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Alex Nunez: Housing justice as a moral issue

Alex Nunez. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

When recent proposals came forward earlier this year that would bulldoze older apartments for high-price condos, Alex Nunez found himself going door to door to mobilize the residents who would soon be forced to move.

It isn't always easy, Nunez said, to explain complex land use policies to tenants who may not even speak English just months before their homes are approved for demolition. But it's the kind of grassroots effort that he believes is needed to stem displacement in a city at risk of losing its diversity.

After spending years as a community activist and a vocal advocate for housing growth and rent control, Nunez said he wants to take his deep community experience to the City Council. He said he believes his research in land use makes him ready to handle the job from day one, and that all of his decisions will be balanced by how it will affect the general welfare of Mountain View residents.

"That's what I pledge to do, that's what I've been doing and that's what I'm going to continue to do no matter what happens in this race," Nunez said. "But I strongly believe that the best way for me to be effective at that is to be a member of the City Council."

Nunez, 29, cut his teeth in local politics in 2015, working with the Silicon Valley Young Democrats to raise support for minimum wage increases. Soon after, he served as a volunteer in support of Measure V, the city's rent control law, and recently co-led the campaign in opposition to Measure D, which would have modified the rent control law and was largely opposed by tenant groups.

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Over time, Nunez said he was dismayed to see the council repeatedly approve projects that tore down older, naturally affordable apartments covered by rent control, to be replaced by expensive for-sale homes. Council members have repeated for years that their hands are tied -- the projects are code compliant -- yet Nunez said he's not convinced this is actually true.

Nunez said his efforts to mobilize residents never seem to stop the wrecking ball because of who serves on the council.

"I have gone into these apartment complexes and explained land use policy to people who don't have time to get it and who have to get it right now, all of the sudden, in multiple languages to get them to ask their City Council to take care of them," Nunez said. "Over and over again, this fails to happen."

Nunez serves on the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, an advocacy group that has encouraged the city to build more housing and balance out the city's jobs-housing ratio, long seen as a solution to traffic and affordability problems that plague the Bay Area. He and other members weigh in on nearly every housing-related item to come before the city, getting into the weeds on building design and density.

One of the more exciting opportunities for housing growth, Nunez said, is the city's plans to revamp so-called R3 zoning, which includes large swaths of the city. That, along with "form-based" zoning, would be a huge opportunity to increase housing and reimagine suburban tracts designed with a car-centric culture in mind.

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Nunez said he is a strong supporter of rent control, and that the measure was borne out of Hispanic members of the community coming together to stop significant rent hikes that were pushing them out of the area. Yet when the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) passed in 2016, it was met by a hostile council that failed to faithfully implement the law. Council members have faced deep criticism from tenant groups for appointing people to the Rental Housing Committee, which runs the rent control program, who are opposed to rent control.

"That's why I look at rent control as a moral issue," Nunez said. "If I get elected to the council I would defend the will of the people and have a program that will actually run as it was intended to."

Nunez said he would support extending rent control to mobile homes through a city ordinance if necessary, but that it would be ideal for the Rental Housing Committee to reverse its decision to exclude mobile homes under CSFRA. He said mobile home park owners will threaten to sue, but that should not be a deterrent to doing the right thing.

"I see this idea of a legal challenge as just a threat," he said. "I don't think we need to be responding to threats in that way."

While Nunez said he opposes Mountain View's oversized vehicle ban, Measure C, he said it's been unfortunate to see how much the issue has divided the city. The tone has reached a point now where anyone supporting the ban is vilified as heartless, while anyone who opposes the ban is painted as enabling destitute living conditions.

"It's just been a shouting match," Nunez said. "I don't think there's been a lot of city leadership in validating other people."

Nunez has taken a more balanced approach to the issue than other candidates in the race. He said it doesn't make sense in the long term to have homeless vehicle dwellers parked on residential streets, and that long lines of oversized vehicles can make it difficult to safely drive through neighborhoods. He believes the city should designate certain streets that are appropriate for the unhoused to live in vehicles, rather than focus on banning streets.

"We need to greenlight certain places where people can park and accept the reality that we have people who are working in our economy who don't have housing," he said.

Nunez said he supports reforms in the Mountain View Police Department, and said its good reputation and limited use of force still don't change the fact that it's a law enforcement agency in America with many of the same problems that have sparked civil unrest this year. The department arrests a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic people, he said, and it shouldn't take an incident where an officer viciously beats someone to spark changes.

From the outset, Nunez said, he would back a plan to rigorously audit the existing police department policies, use-of-force tactics and the police budget -- led by the community rather than internally. Funds should be rerouted from law enforcement and toward social workers in responding to incidents like drug use or homelessness, he said.

These kinds of efforts could serve as a model for other cities, in part because Mountain View police already have a fairly good reputation.

"Because the Mountain View Police Department is not one of the bad police departments, we actually have a very good opportunity at our feet to be able to reform what policing is, and be able to create a model that we can export or that other cities can look to us for leadership," Nunez said.

With COVID-19 likely blowing a hole in the city's budget, Nunez said he would seek to protect worker salaries and support ways to raise more revenue, and that he would be willing to cut back on luxuries like the city's Christmas event. Furloughs, the last option, should be progressive and start with higher-paid employees, he said.

Nunez said he would also push for policies that would stave off evictions for renters hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and that he would extend financial assistance to help those pay off back rent.

"I've met people who are working three hours a week at their restaurant job," he said. "That does not add up, and we need to make sure to eliminate eviction as a remedy for inability to pay for rent due to COVID-19 income loss."

