Mountain View leads the way on housing growth

Data shows city issued nearly one-fifth of all permits in Santa Clara County in 2017

The Bay Area largely missed the mark on housing growth last year, falling well short of goals set for the region and exacerbating an already bad jobs-housing imbalance, according to new data released by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

But buried in the grim news are signs that some cities, particularly Mountain View, are making strides in combating the housing crisis. The latest data shows Mountain View issued more permits for housing in 2017 than it has in the past three decades, amounting to nearly one in every five housing permits issued in all of Santa Clara County.

Data provided to the Voice by MTC shows that Mountain View has issued permits for fewer than 300 units, on average, every year going back to 1990. But add in data for 2017 -- when the city issued permits for 1,539 units -- and the city's housing growth resembles a hockey stick. Every jurisdiction within the county, including unincorporated areas, issued permits for a total of 8,263 housing units during the same year, meaning 18.6 percent of the homes were in Mountain View.

The housing data shows the city is punching above its weight. For context, San Jose -- a city with a population more than 10 times as big as Mountain View's and sprawling city boundaries encompassing more than 180 square miles -- issued permits for 3,097 housing units in the same year.

It was an exceptional year for Mountain View, said Wayne Chen, the city's assistant director of community development. About a half-dozen major residential projects received permits in 2017, including a 583-unit complex across the street from the San Antonio Shopping Center and another 394 apartments along Ferguson Drive in the South Whisman area. While it's tough to say if 2018 will be a similar banner year for the city, Chen said 1,360 new units across 20 projects had been entitled -- meaning they've been approved but still lack permits -- as of July 1.

Mountain View stands in stark contrast to some of the neighboring cities in the county, with more permits issued than Palo Alto (89 permits), Los Altos (49), Sunnyvale (487), Campbell (80) and Cupertino (27) -- combined.

Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel told the Voice that the growth stems from a shift in city priorities starting in 2014, when he and council members Pat Showalter and Ken Rosenberg were voted into office. He said the election signaled to developers that the city was open to building housing, both market-rate and affordable projects, and that city leaders embarked on a yearslong effort to plan around an upcoming housing boom.

"The trick is to not just build housing, but to build complete neighborhoods, complete with parks, transit, retail and jobs," he said.

The city has all the key ingredients for housing growth, said Pilar Lorenzana, deputy director for the housing advocacy nonprofit SV@Home. It has the political will, with a solid council majority supportive of housing growth that "doesn't exist in Palo Alto," which is why housing production has really started to pick up. But the city also has a strong contingent of residents who are supportive of the high-growth trajectory, along with private sector developers who see the value in building housing in the city.

"Mountain View is kind of a spark of hope for the valley," Lorenzana said.

Earlier this month, MTC announced that new data put together by the agency and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) shows that, overall, the nine-county Bay Area struggled to build enough housing to accommodate job growth in the region last year. Newly-built housing totaled 14,900 units in 2017, but the region also added an estimated 52,700 new jobs during the same period, according to the California Employment Development Department.

Permit data, in contrast to MTC's "housing production" measure, shows a more accurate picture of near-term growth and a temperature check on the political and development landscape of individual cities.

Even with the extraordinary housing growth in Mountain View, it's unclear whether the city's jobs-housing imbalance -- largely seen as the culprit for the housing crisis and worsening traffic conditions -- is getting any better. Mountain View added an estimated 4,300 jobs in 2017, according to the latest data from the American Community Survey, while the MTC is reporting that Mountain View produced a total of 246 units in the same year.

Siegel said the city doesn't have a lot of control over job growth, and that the added employment in Mountain View has happened amid "relatively little" office development. Mountain View can steer job growth to some degree, he said, but new housing may not keep up.

Lorenzana said she believes the imbalance has been caused by short-sighted financial decisions across the Bay Area's 101 cities. Limits on property tax revenue caused by Proposition 13 inevitably push cities toward allowing commercial growth, a big money generator, while shying away from large, multi-family housing projects. It may increase general fund dollars in the short term, she said, but the collective impact is that people don't have a place to live.

"Unless the cities wake up to the fact that they need to be acting in concert with each other, the problem is just going to keep getting exacerbated," she said.

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11 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Sep 28, 2018 at 3:18 pm

I would like to see more affordable rental housing being built. It appears that most of the new buildings in our area are row-houses. This is great for people that can afford to buy, but not good for people that can only afford to rent. Mountain View City council prides itself on what a great job it is doing, but say's nothing about the many people that are losing their homes because of landlord eviction to build row housing. Mountain View has become a sea of ugly construction, and lacks sensitivity and heart for the people that live in this city.

