In a race where everyone is ostensibly in support of housing growth, police reform and helping those who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, John Lashlee has set himself apart as a candidate willing to take a more radical and progressive approach to pressing city issues.
When it comes to housing growth, he doesn't just want to grease the skids for private development: He wants to usher in a new era of public housing. Law enforcement policies need to change, but that means dumping proactive policing -- a method of combating crime he finds discriminatory. And when the budget gets tight due to COVID-19? It's time to ramp up corporate taxation.
Lashlee, 32, made a splash in local politics as an active member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, taking up causes to protect the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) and putting on "pressure campaigns" to influence the City Council and the city's Rental Housing Committee, tasked with running rent control in Mountain View. His presence at council meetings grew in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, when he made fiery appeals to the council to bring down police spending.
Now running for council, Lashlee said he believes his progressive streak and his perspective as a young renter is exactly what the City Council needs. While roughly 60% of the city is composed of renters, the large majority of the council is made up of homeowners.
"I am a renter, which is not represented on the council, and it shows in the solution that they have created to rent control and the implementation of CSFRA, which has been very unfair to renters and mobile homes as well," he said.
Though a relative newcomer to Mountain View's city politics compared to some of the other candidates, Lashlee said his background as a data scientist and willingness to work with others will be invaluable assets to the city. He pointed out that he shares common goals with council members that he would often disagree with, including Councilman John McAlister's interest in buying aging apartments and advocacy for better regional transit.
On the housing front, Lashlee said he supports the council's rezoning of North Bayshore and East Whisman to rapidly increase housing in Mountain View, but it would be premature to call that a victory. To date, developers have yet to propose any concrete plans to build most of that housing, indicating that the city's approach has not worked.
"We have zoned, but we have not built the 9,850 units in North Bayshore, we have not attracted private development," Lashlee said. "So we need to charge city staff to not just zone for housing and let it go, but continuously answer the question of why are we not getting that private development there?"
Setting himself a part from the rest of the field of candidates, Lashlee has vowed to end what he calls the city's overreliance on private housing, and said that the city should take the early steps of building and maintaining its own residential rental properties. Old apartments complexes can be bought on the cheap, he said, and turned into another stream of revenue that can keep the city's budget afloat in years to come.
Lashlee, a supporter of rent control, describes the CSFRA as being sabotaged by the City Council since day one, mostly through its appointments of people onto the Rental Housing Committee who openly opposed the very concept of rent control. The city, typically known for efficient and effective government, was suddenly opposed to the will of the voters, he said, something he found galling.
"Having attended many meetings of the RHC going back to 2017 and hearing people on the dais saying rent control doesn't work and it's bad when their job was to implement it fairly ... it was unbelievable," he said.
If elected, Lashlee vows to appoint only renters to the Rental Housing Committee, adding that the past practice of putting property owners and property managers on the committee has "failed." At least one member, he said, should be a mobile home resident.
The refusal by the Rental Housing Committee to extend rent control to mobile homes was an "egregious" decision that took renter protections off the table for seniors and low-income residents who needed it badly, Lashlee said. He said he would move fast -- by way of an ordinance or through the Rental Housing Committee -- to include mobile homes under CSFRA, even in the face of a pending lawsuit and threats of litigation from property owners.
"The mobile home residents have been victimized so long by this problem that we need to move with all deliberate speed," he said.
Lashlee emphatically opposes Measure C, the city's ban on oversized vehicles, and helped collect signatures to block the ordinance and bring it to voters this November. He said the city is blowing funds to push the homeless out of the city that would be better spent on dramatically improving the size of its safe parking sites, which provide a sanctuary for those living in cars and RVs. He said it's premature for the city to pretend that there is enough safe parking available for all of those who live along the city's streets.
The total capacity of the city's safe parking program can only house about one-fourth to one-third of the vehicle dwelling population, he said, and the passage of Measure C would be tantamount to criminalizing homelessness.
"Passing a law that says you can't be homeless is not a solution to homelessness, but some people argue that disingenuously," he said.
Taking a position guided by the Black Lives Matter movement, Lashlee said he would make it a top priority as a council member to better understand and address what he called the "extreme racial bias" apparent in the city's police arrest records, which show higher rates of Black and Latino people stopped and arrested. A big part of that problem, he said, is the frequent use of proactive policing in day-to-day law enforcement activities. Eliminating that could go a long way toward reducing that racial bias, he said.
"Proactive policing is a policy that's favored by the Trump Department of Justice, which tells me that's the first indicator that this is wrong," Lashlee said. "We can reduce the amount of proactive policing in a way where it's not impugning our officers. It's not checking every individual officer's record, we don't even have to do that."
Code enforcement in the city has also been overly delegated to law enforcement, which Lashlee said is unnecessary. There's no reason a police officer should be sent to resolve complaints of civil code violations and risk escalating a situation.
As part of his campaign, Lashlee has repeatedly pointed out that other police departments in the area spend less and can still achieve lower crime rates, indicating that Mountain View may be overspending on law enforcement. By his count, Mountain View spends $537 per resident per year, while Milpitas spends $473 per year -- a potential annual savings of $5 million.
As the city looks to tweak its budget and weather the financial turbulence of COVID-19, Lashlee said he would be averse to any spending cuts and would, if anything, raise spending to keep small businesses afloat. His plan is to lean hard on the corporate powerhouses of Mountain View, including Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn, through new taxes. If the city's business license tax, Measure P, was any indication, voters in the city seem fine with taxing Mountain View's largest employers.
"We have to go to them as a City Council and not ask for their charity, their benevolence or beg them to close this $10 million deficit, we have to do it with expanded corporate taxation," he said.