The city of Mountain View is poised for a leadership shake-up this November, empowering voters to guide the city's major policy decisions at a time of historic uncertainty and unprecedented challenges.
The coronavirus pandemic has completely upended the city's day-to-day life, putting dire financial strain on low-income residents and beloved businesses on the brink of having to close for good. Budget deficits are on the horizon, development is expected to slow down and the significant shift to telecommuting has raised big questions about the future transit needs of the region.
Voters will decide which four of the nine candidates will make up the majority of the seven-seat council and tackle these issues in the coming years. Two incumbents, John McAlister and Chris Clark, are termed out of office this year. Both McAlister and Clark often took positions of pragmatism and compromise in order to bridge major differences on the council, and their exit could lead to votes split deeply on ideological lines.
The two incumbents in the race, Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak, say the city could use experienced leadership amid the uncertainty, and point to what they believe is a strong track record for local pandemic response. But they face steep competition from seven challengers seeking a seat on the City Council. Former council members Lenny Siegel and Pat Showalter, each with experience in their own right, are looking to return to the City Council and pick up where they left off in 2018.
Former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who served on the council 18 years ago, is also seeking to make a return to city politics.
Newcomers in the race are Jose Gutierrez, a trustee for the Mountain View Whisman School District; Paul Roales, a Waymo engineer; Alex Nunez, a community activist and housing advocate; and John Lashlee, a community activist and member of the Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America. Each would bring a fresh perspective on the council, but with a different focus. Gutierrez said he emphatically supports consensus-building on tough issues, while Roales' platform rests squarely on efficient governance. Nunez is pressing for more compassion in the city's decisions, while Lashlee believes the city must embrace more progressive policies.
Nearly all of the candidates say they believe the city's COVID-19 response is a top priority, even eclipsing the perennial issues of housing and traffic. They emphasized the need to invest more money into struggling businesses and renters at risk of losing their homes due to loss of work. Candidates also largely said they would foster stronger relationships with Santa Clara County and other public agencies to ensure the best possible response to the public health crisis.
The policies and functions of the Mountain View Police Department, never previously a hot-button issue, have also risen to the top as major concerns for voters and candidates alike. A series of protests against police violence and use-of-force tactics has since put police reform front and center for the City Council, and impassioned speakers packed the virtual council meetings in June pleading for reform and an end to systemic racism by police.
Each candidate showed at least some willingness to consider changes to police policies, and said they would consider reallocating funds in the event that social workers or mental health experts may be better suited to respond to certain 911 calls. The level of divestment and the extent of civilian oversight, however, is where candidates differed.
While rent control was previously a litmus test that deeply divided the candidates, all of the challengers in the race said they support the city's rent control law, the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA). The two incumbents, Abe-Koga and Matichak, have not previously supported the CSFRA and have reservations about the impact on property owners and the housing market.
What has become a litmus test this year is Measure C, the city's proposed ban on oversized vehicles on narrow city streets. Measure C, though ostensibly about traffic safety, is the city's attempt to move inhabited RVs off of residential streets. By the latest count, roughly 200 inhabited RVs are parked on city streets, clustered along roads like Crisanto Avenue and Continental Circle.
Gutierrez, Roales, Abe-Koga and Matichak support Measure C, while Showalter, Siegel, Nunez, Lashlee and Lieber oppose the measure.
In the short term, the winners of the election will largely guide the city's immediate response to the pandemic, calls for police reform and the economic recession.
In the long term, they will decide whether Mountain View should continue its high-growth trajectory and expand housing into new areas of the city, and mold the city's future downtown transit infrastructure for years to come. Voters have the chance to deeply influence all of these decisions on Election Day.
Read more about where each Mountain View City Council candidate stands on the issues: