News

Longtime Mountain View activist named mayor

Lenny Siegel unanimously selected; Lisa Matichak is vice mayor

Lenny Siegel first arrived in the Bay Area to study physics as a Stanford undergrad. He never graduated -- instead the young activist found his true calling in the raucous politics of the time. The student protest movement was gaining steam, and every aspect of society seemed to be crying out for change: civil rights, the environment, and especially the war in Vietnam.

It was a time of shattering windows with rocks, student walk-outs and occupying campus buildings. For Siegel, as a leader in the university's chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society, it was when he learned the art of political compromise: tempering, negotiating and partnering with myriad factions toward a common goal.

For Siegel, the tumultuous days of the student protest movement were the crucible that forged his political beliefs and strategy, which he says have remained mostly unchanged for the last 50 years. Now the dyed-in-the-wool community activist will be jumping into the big seat of Mountain View government. On Tuesday night, Siegel was unanimously voted in as the city's mayor for 2018 by his City Council colleagues, and Lisa Matichak was selected to serve as vice mayor.

Accepting the new role, Siegel promised a similar spirit of cooperation to work with his colleagues for the betterment of Mountain View as well as the greater region.

"It should be clear by now that I consider Mountain View a leader. We're a leader in how our city operates," he said. "I expect there to be differences among the seven of us on the council, but it's my hope we'll approach each issue on its own right."

Stanford genetics professor Leonore Herzenberg was involved in many of the same university campus activist groups as Siegel. As a young student leader, he was "brilliant," she said.

"He was always sensible about what could be accomplished politically, what made sense to work on, and how to form coalitions," she said. "Intellectually, he was able to grasp and deal with all these groups, and I think he was only 18-and-a-half at the time."

Those qualities will be tested by the city's upcoming challenges. Siegel pledged cooperation with the city's stakeholders, ranging from individual homeowners and small businesses to big-time developers and corporations.

Asked about his goals, Siegel singled out transportation as his top priority. The city already has a slate of ambitious transportation initiatives, including projects to rebuild the downtown transit center and design an automated transit line using cutting-edge technology. On top of those projects, Siegel said the city needed to go further.

He pointed out that Mountain View needs to strengthen its coordination with its neighboring cities. A new automated transit line would be nice for Mountain View, but it would make much more sense to plan ahead for a system that would expand out to Sunnyvale and perhaps Cupertino, he said. The Highway 85 corridor with its unused median would be the obvious place for this transit line to go, he said.

The problem is the same for many of the North County cities, Siegel said. Prosperous tech companies are overwhelming the transportation infrastructure, and they need to be part of the solution, he said. He singled out Apple and Google as companies that will need to do more. Both corporations have an incentive, since the area's problematic transportation and housing is hindering their ability to hire and retain talented employees, he said.

"My hope would be to engage Apple and Google since they both have more money than God, and this is problem that they need to solve," Siegel said. "Our leverage is that this is clearly in their interest."

The other big player that Mountain View would need to approach is the Valley Transportation Authority, which controls billions of dollars in government transit funding. Recently, VTA officials have proposed using the Highway 85 median to add an express traffic lane or possibly an extension of the light-rail system. In any scenario, Mountain View will be in a better position to negotiate with VTA if it partners with other cities first, Siegel said.

Today's hot-button issues such as gentrification, housing affordability and transit planning are nothing new for Siegel. Back during his student activist days, he was part of a group called Grass Roots that published pamphlets and materials on local land-use planning. Some of their materials from nearly 50 years ago seem downright prophetic, such as early warnings about a growing jobs-housing imbalance in the Palo Alto area.

It has been an unsteady transition for Siegel to go from campus protester to political player. After he left college, Siegel first joined his wife, Jan Rivers, in Mountain View in 1972. About four years later, he made his first bid for a City Council seat and he came in 13th of out of field of 13 candidates.

It was the first of several ill-fated political campaigns during his younger years. He tried running again for council in 1980 and 1982, but both times he came up short. Around the same time, he also spearheaded two unsuccessful attempts to institute rent control in Mountain View, which made him no friends among the city's property owners. He has no regrets about thinking big.

"Things aren't worth doing unless you're pushing the envelope. If you're just voting yes or no, then you're not doing your job," he said.

His political ambitions found more success through other avenues. In 1978, he joined the city's planning commission and became intimately involved in the city's land-use planning. He continued pursuing some moonshot ideas that might seem quixotic. As planning commissioner, he unsuccessfully called for a moratorium on industrial development in North Bayshore, a proposal that would have vastly altered the city's tech industry. Later, when Moffett Field was closing down, he proposed using the runways for an expansive swath of new affordable housing.

In some ways, Siegel has been vindicated. Google is embarking on aggressive plans to build housing in North Bayshore while NASA is doing the same at Moffett Field. Meanwhile Mountain View voters approved a sweeping rent control program in hopes of curbing the area's skyrocketing housing costs.