9 people like this
Posted by AC
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2018 at 3:32 pm

AC is a registered user.

I would like to see more apartments being built. Rental properties are being demolished for rowhouses and townhomes, and quite simply not everyone can afford $1.9M for a 2bd/2ba townhouse. Particular the down and closing costs. But there are quite a few who can, after all of the economizing and whatnot, afford $2.5K/mo in a rent payment.

I'm concerned we don't have enough available rentals, what with all the for-purchase dwellings going up.

40 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2018 at 4:17 pm

There are many new rental apartments being built. Look at Palo Alto Plaza, Domus on the Blvd, Verve, Elan at Castro St., and Montrose. Most all the new projects are for rent only. Not enough ownership.

The big issue with Mountain View is all the new office construction that has been allowed. There are still 10 times more jobs being created than there are new housing. This is just TOO MUCH. Making housing is nice, but these companies
shouldn't be allowed to expand in the area so much. They should be the ones paying for adding housing. They are causing the problem.

20 people like this
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 29, 2018 at 8:29 am

I think it’s terrible the way our City Council is allowing Mountain View to be overbuilt. Stop this madness now!

38 people like this
Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 29, 2018 at 9:10 am

psr is a registered user.

No actual plan to any of this. Just build, build, build without any thought about the services required for all these extra people. No new schools (except for a charter that will suck resources out of the district without having to answer to anyone), no more police or fire service, no more road repair for the overused streets. Top it off with the city giving away water to EPA without getting anything like the value of it in return and you have the makings of a disaster.

Mountain View is growing too fast to do it well or thoughtfully. The quality of life is suffering and will continue to do so until the city council makes decisions based on something other than the dollar signs that are currently blinding them to reality.

Welcome to the concrete jungle. No character, no community and no reason to stick around. Glad other communities here aren't so foolish to sacrifice their character for the sake of "progress".

24 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 29, 2018 at 10:42 am

Common sense is a registered user.

Oh, but psr, all your concerns about "build, build, build," lack of planning, tangible decline in quality-of-life, etc. only set you up for snipes from one-note posters (screen names like LOL and YIMBY -- widely thought to be the same person, anyway their rhetoric is the same) to whom any questioning whatever of "build, build, build" policies can only reflect shameful self-interest or "hypocrisy" -- "Those who prefer to keep Mountain View as a private country club [and who] deny people the ability to build enough housing and are perfectly happy with rising home prices" which of course is your only conceivable interest in the matter (quote is from a past "LOL" comment here). MV should be for "anyone who wants to live here." All such people, no matter where they live, deserve equal voice in its housing construction. After all, if they just got here from Wisconsin or wherever in the latest bulk high-tech hire (and therefore personify the demand problem that caused all this "shortage" and price rise, which they themselves then complain about) -- or haven't even arrived, and are only thinking about Moving To Silicon Valley like everyone else -- then obviously, their views of what's best for Mountain View are just as important as those of someone who grew up here or contributed significantly to their community for many years. You shouldn't "get to" [favorite LOL phrasing] exercise any special influence over a community merely because you helped create it, and have many years of memories newcomers don't.

Or, there's the logic from people like the group "Palo Alto Forward" (formed originally around one firm rapidly hiring there, though the group later took steps to obscure that origin), publicly claiming concern about "jobs-housing imbalance" while promoting office-friendly planning policies to directly exacerbate the same imbalance.

No, psr, your reasoning is old-fashioned and sentimental. Make way for the brave new world and its advocates.

7 people like this
Posted by LOL
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 29, 2018 at 11:45 am

At least you've solved the housing crisis for me, Common Sense, since I'm clearly living rent-free in your head.

Your rhetoric is the same as Trump's, where we should Build The Wall to keep out undesirables and only worry about taking care of ourselves. That may be the Mountain View you thought you lived in, but most of us reject that.

7 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2018 at 1:13 pm

I keep hearing "quality of life" thrown around by those against new housing construction. How about quality of life for the millennial generation, cramming into single-family homes converted into dormatories, squeezing 4-5 people into two bedroom apartments, and no hope of property ownership. Those are actual quality of life issues.

10 people like this
Posted by Billy Bob
a resident of Bailey Park
on Sep 29, 2018 at 6:28 pm

Why do we have some many homeless but lead the way in housing . Please vote current city council out of office in November

12 people like this
Posted by LOL
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 29, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Man whose house is on fire: We're pouring more water on my house than any other house, and it's still on fire! We need to get of these firefighters.

