Brainstorming their list of big-ticket priorities for the coming years, Mountain View City Council members on Monday night ended up with what seemed like a carbon copy from last time. The city's big goals for the next two years will once again grapple with the South Bay's stubborn, yet familiar problems -- the lack of affordable housing, ongoing environmental cleanup and the worsening traffic.
But elected leaders added one new hot-button item to the list: community protection. This priority, as the council fine-tuned its language, is meant to protect the city's vulnerable populations, especially those fearing deportation by federal law enforcement.
"There's a palpable fear in the air and it's coming out of Washington, D.C." said Mayor Ken Rosenberg. "It's incumbent on us to find ways to make our residents feel and be more secure."
Held every two years, goal-setting session has become the city's launchpad for taking stock and laying out new programs and initiatives. As in previous years, the Feb. 27 meeting was designed to produce up to four overarching goals that would guide city staff in the coming years.
For community protection and other priorities, Assistant City Manager Audrey Seymour Ramberg recommended keeping the conversation focused on "high level" themes. At a future meeting in April, she said, council members would be able to choose from a list of specific actions outlined by the city's departments.
For that reason, it wasn't immediately clear what exactly Mountain View would do to resist any new federal action on illegal immigration. Council members mulled ideas and emphasized that the city needed to cooperate with other like-minded municipalities in the Bay Area.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga proposed that the city also needs to be vigilant for people exploiting the situation. Undocumented workers -- now reluctant to go to law enforcement -- could be susceptible to wage theft, payday lending and other abusive practices, she said.
But forming a local response could also be tricky, because federal immigration policy has been a moving target that seems to change by the day. Last week, the Trump Administration put forward sweeping orders giving immigration agents wide discretion to deport non-citizens for alleged crimes or posing a risk to public safety. The orders sparked immediate fear in immigrant communities as well as a wave of false rumors of raids and roundups in the Bay Area. It remains unclear whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have actually stepped up their activity in the Bay Area. By Tuesday, Trump hinted at a change, saying he was amenable to creating a path to legal status for millions of law-abiding immigrants living in the U.S.
At the council's Monday meeting, a line of public speakers urged city leaders to formally declare Mountain View as a "sanctuary city" as a symbolic move to reassure its undocumented residents.
"This is the time when we need to stand up for our migrant communities," said Jeremy Barousse, a community organizer with Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN). "The panic out there is real -- Every time we hear of new enforcement coming down from the federal government, we hear about students missing from school for two to three days."
Refining other priorities
While Mountain View left its other major goals mostly unchanged, the City Council did pull out some new ideas for how to push them forward.
On housing, council members largely signaled the city had made some big strides in boosting the number of low-income units. But the new group that needs some help is the "forgotten middle" -- those earning too much money to benefit from low-income programs, but not enough to afford stability, said Councilwoman Pat Showalter.
Adding to this priority, many of the council members echoed the need to create more opportunities for residents to own homes rather than rent. Councilman John McAlister said he wanted to create incentives to encourage property owners to sell their housing rather than renting it out.
Yet some on the council also warned the city should be careful in giving free rein to housing growth. Echoing their election campaigns, McAlister and Abe-Koga both emphasized that Mountain View needed to protect "quality of life" issues for established residents, ensuring that they city has adequate parks, road capacity, parking and other amenities before adding new residents. City staff gently pushed back against this characterization, saying the balance of services was already being taken into account as part of the city's planning process.
Dusting off a suggestion he made two years ago, Councilman Lenny Siegel urged his colleagues to support regulating the short-term rental market, particularly those managed through websites like Airbnb. Mountain View isn't currently collecting any money in transit-occupancy taxes from these rentals, he said.
On environmental sustainability, several speakers from the group Carbon Free Mountain View urged the city to adopt more rigorous standards and measurements for its greenhouse-gas benchmarks. Council members happily adopted this goal.
For transportation, many council members said they wanted a comprehensive plan in place for a citywide system. No one disputed this is an ongoing problem. For the 2018 ballot, Siegel pitched the idea of a transportation tax on the city's tech corporations that would force them to pay the costs of future highway and mass transit upgrades.
Several suggestions from the council landed in the "parking lot," a pool of ideas that didn't quite fit into any of the four main categories. Into this pot went an idea from Showalter to tap the local tech talent to promote "open data" projects, as well as a second proposal to jump-start training events for the city's commissions. McAlister added a goal to look at the workload of the city's advisory committees and commissions.
Speaking for the city staff, Ramberg warned that some of these goals would need to be nixed when the council reconsidered them in April. In fact, about one third of the priorities from the 2015 goal-setting session were still incomplete and being worked on by staff, she said.
"We want to be very focused on what we take on our plate," she said. "The kind of things the city is looking at are complex and can't be accomplished within one year."