News

Council reluctantly approves razing of 116 rent-controlled apartments

More of Mountain View's older, rent-controlled apartments will be demolished to make way for new ownership housing, after the Mountain View City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve a rowhouse redevelopment along Middlefield Road.

It's the latest in a wave of projects that have eroded the city's affordable housing stock in favor of for-sale rowhouses and townhomes, raising concerns that lower-income tenants are being displaced in their wake. Adding to the anxiety is the worry that tenants will have a tough time moving in light of the new coronavirus pandemic.

But council members say their hands are tied: The project meets zoning requirements, and the city has little discretion to block the property owner from exiting the rental market. And while the council has vowed for years to find ways to slow the loss of older homes and better help displaced residents, it has yet to pass a comprehensive plan.

The Meadowood Apartments in Mountain View will be torn down and replaced with three-story rowhouses, despite concerns over displacement. Courtesy SummerHill Homes.

The proposal by SummerHill Homes replaces the 116 units that make up the Meadowood Apartments at 1555 W. Middlefield Road with 115 three-story rowhouses, each with an estimated $1.5 million sale price and no below-market-rate units. The project would essentially create a long block of houses on the south side of the road spanning from Burgoyne Street to San Pierre Way.

The May 19 deliberations had a sense of deja vu, with council members citing the inevitable nature of the project while lamenting the loss of homes that have been naturally affordable for decades. The same conflict came up when the council approved rowhouses on Walker Drive, Montecito Avenue, and in two locations on Rock Street in December 2018 and again in April last year.

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By the city's estimates, Mountain View is on pace to destroy 127 of its rent-controlled apartments every year.

Echoing the concerns over displacement, some residents emailed the council or spoke via Zoom during the meeting opposing the project, saying it would inevitably boot vulnerable tenants out of Mountain View. The families living at Meadowood include seniors, low-income immigrants and people with disabilities, said resident Jessie Cardenas, many of whom are not going to be able to afford the multimillion-dollar homes in the project.

"You're giving this (housing) to other people, but you're taking it away from the people who really need it," he said.

Resident Kimberly Richardson told the council in an email that city residents are sick of seeing affordable homes being torn down to provide "luxury units for rich people," and protested the loss of 55 heritage trees from the site, while Sharon Gloster -- a homeowner near the Meadowood Apartments -- questioned what these large-scale redevelopments are doing to the makeup of the city.

"Will Mountain View just be home to tech workers? What will happen to our diverse community? Who will work in the lower-paying service jobs or teach in our schools or work for the city?" she asked.

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Adding to the concerns, the redevelopment was approved amid the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent public health orders that have forced people to stay indoors and shut down businesses. Meadowood residents and advocacy groups worry that it will be difficult finding a new place to live by the move-out date of October 2020.

SummerHill representatives agreed at the meeting to a voluntary three-month grace period that would allow residents to stay through Jan. 22, 2021, if needed. In the event that the countywide moratorium on evictions is extended past October, SummerHill would be barred from ousting renters until the restrictions are lifted, according to city staff.

Rowhouses will soon line the street along a long stretch of Middlefield Road on the edge of the Rex Manor neighborhood. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

Council members didn't openly begrudge SummerHill Homes or the property owner at the meeting for proposing to raze the apartments, instead laying the blame elsewhere. Councilman Lucas Ramirez pointed to provisions in state law that "severely curtails" the council's discretion in reviewing code-compliant projects, and this is an instance where more local control would've been valuable.

"If we had greater discretion in reviewing projects like this, I think our conversations would look very different," Ramirez said. "But we don't have that discretion."

Others suggested that landlords are seeking to exit the rental market because of limits set by the city's rent control law, which caps annual rent increases on most housing units built before 1995. Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga referred to "unintended consequences" that have resulted in a spree of redevelopment projects.

"I understand the interests of certain advocacy groups to minimize the costs on tenants, but when you do that and you limit the ability of property owners to improve their units as well, they may choose to get out of the business as we're seeing," Abe-Koga said.

During the meeting, the Meadowood property owner stated that she currently faces millions of dollars in repairs to keep the aging apartments afloat, including the replacement of a 50-year-old plumbing system and new roofs, and that the renovation work would temporarily force residents out of the building.