5 people like this
Posted by Sonny
a resident of Castro City
on Sep 30, 2018 at 7:43 am

Nobody is entitled to "quality of life", instead that's something you determine for yourself. Although I'm a longtime (not quite lifelong but close) Mountain View resident I've commuted up to SF during most workdays via a corporate shuttle for nearly three years now. That's easily the worst part of my day even though I don't have to do the driving. Without that perk I think I would have jumped ship to something much closer to home in order to keep my sanity, salary not withstanding.

There are numerous corporate shuttles all over the place here which have replaced the rare employee-arranged carpool of prior generations of employees. I much prefer sharing the roadways and improving the public transportation into and out of this city versus burdening the strained local government with the temporary residents of at least 1500 new rental units over the last two years. When those employers eventually leave (they're not married to Mountain View) we'll still be left with poorly-planned excess housing.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 30, 2018 at 8:16 am

I would also like to see more affordable housing in Mountain View, but that's impossible to build here. With the high costs of land, and permit costs approaching $100,000 for a single unit of new construction, it's really not doable.

However, when expensive housing is being built, affordable housing means old housing. People who can afford the nicer, more expensive units will live in those, and not compete for less desirable housing with the rest of us. It's a numbers game. We have many more residents seeking housing than available housing, so the wealthiest people will snap up the housing. Imagine the situation where there is a little bit more housing than seekers; prices go down as landlords try to fill a unit, so that it's not wasted capital.

I've lived here for a long time myself, and it took me twenty years of working to scrape together a downpayment on a starter home, which results in uncomfortable levels of debt I'm unlikely to pay off before I die. This isn't a particularly comfortable way to live either, worrying about how you're going to pay off a million dollars of debt. I really wish housing prices here plummeted, and I say that as a potentially underwater home owner. I want to see a variety of people living here, with varied backgrounds, not just tech VP's, which is what it takes to afford anything around here now.

3 people like this
Posted by Housing Cost
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2018 at 8:47 pm

The problem with loading the housing construction cost with an amount meant to address a housing shortage is that it is self defeating. Instead of charging new home construction $100K to defray adding low income housing, the charge should be reduced by half or more. Then the construction of each increment of OFFICE growth should be loaded with a contribution of say $20K to defray low income housing efforts. THAT's not self defeating and it makes a lot of sense. You'll note that the county is now charging Stanford about $50K for each new employee added. THAT"S THE RIGHT SPIRIT! Lets charge Google and other profit-making employers similarly.

As for this uncomfortable level of debt, note that $1M of debt on a house means a monthly payment of about $5K for the mortgage of which $4K is deductible on income tax. I don't think this should be view with discomfort. $5K for an entire house is much lower than where rents are for small apartments being added now. Rent is not deductible, except of course the landlord gets to deduct the expense of HIS financing. Everyone would be better off buying a $1M condo instead of paying out $4K in rent each month for an apartment.

2 people like this
Posted by Buzz Lightyear
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2018 at 11:07 am

Let's be real here. Homeowners may be for "more affordable" housing, but will oppose anything that will affect their own home values. Self interest trumps the greater good.

Like this comment
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2018 at 3:02 pm

There is a huge development corridor along Lawrence Expressway in Sunnyvale. At El Camino it looks like several hundred units. (I do not know if they are condos or apartment.)
Yet, existing homes prices continue to rise. How much new construction is necessary? Traffic is at gridlock over there, too.

5 people like this
Posted by a MV resident
a resident of North Bayshore
on Oct 1, 2018 at 5:46 pm

a MV resident is a registered user.

I for one am proud that Mountain View tries to solve a regional problem, no matter what other cities do (or don't do). I do wish our city would demonstrate that growth (residents and employees) can lead to more civic benefits for all (more and better parks, public transit, and community arts.

Right now, all we see is growth, without the cosmopolitan benefits that could come from it. We need to have honest conversations that we don't see public benefits (despite increased city revenue) because most of the extra revenue is going straight to government worker compensation (supported by labor-backed council policies)

9 people like this
Posted by Wrong Goal
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Oct 1, 2018 at 10:50 pm

This is something we're supposed to be proud of? Why not aspire to lead the state or the country?

How about doing as much for the people who DO live here as is done for those who DON'T (yet) live here?

The amenities that have made MV a great place are being ignored at the expense of a poorly planned rush to grow. The concept of a "neighborhood"? Nah. Schools? Nah. Without those things, MV will not be attractive to current (or future) residents. People didn't (and won't) choose this community for traffic bottlenecks, cookie-cutter apartment complexes with insufficient parking, and 4-story schools without fields.

