Five years ago, Jose Gutierrez found himself thrust into the public spotlight in Mountain View. He was one of 11 applicants to fill a spot on the Mountain View Whisman School District's board of trustees, tasked with mending a fractured and dysfunctional board that just seen its board president resign.
Today, Gutierrez said he believes the school district is in a much better spot, led by trustees who can work well together and resolve thorny issues that had plagued the district for years. Pointing to his track record, he said he wants to bring that same consensus-building mindset to the Mountain View City Council, where he said the city could use a little more cordial problem-solving.
"You can agree to disagree, but you have to do it respectfully," Gutierrez said.
The jump to city politics may seem like a difficult transition for a trustee focused more on schools and youth than city planning. He spent years as an AYSO soccer coach and as a volunteer at Castro and Mistral elementary schools, and works full-time as a paralegal specialist on top of serving on the school board. He has not been a consistent presence at City Council meetings.
Yet Gutierrez consistently found himself faced with some of the same burning topics that have gripped the city in recent years. In dealing with housing growth, he and other trustees have spent years pushing the city to help fund new school facilities for a crush of students generated by new development. In dealing with affordability, the district inked a three-way deal with the city and a private developer to build a 144-unit affordable housing project for teachers and school staff. In grappling with rising homelessness, district officials briefly considered launching their own safe parking program for students and their families.
Gutierrez said he is decisively in favor of building more affordable housing, but that the city could very well see its pipeline of construction activity collapse in the coming years. For the projects that do survive, he said the city needs to promote as many below-market-rate (BMR) units as possible, and encourage developers to tone down the asking rents for new units.
"Let's go back and look at the mindset of trying to develop something specifically geared towards working and middle-class families," Gutierrez said.
If elected, Gutierrez said he would also look at new housing through the lens of strict oversight of building heights, strong community benefits and a means to improve bicycle infrastructure and public transportation. He said he wished developers could offer more deeply subsidized units so families could not only afford to live in Mountain View, but also save up money and pay off debt, but that the city has no control over the profit-driven actions of developers.
Gutierrez counts himself a fan of Mountain View's rent control law, saying he supported Measure V in 2016 and encouraged the superintendent to publicly support it as well. Many families in the school district are renters who could barely keep up with the rent prior to rent control, on top of intense fear swirling among immigrant communities frightened by the results of the 2016 election and what it would mean for them.
But Gutierrez was also a vocal supporter of Measure D, an attempt to alter the rent control law that made it easier for landlords to pass costs onto tenants through rent increases. The measure was heavily opposed by tenant groups as a giveaway to landlords and a loss of hard-earned renter protections and was soundly defeated by voters in March.
Gutierrez, in explaining his stance, said he saw the measure as an opportunity to bring landlords and tenants together and agree on a compromise, particularly if it encouraged property owners to make seismic retrofits to older apartments at risk of collapsing in a strong earthquake.
"I'm in support of rent control measures, but I want it to work for everyone," Gutierrez said. "We need more participation to the point where we see it as a win-win for both ends."
Generally speaking, Gutierrez said he supports extending rent control to include mobile homes, which he said should've been included in Measure V back in 2016.
Gutierrez said he supports Measure C, the city's proposed ban of oversized vehicles on city streets, though he admits that the timing of the measure in the middle of a pandemic is bad. He said the city should've addressed the problem of vehicle dwellers parked on city streets earlier, including faster action to create safe parking and transitional housing for the homeless.
If elected, Gutierrez said he would work to create a more comprehensive plan to tackle the issue of homelessness, and hopefully bring together a divided community over how to handle a growing number of unhoused people living in vehicles.
"The people we're trying to help are the ones feeling the most uncomfortable because they're at the center of the controversy," he said. "They should be feeling that they are part of the community."
In the wake of nationwide civil unrest over police use of force, Gutierrez said he would support police reform in Mountain View, but was reluctant to suggest specific policy changes. He said the city has yet to collect enough data showing why cops are disproportionately more likely to stop Black and Latino residents, and that he has yet to be convinced it's a result of racial profiling.
Rather than defund, Gutierrez said he would be interested in increasing the police budget to support positions in the department better suited to handle calls related to a mental health crisis, specifically mental health professionals trained to work with first responders.
"You might have a psychology team be part of the group, and if it's an issue where it may be someone dealing with mental health issues, you have someone like that who is prepared to be able to make that call on the fly and help change the approach the police have with that person at that point in time," Gutierrez said. "You can avoid controversy and dangerous situations where someone's life is at stake."
In facing a budget deficit during COVID-19, Gutierrez said he would seek to "problem-solve" the budget, and that he did not have the information he needed to make specific comments on what he would do to balance spending. Generally speaking, Gutierrez said he would not be willing to make cuts to library services, and would consider more funding for emergency services in the event that wildfires remain as bad as they were this year.