Ramirez and Councilwoman Alison Hicks, who voted against the proposal, said they opposed the project on the grounds that the environmental review was lacking and failed to identify the full extent of the displacement resulting from the rowhouse development. The documents suggest that SummerHill's project "would not displace substantial numbers of existing people or housing," suggesting that the city's roughly 15,000 rent-controlled housing units would be available to the Meadowood tenants.

Ramirez said he wasn't convinced. Not only is the vacancy rate among those apartments very low -- hovering around 3.7%, according to the latest data -- but the displaced residents may not meeting the standard benchmark of having an income equal to at least three times the cost of rent. Given that an estimated 69 of the 116 households are either low or moderate-income families, Ramirez said he is concerned that they won't find another place to rent within the city.

On the contrary, SummerHill sought to convince the council that a majority of the tenants are not the longtime, vulnerable Mountain View residents that the council has sought to protect. Representatives from the developer cited their own data showing that the complex has frequent turnover -- 70% of the tenants have been at the complex for less than five years -- and that an estimated 75% of the tenants make more than 120% of the area's median income, or $153,000 for a family of four. This data appears to conflict with the project's own environmental review, Ramirez said.

Though the 1555 W. Middlefield Road proposal is in many ways similar to past projects that tear down older apartments, it could potentially be the last of its kind. City officials are crafting a wide range of anti-displacement policies, including a "no net loss" requirement that would prevent developers from building fewer homes than they tear down.

Even more significant is a new state law that took effect earlier this year. Senate Bill 330 would also prohibit cities from approving projects that reduce the total number of housing units, and would require developers to give all former tenants the first rights to return to new housing built on the property -- at the same level of rent they were paying before.

Though the law has been in effect for months, SummerHill Homes' project on Middlefield Road does not have to abide by the new rules. City staff say the project was deemed "complete" prior to Jan. 1, 2020, making it exempt from the provisions.

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Council reluctantly approves razing of 116 rent-controlled apartments

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, May 20, 2020, 12:50 pm

More of Mountain View's older, rent-controlled apartments will be demolished to make way for new ownership housing, after the Mountain View City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve a rowhouse redevelopment along Middlefield Road.

It's the latest in a wave of projects that have eroded the city's affordable housing stock in favor of for-sale rowhouses and townhomes, raising concerns that lower-income tenants are being displaced in their wake. Adding to the anxiety is the worry that tenants will have a tough time moving in light of the new coronavirus pandemic.

But council members say their hands are tied: The project meets zoning requirements, and the city has little discretion to block the property owner from exiting the rental market. And while the council has vowed for years to find ways to slow the loss of older homes and better help displaced residents, it has yet to pass a comprehensive plan.

The proposal by SummerHill Homes replaces the 116 units that make up the Meadowood Apartments at 1555 W. Middlefield Road with 115 three-story rowhouses, each with an estimated $1.5 million sale price and no below-market-rate units. The project would essentially create a long block of houses on the south side of the road spanning from Burgoyne Street to San Pierre Way.

The May 19 deliberations had a sense of deja vu, with council members citing the inevitable nature of the project while lamenting the loss of homes that have been naturally affordable for decades. The same conflict came up when the council approved rowhouses on Walker Drive, Montecito Avenue, and in two locations on Rock Street in December 2018 and again in April last year.

By the city's estimates, Mountain View is on pace to destroy 127 of its rent-controlled apartments every year.

Echoing the concerns over displacement, some residents emailed the council or spoke via Zoom during the meeting opposing the project, saying it would inevitably boot vulnerable tenants out of Mountain View. The families living at Meadowood include seniors, low-income immigrants and people with disabilities, said resident Jessie Cardenas, many of whom are not going to be able to afford the multimillion-dollar homes in the project.

"You're giving this (housing) to other people, but you're taking it away from the people who really need it," he said.

Resident Kimberly Richardson told the council in an email that city residents are sick of seeing affordable homes being torn down to provide "luxury units for rich people," and protested the loss of 55 heritage trees from the site, while Sharon Gloster -- a homeowner near the Meadowood Apartments -- questioned what these large-scale redevelopments are doing to the makeup of the city.