Unfortunately listening to our incumbents at the last forum, it was full speed ahead...need to get to 9,960...everything else be damned. Get the 9,960 on the resume.

Not a word about a plan for infrastructure. Not a mention of slowing down a bit to figure things out. Listen to the tape.

At last check, MV's population is 103rd in the state. 103! And our council would have you believe through their words and behaviour that we're top 5. MV doesn't need to solve housing issues way beyond its pro-rata share. Fix the other stuff.

PS - The jobs/house ratio can also be mitigated by slowing the numerator.

4 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2018 at 11:13 pm

@Wrong Goal

You're a few decades too late to take the route that Atherton took. Mountain View is attractive because it's where a lot of jobs are located. People want to move to it because they want to be close to work. I hope that Mountain View keeps adding housing while also using the tax dollars coming from the new residents to improve infrastructure. And hopefully we millennials can get out of the cramped single-family homes we're all cramming ourselves into, with no privacy whatsoever, and at least make studio apartments affordable for single occupants again.

7 people like this
Posted by @YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2018 at 3:37 am

The jobs are just coming from Google. Google is a monopoly. If the antitrust laws were enforced, we'd see an end to their hegemony on the world, and that would affect the artificial creation of too many jobs in Mountain View. This would be much
more effective at relieving the housing shortage than building ticky tack units for the sake of numbers could ever be. These are really tiny units and not even the people who work for Google will be happy with them over the long haul. They'll move on. This kind of turnover is not good for creating community. Atherton has nothing to do with it. It's all the tech companies and the fast buck sought by their business efforts and their employees as well.

6 people like this
Posted by Patience
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2018 at 3:39 am

You can stuff as many people into the city as you'd find in San Francisco, but that won't make Mountain View into San Francisco. There's nothing the city can do because what is needed is organic growth, not artificial expansion for the sake of expansion to satiate the incessant demand for housing for tech youth. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

Like this comment
Posted by LOL
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 2, 2018 at 9:15 am

How on Earth is building housing for people that want to live here "artificial expansion"? If we were talking about food scarcity, would you be lamenting "artificial expansion [...] to satiate the incessant demand for food for tech youth"? When did you folks get your priorities so backward?

4 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2018 at 9:28 am


"These are really tiny units and not even the people who work for Google will be happy with them over the long haul."

You are completely disconnected with what's going on right now. Millennials are packed 3-4 into those really tiny units. The idea of having our own personal tiny unit has become a outlandish fantasy. Let alone actually being able to own it vs just renting it.

How do you expect anyone to be able to afford something larger and better when we can't even afford the small "ticky tacky" units?

We need more housing, more apartments, to be built near jobs. Then single-family homes will stop being turned into millennial dormitories and people that actually want to start families can move into them.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 2, 2018 at 10:16 am


YIMBY is absolutely correct in his assessment.

I've been working and living in Mountain View since the mid 1990's, for quite a few companies, including Google. Google is Mountain View's largest tech employer, just as SGI was before it, and Adobe was before it. These tech giants don't last forever, and when they do go out of business, or shrink, they seed the valley with talented people, who start other companies. It's what makes Silicon Valley such a powerful force in the industry.

It's easy to rage about Google, but the huge amount of opportunity here attracts people from all over the country and all over the world. As long as these people are coming, and housing isn't keeping pace with them, prices will go up, and people on the lower end of the income scale will be driven out.

These new residents work, and pay taxes, and the job of our city is to provide infrastructure to support the lives of residents. That's what government is supposed to do. When we start arguing about keeping people out because we don't have the infrastructure, then we're admitting that our government has failed at it's job - which is has, in my opinion.

Having worked here for a long time, I'm now an experienced old grey-beard, and I hire and mentor many younger folks. I'm appalled at the tight financial situation they're in! They're graduating with debt levels unimaginable to those of us from previous generations, their cost of housing relative to their high incomes is much higher than we ever paid, and there's this hopelessness about the future in their attitude. Several I know live in RV's because they can afford them outright, without adding to their debt, and their dream for the next number of years is to get out of school debt, nothing about starting a family or buying a house. This is a form of new age usury, or even feudalism where the existing property owners are the feudal lords.

3 people like this
Posted by @ Resident of Old MV
a resident of North Bayshore
on Oct 2, 2018 at 11:10 am

I hope every voter, candidate, council member, and planning commissioner reads your thoughtful response above.

Like this comment
Posted by Just ask
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 4, 2018 at 11:05 am

Someone mentioned about being able to deduct $4k/month of property taxes. NOT ANY MORE! Try only 2 1/2 months of prop taxes thanks for the new tax laws.

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

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