There is a battle underway for the soul of Mountain View. For decades the Mountain View community has treasured diversity. We have long accepted people regardless of ethnic background, political or religious beliefs, or economic condition. In turn, they have helped build our community, performing jobs that we all need.
But the fabric that holds Mountain View together is at risk. Our extraordinary economic growth is causing gentrification and the displacement of many low- and middle-income residents. When we turn a blind eye, we lose part of our soul as a community.
On Dec. 11, while I was still mayor, the City Council voted 4-3 to approve a developer's proposal to tear down 20 rent-controlled, naturally affordable apartments on Rock Street to build 15 townhomes and rowhouses, displacing 75 predominantly Spanish-speaking residents. This is just one in a series of similar projects that have come before the council in the last four years. The one difference: This time the tenants organized in opposition. They reminded the rest of us of their long-term commitment to Mountain View.
The residents gave compelling testimony that demolition of their apartments would remove people we need in Mountain View to make the community tick. One of the tenant speakers reported that he works in a Google cafeteria. How will software engineers eat if there is no place nearby for food-service workers to live?
We do need new housing in Mountain View, but we don't have to displace people to build it. The city is encouraging both apartment and ownership housing construction on land that is currently in commercial use. We can't legally force the owners of old apartments to stay in business, but we can eliminate their incentive to demolish by denying redevelopments that displace low- and moderate-income tenants.
The people who are losing their apartments face the realistic possibility that they will have to commute hours every day and place their kids in less effective schools elsewhere or, they tell me, they will have to join the hundreds of residents already sleeping in vehicles on our streets.
We have over 500 vehicle households, split between various forms of motor homes and cars. A majority of the adults in these households have jobs. Though Mountain View has been working to create off-street overnight parking opportunities, progress has been slow. Continuing council members have signaled a willingness to further restrict overnight street parking in response to calls from a vocal minority to throw vehicle residents out of town. But driving vehicle residents out of sight will not solve the problem.
Meanwhile, thanks to our voters some 13,000 apartment households are protected by the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (2016's Measure V) against rent gouging, as long as they don't move. However, on key policy questions, the council-appointed Rental Housing Committee (RHC) has tilted toward landlords, so it's important to keep an eye on the RHC with its two new members.
As written, Measure V restricts space rent increases in mobile home parks, but last year the RHC ignored its own legal advisers and exempted our 1,100-plus mobile home households from rent stabilization. They not only face unregulated space rent increases, but when they need or choose to sell their homes, the high rents discourage buyers and drive down the value of their homes. So if they move, like the people displaced from apartments, it will be difficult for them to stay in town. Either the RHC or the City Council should protect manufactured-home households against unreasonable rent increases.
If you value our apartment dwellers, vehicle residents, and mobile-home owners, please join me in signing the Soul of Mountain View petition at http://chng.it/TC7SFb4tPD. The soul of our community is at stake.
Lenny Siegel is a former Mountain View City Council member who served as mayor in 2018.