"Will Mountain View just be home to tech workers? What will happen to our diverse community? Who will work in the lower-paying service jobs or teach in our schools or work for the city?" she asked.

Adding to the concerns, the redevelopment was approved amid the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent public health orders that have forced people to stay indoors and shut down businesses. Meadowood residents and advocacy groups worry that it will be difficult finding a new place to live by the move-out date of October 2020.

SummerHill representatives agreed at the meeting to a voluntary three-month grace period that would allow residents to stay through Jan. 22, 2021, if needed. In the event that the countywide moratorium on evictions is extended past October, SummerHill would be barred from ousting renters until the restrictions are lifted, according to city staff.

Council members didn't openly begrudge SummerHill Homes or the property owner at the meeting for proposing to raze the apartments, instead laying the blame elsewhere. Councilman Lucas Ramirez pointed to provisions in state law that "severely curtails" the council's discretion in reviewing code-compliant projects, and this is an instance where more local control would've been valuable.

"If we had greater discretion in reviewing projects like this, I think our conversations would look very different," Ramirez said. "But we don't have that discretion."

Others suggested that landlords are seeking to exit the rental market because of limits set by the city's rent control law, which caps annual rent increases on most housing units built before 1995. Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga referred to "unintended consequences" that have resulted in a spree of redevelopment projects.

"I understand the interests of certain advocacy groups to minimize the costs on tenants, but when you do that and you limit the ability of property owners to improve their units as well, they may choose to get out of the business as we're seeing," Abe-Koga said.

During the meeting, the Meadowood property owner stated that she currently faces millions of dollars in repairs to keep the aging apartments afloat, including the replacement of a 50-year-old plumbing system and new roofs, and that the renovation work would temporarily force residents out of the building.

Ramirez and Councilwoman Alison Hicks, who voted against the proposal, said they opposed the project on the grounds that the environmental review was lacking and failed to identify the full extent of the displacement resulting from the rowhouse development. The documents suggest that SummerHill's project "would not displace substantial numbers of existing people or housing," suggesting that the city's roughly 15,000 rent-controlled housing units would be available to the Meadowood tenants.

Ramirez said he wasn't convinced. Not only is the vacancy rate among those apartments very low -- hovering around 3.7%, according to the latest data -- but the displaced residents may not meeting the standard benchmark of having an income equal to at least three times the cost of rent. Given that an estimated 69 of the 116 households are either low or moderate-income families, Ramirez said he is concerned that they won't find another place to rent within the city.

On the contrary, SummerHill sought to convince the council that a majority of the tenants are not the longtime, vulnerable Mountain View residents that the council has sought to protect. Representatives from the developer cited their own data showing that the complex has frequent turnover -- 70% of the tenants have been at the complex for less than five years -- and that an estimated 75% of the tenants make more than 120% of the area's median income, or $153,000 for a family of four. This data appears to conflict with the project's own environmental review, Ramirez said.

Though the 1555 W. Middlefield Road proposal is in many ways similar to past projects that tear down older apartments, it could potentially be the last of its kind. City officials are crafting a wide range of anti-displacement policies, including a "no net loss" requirement that would prevent developers from building fewer homes than they tear down.

Even more significant is a new state law that took effect earlier this year. Senate Bill 330 would also prohibit cities from approving projects that reduce the total number of housing units, and would require developers to give all former tenants the first rights to return to new housing built on the property -- at the same level of rent they were paying before.

Though the law has been in effect for months, SummerHill Homes' project on Middlefield Road does not have to abide by the new rules. City staff say the project was deemed "complete" prior to Jan. 1, 2020, making it exempt from the provisions.

Comments

Cog
Sylvan Park
on May 20, 2020 at 1:35 pm
Cog, Sylvan Park
on May 20, 2020 at 1:35 pm
15 people like this

The blame begins with the city council, not sure why they are looking around to find someone else.


SRB
St. Francis Acres
on May 20, 2020 at 2:13 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
on May 20, 2020 at 2:13 pm
25 people like this

This article is almost a carbon copy of the December 2018 article about Rock Street.... over two years ago!

Same old "our hands are tied"/"we don't have enough local control" complaints, same empty pledges to tackle displacement or calls "for some kind of future restrictions on developments that caused a net loss of housing".