Siegel's concerns about the Silicon Valley's mismatched growth has found a much wider following. In recent years, he launched the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View, a grass-roots group with a singular focus on the regional jobs-housing imbalance that has become a force to be reckoned with in Mountain View politics.

In 1992, Siegel found his professional calling by launching the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, a watchdog group that monitors polluted sites. The organization, which he leads to this day, has been actively involved in the cleanup efforts at Moffett Field and other shuttered military bases across the country. Through that effort, the former anti-war activist has found himself frequently working hand-in-hand with military officials.

He said he hopes to take that same open mindset into his time as Mountain View's mayor. Like the rest of the City Council, he has been critical of the Trump Administration on issues such as human rights and immigration. But where possible, Siegel says he will remain open-minded about working with the federal government on shared concerns, such as reusing contaminated properties.

Siegel expects to have numerous people disagreeing with him, and he'd be dissappointed if that wasn't the case. He points to his Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, which values argument as the highest form of learning.

"I like hearing from people who disagree with me," he said. "As long as they'll allow me to push back."

Comments

38 people like this
Posted by Cordelia
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 10, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Reusing toxic, contaminated properties? That's what a cartoon villain would do.


23 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 10, 2018 at 3:44 pm

Nice to see Rosenberg's term as "Mayor" come to an end. Now just eagerly awaiting his departure from the council.

I'd suggest to Mr. Siegel that if he's focused on transportation, he should be thinking about our smaller streets - not just the main highways and thoroughfares that non-Mountain View folks use to reach our fine town. Speeding on neighborhood streets, cut-through traffic, and school zone safety have a big impact on quality of life. This seems especially true for Mountain View, where we talk a big game about encouraging biking, walking, and alternative transportation but do little to actually facilitate change.


11 people like this
Posted by KTT
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2018 at 6:38 pm

What a propaganda piece for Lenny. Would it have hurt Noack to spend a little time introducing MV Voice readership to the new Vice Mayor and the top vote getter last election?

Why isn't housing affordability Lenny's priority? It's still expensive to live in Mountain View. Measure V did nothing.


23 people like this
Posted by @KTT
a resident of North Bayshore
on Jan 10, 2018 at 6:49 pm

You seem familiar with the Vice Mayor, what is it you think she will do for housing affordability?

Lenny has worked tirelessly for housing while the Vice Mayor campaigned initially against housing in North Bayshore, and she has been generally opposed to development.


39 people like this
Posted by Konrad Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 10, 2018 at 8:34 pm

Konrad Sosnow is a registered user.

Lenny Siegel is very interested in a adding thousands of residents to Mountain View but doesn't care what the impact that would have on current residents.


14 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Gemello
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:06 pm

Lenny is a great guy. He may seem too far left for some, but many of us have learned over the decades that Lenny is usually RIGHT. Even protesting the War in Southeast Asia 50 years ago was actually the RIGHT position. Donald Trump must have thought so too. He dodged the draft with student deferments and then conveniently diagnosed "bone spurs" that made him physically unfit for service. Avoiding the draft was the "smart" thing to do for Trump. He probably thought killing would be fun but getting killed - not so much.


10 people like this
Posted by IVG
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:59 pm

Some of us voted for both Lenny Siegel and Ken Rosenberg (and maybe even Lisa Matichak).


7 people like this
Posted by Will
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jan 11, 2018 at 9:39 am

I would love to see an extension of the VTA light-rail into more parts of Mountain View and Sunnyvale (good luck getting anything done in Palo Alto) instead of yet another train system. Between VTA, Caltrain, BART, Muni and others, there needs to be more consolidation and streamlining, not more convolution.


7 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Castro City
on Jan 11, 2018 at 9:32 pm

Congratulations to Mayor Lenny and Vice Mayor Lisa! Wishing you both the best of luck this upcoming year. Former Mayor Ken, thanks for your leadetship this past year.


8 people like this
Posted by VASU
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2018 at 4:44 am

I’m newish to the Bay, coming from the Midwest and East Coast. I’d like to think this gives transplants like me —- who are a majority of this community — a fresh perspective on issues California has historically struggled.

Traffic congestion is a classic sign of growing pains from high job growth… not a bad problem as it also also gives MV its extraordinary wealth and high tax base. So one cannot simply blame tech companies and outsource problem-solving to them because they “have more money than god”. They do their part by taking thousands of cars off our roads with their own commuter buses. Every else in the country, bus transportation is the responsibility of public Govt.

High housing costs are symptoms of imbalanced supply & demand. New development on brown field space is good land use.... and so is higher density. Suburban sprawl typifies MV but was abandoned in progressive regions of the U.S. for the well documented problems they bring to the environment and social fabric.

Mr Siegel represents an older generation, but I hope he has the courage to embrace change in his own back yard and see MV as a 21st century city and not a town who’s hay days were in the 70s.


5 people like this
Posted by fair turns
a resident of Gemello
on Jan 12, 2018 at 9:06 am

Glad to see the council giving reasonable leadership turns to all who were elected. Now, elementary school district board, and particularly weasel word Wheeler, what about your political shenanigans?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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