The Mountain View City Council agreed Monday night to appoint former Councilman Chris Clark and community organizer Alex Nunez to join the city's Environmental Planning Commission, giving both a key voice on future housing and land use decisions.
The council also voted to reappoint current planning commission member Joyce Lin to her seat, praising her work to date and her perspective as an architect focused on residential development.
The planning commission (EPC) is advisory in nature and doesn't approve projects, but makes key recommendations to the City Council on both individual projects and overarching changes to the city's zoning. Many members of the commission have gone on to be elected to the City Council, including sitting members Lucas Ramirez, Ellen Kamei, Lisa Matichak and Pat Showalter.
The EPC will have a particularly important role in the coming years as the city revamps its so-called Housing Element, which is required in order to meet state mandates to zone for 11,135 homes over the next eight years.
Clark, who was termed out of office last year, said he's seeking a spot on the commission to follow through on many of the zoning changes that took place during his time on the council, including drastic changes to El Camino Real, North Bayshore and East Whisman. He said the city has done a solid job refining its plans along the way, and that more recent zoning changes have been a model for other cities.
"As time has gone on we've learned from the successes and failures of each individual element of each of the precise plans, culminating in East Whisman, for example, where we have a jobs-housing linkage and really responding and adapting to market conditions and the needs of the community with respect to housing."
During his tenure on the council, Clark saw his role as a consensus builder and an advocate for compromise, often settling ideological splits with a tie-breaking vote.
Council members supporting Clark pointed to his direct experience with many of the zoning changes that have taken place, with Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga underscoring the importance of historical context when it comes to future development.
"We all know him and I think he's done an outstanding job as a council member and as an EPC member, and he understands everything we're talking about now," Abe-Koga said. "Continuity makes a difference and can add a lot of benefit."
Nunez, who also won a seat on the EPC, described himself as a longtime advocate for increased housing development and tenant protections, with an eye toward growth in a way that doesn't harm vulnerable communities in Mountain View. If appointed, Nunez said he would work to extend the city's outreach to better include the Latino community, helping them understand where developments are headed and how they can participate.
Nunez ran on a similar platform during the 2020 City Council election, where he fell short by only 58 votes.
Yin, who has served on the EPC since 2019, said her background as a professional architect gives her the distinct benefit of looking at development through the eyes of urban design. She said her goal would be to balance future development against the needs of historic preservation and environmental sustainability, and that she tends to err on the side of supporting community benefits over a developer's bottom line.
"I do tend to side with the public good," Yin said. "I don't want to take away from the ability of a property owner to be able to have a 'win,' but if we can work together from the beginning of the process and have good intentions, it is doable."
Tight votes for commission hopefuls
The Environmental Planning Commission has one vacant seat and two members -- Margaret Capriles and Joyce Yin -- whose terms expire next month. Faced with just three openings and 11 applications, the City Council spent much of the Nov. 8 meeting on a series of votes to decide who makes the cut.
Yin quickly won the most support with six votes from the council, but there was a three-way split between the runner-ups of Clark, Nunez and Jose Gutierrez, a former Mountain View Whisman School District board member who also ran for the City Council in 2020.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga made a pitch for Gutierrez, pointing to his experience in elected office as a school board member and the importance of having a voice for the Latino community. He also lives on Latham Street in an underrepresented neighborhood of Mountain View, she said.
Councilman Lucas Ramirez said he wasn't picky between Gutierrez and Nunez, and that both would fill an important niche on the EPC and have shown an interest in running for public office and could benefit from land use experience if they give it another shot.
In a tiebreaker vote, six of the council members -- with the exception of Ramirez -- voted for Chris Clark, making him the second pick. But there was another deadlocked vote for the third seat between Gutierrez and Nunez. In a final, third vote, Nunez edged out a victory with four votes from council members Pat Showalter, Sally Lieber, Alison Hicks and Ramirez.
Nunez was granted the vacant seat, meaning his term would expire earlier than the others. He will face reappointment at the end of 2023.
In a bid to keep Gutierrez in the running, Abe-Koga suggested that Gutierrez be considered for an "alternate" seat on the EPC, in which he would join the commission in the event of a vacancy.
Formal appointment of Yin, Clark and Nunez -- along with consideration of Gutierrez as an alternate -- is scheduled for later this month.