Over two years later and during a historic health emergency, the City still claims to be powerless...

Clearly, "When there is no will, there is no way"


"Unintended consequences?!?"
Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2020 at 2:20 pm
"Unintended consequences?!?", Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2020 at 2:20 pm
48 people like this

'landlords are seeking to exit the rental market because of limits set by the city's rent control law. . . Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga referred to "unintended consequences" that have resulted in a spree of redevelopment projects.'

Nonsense. That phrase is a politician's throwaway excuse. Owners exiting the rental market -- and redevelopment that reduces total rental housing -- are normal and utterly predictable effects of rent control. It has happened countless times before, and everyone concerned with the topic either knows it full well, or hasn't done their homework.

When an effect is entirely predictable with a long-demonstrated history, calling it "unintended" is misleading.


Winston C.
Rengstorff Park
on May 20, 2020 at 2:32 pm
Winston C., Rengstorff Park
on May 20, 2020 at 2:32 pm
189 people like this

I wholly welcome ownership housing. Displaced renters are welcome to compete on the buyer's market or move somewhere more affordable. Nothing lasts forever.


roaksinri
another community
on May 20, 2020 at 2:32 pm
roaksinri, another community
on May 20, 2020 at 2:32 pm
17 people like this

"Our hands are tied"...Then why was there a vote to "approve" the project? If one opposes the project on general principle, then disallow it. Ramirez seems to want it both ways-" I don't like it, but I don't want these rich developers (who might donate to my future campaigns for office) to be mad at me if I come across too strong. I know! I'll blame "other forces" that have tied our hands. That's the ticket!" And the 5 Yea votes stay quiet so as not to attract attention, preferring to attract campaign contributions from rich developers- as for the displaced people- Let them eat cake!.....


drslb
Rengstorff Park
on May 20, 2020 at 3:05 pm
drslb, Rengstorff Park
on May 20, 2020 at 3:05 pm
20 people like this

So who are going to provide the services for all the tech people in the city. I guess robot police, fire departments, robot teachers and nurses, robot plumbers, robot gardeners and robots in nursing homes. Will be perfect for next pandemic.


roaksinri
another community
on May 20, 2020 at 3:19 pm
roaksinri, another community
on May 20, 2020 at 3:19 pm
4 people like this

Hey drslb- that explains the robot traveling the sidewalks at Eagle Park- it is in training for the eventual takeover. Self Driving cars, robot servants, the future is here! Where will it lead? Recommended viewing: 2001:A Space Odyssey, West World, and Ex Machina....


Rex Major Res
Rex Manor
on May 20, 2020 at 3:44 pm
Rex Major Res, Rex Manor
on May 20, 2020 at 3:44 pm
11 people like this

Wasnt there a recent development in Los Altos whete the city was trying to block redevelopment. They got sued and lost. The loose regulations dont allow for city councils to take a harder stand if the criteria are met.


Jake O.
Rengstorff Park
on May 20, 2020 at 3:46 pm
Jake O., Rengstorff Park
on May 20, 2020 at 3:46 pm
175 people like this

Having grown up in MV and now a renter, it's sad to see the changes but it is what it is. I know one day I'll be priced out of the area and have to move but it goes against my principles to agree that the local government can tell land owners what they can and cannot build. These land owners are also business owners, if they choose to cash out, that is their choice


Allie
Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2020 at 3:57 pm
Allie, Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2020 at 3:57 pm
21 people like this

Disgraceful. Where is human decency, especially at such an already scary and vulnerable time? I'm terrified my building will be next. For those who say , "If you can't afford to compete in the housing market, it's time to move"... I ask you, how easy would it be for you to pick up and move away from what has been your home most of your life, leave family and friends, uproot your children, find a new job??
Mountain View has changed drastically. Gone is the community feel, the celebration of diversity, the tolerance. It is being sold off to the rich, and the City Council either doesn't care or has no backbone. I am so very saddened and, again, terrified by all of this.


Tina
another community
on May 20, 2020 at 5:50 pm
Tina, another community
on May 20, 2020 at 5:50 pm
8 people like this

Don't worry too much. It's disgusting enough people that they're all leaving for Texas anyway, vulnerable or not.

