Like many old-timers in Mountain View, Jon Rork, 70, has been brooding over his place in a rapidly changing city in these rapidly changing times.
He has two easy measures to trace the years. One is his porch cactus, planted just next to his front door. It was a tiny aloe vera sprout when he first moved to Mountain View. Today his cactus has grown so large it looks menacing, like a thorny patio deathtrap.
Rork's other way to track the difference is by looking at his No. 1 expense each month -- his rent. In the early 1970s, after his discharge from a tour in Vietnam, Rork moved into a one-bedroom pad at the Mayfield Apartments at 2483 Whitney Drive in the Monta Loma neighborhood for $150 a month. Now nearly 50 years later and retired, he is still living at the same apartment, but his rent has jumped to about $1,800.
In some ways, Rork feels fortunate to be paying that much. A few weeks ago, he and about 40 neighbors learned they may not be living at the Mayfield Apartments much longer. Last month, they received a letter from their property owner announcing plans to demolish the old apartments to make way for condominiums and a row of new single-family homes. Like other rent-controlled apartments facing demolition, the news has sent a shockwave through the neighborhood as families scramble to find some option to stay in town.
Inside his apartment, Rork sat down on a worn leather couch as he described how little his home has changed over the years. Even as his rent steadily increased, maintenance from a rotating cast of owners and property managers was pretty much nonexistent. He couldn't recall ever getting new kitchen appliances or bathroom fixtures. His living room walls were white when he first moved in, but since they were never repainted, their color has yellowed to a sepia tone.
After racking his brain, he remembered one thing his landlord had done: replace the carpet. That was 15 years ago, he said.
Rork is grappling with what to do if forced to move out. His social life, the VA hospital, his favorite hangouts are all here, he said. He feels a lack of any options, describing it as a foregone conclusion that the housing redevelopment would move forward.
"I've lived here for most of my adult life. It's been 50 years!" he explained. "All my friends are here, this is where I'm from, and I just don't want to move."
The owner of the site, West Warmington Properties of Foster City, submitted plans in June to redevelop the Mayfield Apartments, which encompasses a 1.5-acre site. The project calls for demolishing all 40 apartments and replacing them with 61 condominiums and three new single-family homes. City planning officials say they have no timetable for when the project will be considered for approvals.
The developer did not respond to requests for an interview.
The value of the Mayfield Apartments is evident to anyone who visits the site. The single-story apartments are located right across the street from the former Mayfield Mall, which was taken over by Google in 2013. The company's self-driving car division, Waymo, now occupies the site, and neighbors say the autonomous cars have become so common they no longer turn heads and seem almost mundane.
The predicament that Rork and his neighbors are facing is hardly unique. In the last three years, more than 300 older apartments in Mountain View have been taken off the market amid plans to redevelop property into for-sale housing, according to city records. As these demolitions have become a heated political issue, Mountain View officials have pledged to find some solution to curb the loss of older homes or at least cushion the blow for displaced residents.
Mayfield residents are still processing the news that they could lose their homes, explained Dinnie McLaughlin, an artist and entertainer who has lived at the apartment complex for 17 years. Over the last couple of weeks, she has taken on a leadership role among the tenants, hosting packed neighborhood meetings out of her living room. As a former census worker, she is familiar with the demographics of the apartment complex, describing it as a mix of retirees, tech workers and blue-collar families. Professionals living there include a teacher, a nanny, a Safeway manager and senior caregivers.
An interview with McLaughlin quickly turned into a brainstorming session as she mulled ways to stop the project. All options were on the table, she said. Should they get an attorney? Could the site be historic? What if someone found an Ohlone burial mound at the property?
"We just aren't going to get another home like this," McLaughlin said. "People here are frustrated and they're not happy. Right now we need help because we need to stay here."
For his efforts, Rork has found little in the way of alternatives if he is forced to leave his apartment. He inquired about affordable housing, but learned the waitlist is six years long at least. The fact that is he is a veteran with a Purple Heart did not seem to give him any priority.
His parents are dead. He has no siblings or other family.
"I may have to move out of the area," he concluded. "But I just don't like it."