In a Whisman neighborhood forum Monday night, City Council candidates had differing views on how to tackle what they all agreed is an affordable housing problem in Mountain View.
"I don't really understand the logic of subsidized housing in a popular place like this," said resident Greg Coladonato when he asked the candidates for their views on the city's below market rate housing program, which requires developers pay into a fund to subsidize affordable housing projects or to make portions of their projects affordable for lower income residents.
"I am unabashedly in favor of BMR housing programs," said incumbent Mayor Mike Kasperzak. "One of the things people really like about this community is diversity, and we are becoming a community where people cannot afford to live. I actually got a call earlier this year from a Googler who was being priced out of their apartment. I don't think we want a community where our Starbucks barista has to drive from Tracy to serve us coffee. We're going to become a gated community."
Kasperzak mentioned the "housing impact fee" paid by commercial building development such as that of Google, a fee which some council members want to raise. "When Google brings in 10,000 employees that a creates demand for lower paid service workers," Kasperzak said. "It's a problem."
Vice mayor and incumbent John Inks had the "opposite point of view," he said, calling the programs Kasperzak supports "kind of a disaster" that only serves a small portion of those who need it.
Housing development "doesn't create a need for housing itself," Inks said, but "you have single property owners and developers paying the whole fee" towards subsidizing affordable housing.
"That's because you can isolate them. If you went to the broader community and said, 'Let's all chip in,' like we did with the recent parcel tax, they would say, 'No way, let the other guy pay for it,'" said Inks.
"I think it is appropriate maybe to have some sort of subsidized housing program," Inks said. "But you have to have a broader tax base. Don't just penalize individual developers and property owners."
Candidate Margaret Capriles said the city needs to take another look a the problem.
"I think we have to step back and say, 'What do we really cherish in Mountain View, what do we want it to be?'" Capriles said. "We need to seriously consider, do we all chip in? We do have a very consolidated plan to address the lower income socioeconomic areas but as far as going for the middle class ... what kind of housing can somebody in the middle class afford and what can we do about it?"
Speaking as the owner of Mountain View's Basin Robbins, candidate and planning commissioner John McAlister expressed concern, and mentioned a developer's recent claim that $800,000 row houses were "affordable."
"Baskin Robbins doesn't pay great salaries," he said. "Even my little store, it's tough to get employees because they can't live in Mountain View. I work a lot with high school students, which is great because I give them their first job and they live with mom and dad. But I have huge turnover."
McAlister said he'd like for his shift leaders to at least be able to afford to pay rent in Mountain View.
"I agree with John Inks, the developer should not be penalized," McAlister said. As a "community, we should find a way to pay for it."
Candidate Chris Clark expressed support for the city's current efforts, having served on a committee that helped distribute over $12 million in affordable housing funds to projects, including 51 affordable family homes under construction behind the Tied House and a smaller affordable project recently approved for the disabled. He noted that the city's practices are not "out of whack" compared to neighboring cities.
"I think what we are doing is on par with the rest of the area," Clark said. "I'm pretty proud of what we've done, at least in the last couple years."
North Bayshore housing discussed
Inks was vocal about this opposition to the council's recent vote against allowing zoning for over 1,000 homes for Google employees in North Bayshore, saying the discussion was "hijacked by discussions of feral cats and dormitories" and that the city should have at least studied it further.
Capriles said she supported the rejection of housing because of its possible impact on Shoreline Park wildlife, which includes the rare burrowing owl, to which Kasperzak reminded everyone that the homes would not have been allowed inside Shoreline Park, but on Shoreline Boulevard south of Charleston Road. McAlister said he also voted no on the idea as a commissioner because North Bayshore is isolated from services, increasing the need for cars. He said small businesses would not be able to compete with all of Google's free services and food for employees.
"I voted yes because it was clearly the environmentally superior option," said Chris Clark, whose views were similar to Kasperzak and others who said it would reduce car traffic and help create a livable neighborhood with new services, which he said Google wants to support with incentives for employees who use them.
"I don't think it's something we are going to revisit anytime soon without a transportation solution" to better connect North Bayshore to the rest of the city, Clark said.