Who will you be rezoning for when everyone moves to Austin? Gonna year down the houses and rebuild affordable apartments instead?

What are you left with when the market dries up?


Gary
Sylvan Park
on May 20, 2020 at 8:09 pm
Gary , Sylvan Park
on May 20, 2020 at 8:09 pm
16 people like this

No hands were tied. The staff report stated that the Council could reject the project. Two councilmembers voted against approval. Much more rent controlled housing will be lost if tenants get too far behind in rent payments and cannot make them up later. On lawful turnover, the rent can be raised on the unit as high as the market will allow. It is called VACANCY DECONTROL and is a chief source of landlord profit.


The Business Man
Castro City
on May 20, 2020 at 8:55 pm
The Business Man, Castro City
on May 20, 2020 at 8:55 pm
18 people like this

I am going to encourage the State to sue the City for this travesty.

Then new housing state laws are being ignored by the city.

We are going to be sued like Huntington Beach.

And the City is going to lose.

Also the tenants should also sue the City.

Sunnyvale tried the same stunt and caved after they learned they made such a disastrous decision.

This is the City Council trying to attack the City Citizens, plan and simple after Measure D failed.


comet48
another community
on May 20, 2020 at 9:07 pm
comet48, another community
on May 20, 2020 at 9:07 pm
247 people like this

Rent control - there goes rental properties! What did these fools expect?


KTT
North Whisman
on May 20, 2020 at 9:19 pm
KTT, North Whisman
on May 20, 2020 at 9:19 pm
269 people like this

Not surprised the redevelopment of housing continues. As long as Measure V- rent control is in place, we will continue to see older properties call it a day.

Housing advocates should embrace this project since homeownership is the medicine to true housing stability. You can’t keep renters as renters forever. Eventually people aim for homeownership even though homeownership may be in other areas where renters’ wallets meet reality.

In a time where we’ve seen more apartments get built, this ownership project is a welcome change. Kudos to the city council.


ex-Hooli person
Rex Manor
on May 20, 2020 at 10:08 pm
ex-Hooli person, Rex Manor
on May 20, 2020 at 10:08 pm
19 people like this

I'm surprised that property owners would willingly exit the residential rental market. Between the resentment of the community and the non-payment of rent, what's not to like? I wish I had more money to invest in toxic, non-performing assets.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on May 20, 2020 at 10:19 pm
Gary , Sylvan Park
on May 20, 2020 at 10:19 pm
11 people like this

The pro-landlord city council majority has approved some ownership housing in place of rental housing. The Council could have disallowed the projects. Approval is a function mainly of the money to be made in new ownership housing here and the councilmembers going along. The same pro-landlord councilmembers will blame rent control because they oppose rent control. But without rent control, rents would soar and most existing tenants would be priced out and forced to move elsewhere that is less in demand. In any event, the next big item on the rental housing front will be placement of the landlords' sneaky repeal of local rent control on the November ballot. There now is statewide rent control that is a backstop. But it could be repealed or replaced by the state legislature and governor whenever they choose. .


Lyn
Shoreline West
on May 21, 2020 at 2:32 am
Lyn, Shoreline West
on May 21, 2020 at 2:32 am
9 people like this

It is clear that the only concern the Mountain View City Council has is to gain revenue. Mountain View City Council does not care what happens to the middle or lower class people. They have the power to stop the landlords, but they do not. What a sham.


Rent control is a failure
Monta Loma
on May 21, 2020 at 7:56 am
Rent control is a failure, Monta Loma
on May 21, 2020 at 7:56 am
18 people like this

If you want to control rent, I suggest you build your own apartments, then you can control rent.

Forcing others to limit their return on their investment is anti capitalistic. It's pure evil communistic. It's like limiting your jeweler how much he can make on his merchandise. Pretty soon we will be having food control, people telling us what we can or cannot eat. See where this is leading?


The Business Man
Castro City
on May 21, 2020 at 8:33 am
The Business Man, Castro City
on May 21, 2020 at 8:33 am
14 people like this

In response to KTT you said:

“Housing advocates should embrace this project since homeownership is the medicine to true housing stability. You can’t keep renters as renters forever. Eventually people aim for homeownership even though homeownership may be in other areas where renters’ wallets meet reality.”

