglomerated projects).

I'm glad Council member Macias sees the need for smaller housing units in the mix. I really hope the zones near transit (rail and El Camino) can be fixed to allow higher density, less parking, and smaller units compared to the other parts of the city.

3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 10:17 am

USA - do you have a web link you can post for the crime stat maps? Of course - what we are interested in is the stats per resident, not the area stats!

3 people like this
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 9, 2009 at 10:58 am

USA is a registered user.

There are several websites with data. This is a good one: Web Link

Enter "Mountain View, CA" and wait a few seconds for it to fully render. Zoom in on parts of the city that have high apartment density Do the same for those ares with high SFR density. You can also set the filters for crimes types to see the violent crimes.

3 people like this
Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 2:36 pm

The MH approach will open the door wider for political corruption. Picking the best of a limited supply will only lead to more political donations from developers after they get their project approved. It will also increase the price of housing since each developer will include the expected cost of winning the dog and pony show. MV elections are relatively clean with few donations over $500. The main exception was a (losing) candidate that accepted $3000 from SEIU.

The SG "guidelines" are just preferences. They are vague and arbitrary, which would allow planners to rely on their feelings toward the project. Without consistent and objective guidelines, planners will just arbitrarily impose conditions. A beauty show is just that. Decision making based on art and not substance. Can you imagine a planner telling a retail developer, "Its a pretty building, too bad you cant make any money, after I add all of my personal preferences."

3 people like this
Posted by Thomas
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 14, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Political insider I have news for you; Planners already do that!

Given the scarcity of the available land for new housing, I can’t agree more with Laura Macias and with having developers compete for any new proposed project going into the city of Mountain View as suppose to giving them away only based on political connections, such is the case with some current affordable housing development.

3 people like this
Posted by Roger Burney
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 17, 2009 at 5:54 pm

The growth of Mountain View should be decided by a vote of the people of Mountain View. There is no more water being offered to accomodate growth. We should not allow organizations dictate to us how much we should grow. I do not see cities like Atherton, Los Gatos, Palo Alto Hills, and others caving into outside pressure. What happens if we do not accomodate this outside imposed growth plan? I doubt the majority voters in Mountain View beleive the change the city should be looking for is how to have more people, more students in the schools, more traffic on the roads, more demand for city resources including sewer and especially water supply.

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