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Alex Nunez: Housing justice as a moral issue

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Oct 8, 2020, 1:47 pm

When recent proposals came forward earlier this year that would bulldoze older apartments for high-price condos, Alex Nunez found himself going door to door to mobilize the residents who would soon be forced to move.

It isn't always easy, Nunez said, to explain complex land use policies to tenants who may not even speak English just months before their homes are approved for demolition. But it's the kind of grassroots effort that he believes is needed to stem displacement in a city at risk of losing its diversity.

After spending years as a community activist and a vocal advocate for housing growth and rent control, Nunez said he wants to take his deep community experience to the City Council. He said he believes his research in land use makes him ready to handle the job from day one, and that all of his decisions will be balanced by how it will affect the general welfare of Mountain View residents.

"That's what I pledge to do, that's what I've been doing and that's what I'm going to continue to do no matter what happens in this race," Nunez said. "But I strongly believe that the best way for me to be effective at that is to be a member of the City Council."

Nunez, 29, cut his teeth in local politics in 2015, working with the Silicon Valley Young Democrats to raise support for minimum wage increases. Soon after, he served as a volunteer in support of Measure V, the city's rent control law, and recently co-led the campaign in opposition to Measure D, which would have modified the rent control law and was largely opposed by tenant groups.

Over time, Nunez said he was dismayed to see the council repeatedly approve projects that tore down older, naturally affordable apartments covered by rent control, to be replaced by expensive for-sale homes. Council members have repeated for years that their hands are tied -- the projects are code compliant -- yet Nunez said he's not convinced this is actually true.

Nunez said his efforts to mobilize residents never seem to stop the wrecking ball because of who serves on the council.

"I have gone into these apartment complexes and explained land use policy to people who don't have time to get it and who have to get it right now, all of the sudden, in multiple languages to get them to ask their City Council to take care of them," Nunez said. "Over and over again, this fails to happen."

Nunez serves on the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, an advocacy group that has encouraged the city to build more housing and balance out the city's jobs-housing ratio, long seen as a solution to traffic and affordability problems that plague the Bay Area. He and other members weigh in on nearly every housing-related item to come before the city, getting into the weeds on building design and density.

One of the more exciting opportunities for housing growth, Nunez said, is the city's plans to revamp so-called R3 zoning, which includes large swaths of the city. That, along with "form-based" zoning, would be a huge opportunity to increase housing and reimagine suburban tracts designed with a car-centric culture in mind.

Nunez said he is a strong supporter of rent control, and that the measure was borne out of Hispanic members of the community coming together to stop significant rent hikes that were pushing them out of the area. Yet when the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) passed in 2016, it was met by a hostile council that failed to faithfully implement the law. Council members have faced deep criticism from tenant groups for appointing people to the Rental Housing Committee, which runs the rent control program, who are opposed to rent control.

"That's why I look at rent control as a moral issue," Nunez said. "If I get elected to the council I would defend the will of the people and have a program that will actually run as it was intended to."

Nunez said he would support extending rent control to mobile homes through a city ordinance if necessary, but that it would be ideal for the Rental Housing Committee to reverse its decision to exclude mobile homes under CSFRA. He said mobile home park owners will threaten to sue, but that should not be a deterrent to doing the right thing.

"I see this idea of a legal challenge as just a threat," he said. "I don't think we need to be responding to threats in that way."

While Nunez said he opposes Mountain View's oversized vehicle ban, Measure C, he said it's been unfortunate to see how much the issue has divided the city. The tone has reached a point now where anyone supporting the ban is vilified as heartless, while anyone who opposes the ban is painted as enabling destitute living conditions.

"It's just been a shouting match," Nunez said. "I don't think there's been a lot of city leadership in validating other people."

Nunez has taken a more balanced approach to the issue than other candidates in the race. He said it doesn't make sense in the long term to have homeless vehicle dwellers parked on residential streets, and that long lines of oversized vehicles can make it difficult to safely drive through neighborhoods. He believes the city should designate certain streets that are appropriate for the unhoused to live in vehicles, rather than focus on banning streets.

"We need to greenlight certain places where people can park and accept the reality that we have people who are working in our economy who don't have housing," he said.

Nunez said he supports reforms in the Mountain View Police Department, and said its good reputation and limited use of force still don't change the fact that it's a law enforcement agency in America with many of the same problems that have sparked civil unrest this year. The department arrests a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic people, he said, and it shouldn't take an incident where an officer viciously beats someone to spark changes.

From the outset, Nunez said, he would back a plan to rigorously audit the existing police department policies, use-of-force tactics and the police budget -- led by the community rather than internally. Funds should be rerouted from law enforcement and toward social workers in responding to incidents like drug use or homelessness, he said.

These kinds of efforts could serve as a model for other cities, in part because Mountain View police already have a fairly good reputation.

"Because the Mountain View Police Department is not one of the bad police departments, we actually have a very good opportunity at our feet to be able to reform what policing is, and be able to create a model that we can export or that other cities can look to us for leadership," Nunez said.

With COVID-19 likely blowing a hole in the city's budget, Nunez said he would seek to protect worker salaries and support ways to raise more revenue, and that he would be willing to cut back on luxuries like the city's Christmas event. Furloughs, the last option, should be progressive and start with higher-paid employees, he said.

Nunez said he would also push for policies that would stave off evictions for renters hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and that he would extend financial assistance to help those pay off back rent.

"I've met people who are working three hours a week at their restaurant job," he said. "That does not add up, and we need to make sure to eliminate eviction as a remedy for inability to pay for rent due to COVID-19 income loss."

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