You are simply wrong in many ways. Home ownership is NOT FEASIBLE for all given the way work requires people to potentially move in as short as 7 years. You simply want to claim that home ownership solves housing. What PROOF do you have? The reality is that we do not have the safe and available land space to build enough NON-Apartments to satisfy the demand of housing. The soil is so polluted, housing is building “clean houses” with air control systems in them because of the TCE problems. NO ONE SHOULD MOVE INTO ANY PLACE WITH THIS INSTALLED. IN FACT THEY SHOULD BE MOVED OUT. NOR can people commit to being in a place for say more than 10 years. You must be a REALTOR trying which that business is hitting one of the worst periods in recent history.

As far as what Rent control is a failure said here:

“If you want to control rent, I suggest you build your own apartments, then you can control rent.”

Not much of a conclusion with no evidence to back it up. You went on to say:

“Forcing others to limit their return on their investment is anti capitalistic. It's pure evil communistic. It's like limiting your jeweler how much he can make on his merchandise. Pretty soon we will be having food control, people telling us what we can or cannot eat. See where this is leading?”

Here we go again with the “anti-communist” argument. It doesn’t fly.

The U.S. Constitution Nor the California Constitution provides REAL private property rights at all. In the Kelo v City of New London case found here (Web Link) of the U.S. Supreme Court said, a government is not liable for transferring ownership of anything to a PRIVATE party. As long as the Government doesn’t take the property, eminent domain doesn’t apply NOR does taking apply.

In reality all people’s claims of private property rights are made by economists, politicians and attorneys that are well aware that the laws don’t work that way. But they want to sell their Services. What you are describing is the return of Feudalism, which the U.S. explicitly abandoned after the AMERICAN REVOLUTION, kinda like the SOVIET REVOLUTION. Same problem, monarchy or elite oligarchy rule on the people.

Again let the lawsuit start.


Darin
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 21, 2020 at 10:12 am
Darin, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 21, 2020 at 10:12 am
11 people like this

@Allie

It hasn't been an easy decision to leave, but we just can't afford to live here any longer. We'll miss the people we're leaving behind, but the financial reality is that we can't stay.


Kimberley
Monta Loma
on May 22, 2020 at 6:04 pm
Kimberley, Monta Loma
on May 22, 2020 at 6:04 pm
3 people like this

I wrote to Margaret Netto, the planner, on two occasions and never received a reply about the development. I had asked her why the city would allow a SMALLER number of homes to be developed along with the destruction of 54, yes FIFTY FOUR heritage trees. Summerhill Homes are wreaking economic and environmental war against the citizens of Mountain View. I think we should oppose them. Apart from the highly distasteful ousting of low income residents, has anybody calculated the environmental cost of sending 116 homes to a landfill, not to mention the energy and materials to build 115 McMansions? It is heartbreaking to witness this loss of affordable homes, trees, wildlife and character. The citizens of Mountain View overturned a council decision to remove vehicles from the streets. I think citizen power should be enlisted to oppose this development. I wonder if we have any redress at the state level? At the very least we should insist on a full environmental impact statement that includes the loss of biodiversity. Finally, if the city were truly apologetic, maybe they should make an offer to buy the apartment complex? As residents leave the homes could be offered to essential services workers. There is an alternative solution to this act of environmental and economic vandalism.


Stable Genius
Sylvan Park
on May 22, 2020 at 6:18 pm
Stable Genius, Sylvan Park
on May 22, 2020 at 6:18 pm
7 people like this

It is probably too late to object to this development but you might ask candidates for city council where they stand on this kind of tradeoff. As to living in RVs on MV streets, that will be on the November ballot in MV as a REFERENDUM. It has not been decided by voters. More specifically, voters will be asked to approve or reject an ordinance passed by the city council last year banning RV overnight parking on most streets (I think it was any street under 40 feet in width but correct me if wrong). Opponents secured enough voter signatures to suspend the ordinance pending a vote in an election. The City Council then placed the question on the November 3, 2020 ballot.


Lyn
Shoreline West
on May 23, 2020 at 11:06 am
Lyn, Shoreline West
on May 23, 2020 at 11:06 am
8 people like this

People to organize, and VOTE these bad City Council Members, OUT!


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