Three incumbents and two newcomers who are vying for three open seats on the city council this November shared their stances on the tough issues at the Mountain View Voice’s first virtual candidate forum, held Sept. 15.
After asking our readers what they’d like to see the candidates tackle, Voice editors posed the most-asked questions to the council hopefuls at the 90-minute forum. All five candidates – incumbents Lucas Ramirez, Alison Hicks and Ellen Kamei, and challengers Li Zhang and Justin Cohen – participated. Here’s what they had to say on some of the more controversial topics that the city faces.
Pedestrian and bicycle safety
Following the tragic bicycle accident earlier this year that killed a Graham Middle School student, the community demanded that the city do more to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety in Mountain View. We asked the council hopefuls whether the city is doing enough to improve safety at dangerous intersections, and if not, what they would do differently.
Incumbent Vice Mayor Alison Hicks spoke candidly: “Are we doing enough? No, of course not. Since we’ve lost a child to a bicycle incident, there’s more that we have to do.”
Hicks said while the city has hired additional staff to support the Safe Routes to School initiative, she said surrounding cities are doing a better job at this, and if reelected she’d continue to encourage the city to learn from its neighbors.
Incumbent Kamei agreed that this should be an area of improvement for the city, and as a member of the council’s transportation subcommittee, she wants the city to prioritize moving away from being “so car-centric,” she said.
Incumbent Mayor Ramirez said the city has some strong plans in place around improving transportation safety, “and I think it’s just a matter of implementation.”
Zhang acknowledged that the city has a lot of plans when it comes to bicycle safety, but she said that she finds the progress is “really slow.” If elected, she said she’d like to see more progress made on El Camino Real and California Street.
Cohen, who’s running on a direct democracy platform, said he would consult the community about how they want to improve the city’s transportation safety.
Housing emerged as a clear top issue for both our readers and the candidates. With the city’s Housing Element update process currently underway – during which Mountain View must prove to the state how it plans to build out thousands of units required by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation – we asked candidates what their approach to growth would be if elected.
Ramirez said Mountain View is in a fortunate position to be able to accommodate most of the growth the city is required to plan for with the existing residential capacity in the General Plan.
“The advantage of that is the General Plan is a comprehensive document: it includes an evaluation of transportation, utilities, parks and open space, all of the services and amenities that we need to accommodate the growth that we’re planning for,” Ramirez said.
Newcomer Zhang wasn’t so sure that the city’s General Plan is ready to accommodate the growth that’s planned.
“If I’m elected, I want to ensure sufficient infrastructure and services to maintain our high quality of life,” Zhang said.
Sticking with his direct democracy approach, Cohen suggested that the city “ask the people who would be affected by this decision, ‘Do you want this?’” He said the city should consider the needs of current residents more than future residents.
Hicks emphasized the need to carefully plan for the infrastructure that would go along with housing growth.
“It would be parks, growing schools, walkable streets and safe bike paths, tree canopy and so forth,” Hicks said. “I would say, about 30 years ago when our downtown was redeveloped, we did that: We had a pact between developers and residents, and we got things like our new civic center, a new library, cafe tables. And I think we can do that again.”
Kamei said the city sees growth as an opportunity for gathering direct input from residents.
“We’re looking at two large master planning opportunities, one in North Bayshore and one in the East Whisman area, where we can talk about more parks and open space, bike to school and pedestrian infrastructure, and create some predictability on how our city will change,” she said.
Affordable housing and homelessness
Hand in glove with the growth discussion in Mountain View is the debate around how to build affordable housing – and how to get homeless people off the streets and into stable living situations.
Newcomer Cohen put it straightforwardly: “If we have any homeless people in Mountain View, we’re not doing enough.”
He said there’s not one silver bullet answer to homelessness, but if elected, he would use his direct democracy approach to see how the community as a whole wants to tackle the issue.
Hicks said, compared to surrounding cities, Mountain View has done a good job at tackling homelessness.
“Both our safe parking lots, our LifeMoves transitional housing and our affordable housing,” Hicks said. “Compared to what we need to do, I would give us much lower grades.”
She said she looks forward to implementing the city’s affordable housing strategy, particularly “working with an affordable housing megabond, region-wide,” she said. “Because I really think that’s the only way we can address this problem: with large amounts of money, and regionally.”
Kamei said that COVID-19 underscored and exacerbated the great need and the growing divide within the city. She commended the city’s use of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help bridge that gap for community members in need. Like Hicks, she sees tapping into Santa Clara County’s Measure A bond as a critical step to increase the stock of affordable housing in the city.
Ramirez echoed his fellow incumbents, shouting out the city’s COVID-19 response and the interim housing efforts the city has already implemented.
Zhang underscored that homelessness is a regional problem, and while she said Mountain View “sets a good example,” the city needs to encourage other cities to step up.
Oversized vehicles and Measure C
After delays from the Measure C voter referendum and the lawsuit that followed it, Mountain View will start enforcing its RV parking restrictions in October. We asked candidates whether they supported Measure C when it was on the ballot in 2020, and the reasons behind their position.
Kamei, who voted in support of the oversized vehicle ban back in 2019, said one of the most important things about Measure C was getting direct voter input.
Though Ramirez voted against the ordinance in 2019, he said it’s the responsibility of the council to implement the will of the voters, who passed Measure C to uphold the ordinance.
“One of the reasons I was concerned about the Narrow Streets Ordinance was I felt it would simply shift the challenge from one part of the city to another, and I think that’s what’s going to happen once we begin enforcing it,” Ramirez added. “... I think the better solution is to try and find ways to get people out of homelessness and into permanent, supportive housing.”
Hicks said the issue for her comes back to wanting Mountain View to be a compassionate place for those who are most vulnerable, but at the same time, “we can’t act as the region’s social service agency.” While Hicks voted against the ordinance in 2019, she said she supported implementing the will of the voters after Measure C passed.
Zhang said she “voted to allow the RVs to park on the narrow streets,” meaning she did not support Measure C at the time.
“Due to my prior personal experience with some homeless people, I was deeply troubled with people who had nowhere to go,” she said. “I didn’t fully understand the consequence (on) the residents around the RVs at the time.”
After researching the topic further, Zhang said she now agrees with the decision made by the city to ban oversized vehicles on narrow streets.
Fellow newcomer Cohen, sticking with his direct democracy approach, said he would pose the RV question to the people and let them decide. Cohen did not provide his personal stance on the Measure C referendum, in which the issue was already put to the people to decide, and 57% of voters in Mountain View supported the oversized vehicle ban.
To hear more about the candidates stances on other important topics like the climate crisis, heritage tree removals, parks and open space and rent control, check out the video at the top of this story or a watch a recording of the event on the Voice’s YouTube page.