Nine candidates seeking a spot on the Mountain View City Council squared off Saturday at the first candidate forum of the election season, showing early ideological splits on some of the city's hot-button issues.
Four seats on the seven-member City Council are up for election on Nov. 3.
A majority of the crowded field said they support the city's rent control program and believe that renter protections should be extended, rather than curtailed. Many challengers took the opportunity to slam Measure D, the city's recent attempt to rewrite the local rent control law, which was handily defeated by voters in March.
A majority of the candidates said they opposed the so-called "narrow streets" ban, a ballot measure that, if approved, would prohibit oversized vehicles from parking along many city streets. Critics say the measure amounts to an attempt to oust the city's homeless population, hundreds of whom are living in cars and RVs.
The packed City Council race has two incumbents running, Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga seeking a fourth term and Lisa Matichak seeking her second, along with three former council members seeking to return: Lenny Siegel, Pat Showalter and former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber. Those running for a first term on the council are Mountain View Whisman School Board member Jose Gutierrez and Mountain View residents John Lashlee, Alex Nunez and Paul Roales.
The forum was hosted by the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, and candidate questions reflected the key concerns facing residents living in Mountain View's six mobile home parks. The city's rent control law, the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), does not currently apply to mobile homes, and support of CSFRA's expansion could be a litmus test for candidates as the election nears.
Nunez spoke strongly in favor of CSFRA and advocated for extending rent control to mobile homes, calling the decision to exclude mobile homes an "injustice" that must be corrected. Lashlee said he would extend rent control to mobile homes "immediately," and work to extend CSFRA's protections to guarantee legal representation for tenants facing eviction.
"We must extend our renter protection and not just play defense," he said.
Abe-Koga and Matichak both described CSFRA as problematic, with ambiguous language on whether mobile homes are covered. What's more, they said the decision technically rests with the Rental Housing Committee, which operates separately from the City Council, raising questions on whether the council even has the authority to grant rent control to mobile homes.
Three candidates, Abe-Koga, Matichak and Gutierrez, publicly supported Measure D, which would have altered CSFRA to explicitly exclude mobile homes from renter protections -- something they argued would clear up the ambiguity and create a path for the council to adopt rent stabilization for mobile homes. Mobile home residents were unconvinced, and largely opposed Measure D, which was seen as making concessions to landlords at the expense of tenants.
Outside of rewriting the law at the ballot box, the council's biggest influence on rent control is through the appointment of Rental Housing Committee members. Lieber said it was "vital" to have a representative from the mobile home community on the committee, and that she would oppose the appointment of residents who are overt opponents of rent control.
"If they are strictly hostile towards the concept, then they are prejudiced against the work that they'll be doing," Lieber said. "If they are self-professed that they cannot do that, they should not be appointed."
All of the candidates agreed on the need for more affordable housing but differed on the best path to get it built. Gutierrez advocated for more below-market-rate housing for working class and middle-income families, while Roales said the council needs to break through a planning logjam and approve projects at a much faster rate in order to alleviate the housing shortage. Abe-Koga and Matichak pointed to their own track record on the council as steps in the right direction, touting aggressive affordable housing requirements and rezoning parts of the city for residential development.
Siegel said the city can use public property and housing funds to get more affordable units built, but the big surge in below-market-rate homes is going to come from a boom in housing construction.
"If we build 10,000 units in North Bayshore, we'll get more affordable housing built than we've built in the entire history of Mountain View," he said.
Candidates were also questioned about their stance on unhoused residents living on city streets in cars and RVs, a thorny issue that has divided Mountain View residents. Homelessness in Mountain View has grown substantially in recent years, with hundreds residing in vehicles rather than encampments and homeless shelters, and some complain that the long lines of RVs represent a blight and a public health hazard.
The City Council voted last year to ban oversized vehicles on "narrow" streets 40 feet wide or smaller, prohibiting homeless residents from living in RVs along many of the city's streets such as Crisanto Avenue, which have long been a haven for vehicle dwellers. The ordinance was the subject of a successful referendum, and will now appear on the Nov. 3 ballot for voters to decide.
Abe-Koga, who voted in favor of the vehicle ban last year, said she wants a real solution to homelessness, and that she does not believe the widespread use of cars and RVs as makeshift homes is a permanent solution. She said the city has made strides this year in opening safe parking lots designated, with case management services available to find them supportive housing.
Matichak also supported the ban, and said the city is at risk of attracting more homeless people from neighboring cities that do crack down on vehicle dwellers. Her goal, she said, is to take care of people who previously lived and worked in Mountain View.
"One of the concerns is Mountain View has become known for the services that we provide, so other cities are telling folks to come here," she said.
Speaking against the ban were Lashlee, Gutierrez, Nunez, Showalter and Siegel. Nunez said the ban amounts to punishing people who are in dire straits, and that the city should identify specific streets in Mountain View, away from residential areas, where people can live in RVs. Lashlee said the city should never have moved forward with the ban before enough safe parking spaces were created to accommodate the displaced RVs.
"I believe we got it totally wrong with our ordinance," Lashlee said.
The candidate forum, hosted over Zoom, is available on YouTube. The next candidate forum is scheduled for Sept. 19, and will be hosted by the Shoreline West Neighborhood Association.