Mountain View is a city stuck in a paradox -- never before has the city seen such prosperity, yet rarely has it seen such poverty. Amid large city budget surpluses, soaring corporate profits and rising property values, anyone walking down Mountain View's streets can easily find signs of hardship: homelessness, struggling small businesses, and housing prices that seem to defy logic. The schizophrenic side of Silicon Valley is right at home in Mountain View.
This is the situation Lisa Matichak is stepping into as she takes the reins as Mountain View's new mayor. For 2019, she knows that her chief challenge will be striking the right balance on issues including housing, transportation and homelessness.
Soft-spoken, smart and always smiling, Matichak, 62, sees her role as tempering the city's progressive ambitions, ensuring that Mountain View's politics and growth don't compromise what makes it special. She said she wants to maintain the city's "quality of life," admittedly a catch-all term with many shades of meaning. For her, this includes a sweeping range of priorities: preserving the historic downtown and its urban tree canopy; providing ample parks and open space; and preventing the disruption of traffic, noise and squalor.
Matichak explained that it comes down to a simple rule of thumb.
"Day to day, is it easier or harder to live in Mountain View?" she said. "People felt that the City Council hasn't been listening to their residents, and I would say that's on a variety of different topics."
Matichak could be in store for a year of walking the political tightrope, as many ongoing issues appear to be reaching a crescendo. Like her colleagues, she voices support for housing growth in the city while also sending signals that other Peninsula cities need to step up and do more. However, she is extremely wary of a variety of statewide proposals that would impose compulsory policies, forcing cities to mutually address the housing shortage. She said she expects protecting local control to be a top priority for 2019.
What scares Matichak most is the so-called "Casa Compact," a Bay Area-tailored package of emergency housing and transportation policies that is poised to head to the state Legislature in the coming weeks. Among its policy proposals, the compact would require approval of denser, taller apartment buildings near transit hubs. Accessory or "granny" units would be automatically approved in residential zones, and cities would be required to swiftly approve compliant housing projects. Some elements of rent control and just-cause eviction protections could also be implemented across the region.
Matichak and other City Council members believe these policies would amount to a double punishment for Mountain View. Since Mountain View has already made sacrifices to promote housing growth, these state proposals would result in the city having to lower its standards, demanding fewer concessions from developers.
"We've done a good job of balancing development with improving our infrastructure, and I don't want to lose that," Matichak said. "Our city revenues could be negatively impacted because we won't be able to work with property owners and developers when they want to go above and beyond."
Another political balancing act for Matichak will be her approach toward the city's homeless population, particularly the hundreds of inhabited vehicles parked on public streets. Matichak has gone several times on police ride-alongs to interact with people living out of their cars, and her takeaway is that the city should step up its enforcement and parking restrictions. She supports the idea of creating more safe parking sites, but she does not believe the city needs to wait for this before restricting vehicle dwellers from parking. Other cities need to share the burden, she said, pointing out that under the current system neighboring cities are essentially offloading their homeless onto Mountain View.
City staff is currently working on a menu of options for tighter parking restrictions, such as stricter time limits and vehicle height limits.
"At this point, I don't know what works best," she said. "It is important that we have an alternative. I'm under the impression that we'll be able to accommodate more RVs (in safe parking lots) in the not-too-distant future."
In her professional life, Matichak cut her teeth as a business analyst for McKinsey & Company, where she for worked for more than a decade. She later transitioned to a variety of managerial roles at tech firms, including Hewlett Packard, Symantec and Bromium. Most recently as of 2016, she began working as a marketing consultant for Amazon.
In tandem with her career, she became heavily involved in Mountain View civic life. Her involvement began around 2007 with joining her neighborhood association in the Wagon Wheel district. At the time, the association was focused on residents' concerns about a 64-unit housing project at 450 N. Whisman Ave. She later was appointed to the city's planning commission, and her tenure was marked by similar concern toward the disruption caused by aggressive housing growth.
Matichak has maintained that she is not opposed to housing per se, but rather that any development must not detract from the well-being of current residents. She credits that approach to ultimately producing better developments that jibe with the city's character.
In 2014, she made an unsuccessful bid for City Council, running on a platform of improving city services, particularly public safety, transportation and parkland. But she opposed sanctioning new housing development in the North Bayshore area, a stance that likely led to her being penalized by voters at the ballot box, she later acknowledged.
She shifted her position two years later, pledging she would help implement the residential growth in balance with a suite of new services. In that 2016 election, she emerged as the leading candidate, winning the most votes out of a field of seven candidates, including three incumbent City Council members.
In recent months, her political life has eclipsed her professional one. Last year, she decided to take a sabbatical from her consulting work to focus on her role in city government. An early riser, she wakes up before dawn on most mornings to begin the day with a hike at Rancho San Antonio Park south of Los Altos, she said.
Matichak's colleagues from both her professional and civic life tout her capability and knack for getting things done.
"Lisa is a team player who establishes great relationships with her colleagues ... she paints a vision for her team and gives them the freedom to do their jobs," said Brent Remai, the chief marketing officer for Amazon Web Services, who has worked with Matichak for about 10 years. "She's a problem-solver who overcomes obstacles to get the job done. I'm sure she will do great things for Mountain View as mayor."
The Matichak trifecta of priorities comes down to intelligence, no nonsense, and a focus on residents, said Robert Cox, her former colleague on the Planning Commission.
"She cuts through deceptive and misleading aspects of proposals to get to the bottom of their true effect," he said. "She is a fierce advocate for the residents of our city, putting their interests above those of big money and other lobbyists for special interests."