The Mountain View City Council reappointed incumbents Bill Cranston and Jose Gutierrez to the Environmental Planning Commission on Nov. 28, filling two open seats. Some council members also threw support behind candidates Silja Paymer and Paul Donahue, but the two incumbents ultimately earned the majority of votes, rising to the top of a seven-candidate pool.
During the interview process, which can be watched on the city’s YouTube page, the candidates were asked about how they would uniquely contribute to the EPC, their thoughts on the city’s general and precise plans and how they would balance private property rights with community benefits. Here’s where each candidate landed on the questions, and how many votes they ended up getting from the council.
Incumbent Chair Cranston has served the commission since 2019, making him the more seasoned of the two incumbents who applied for the two open seats.
Cranston said times have changed significantly since the general plan was last updated due to the pandemic, so “there are areas of the city that I think potentially could be looked at for redevelopment beyond where the general plan currently is outlined,” he said. “But that would require us to look at the general plan and maybe look at additional precise plans.”
Overall, Cranston believes the city’s precise plans are “fairly strong,” he said, particularly East Whisman and El Camino. The benefits of the North Bayshore Precise Plan still need to be realized, he said, and the Downtown Precise Plan “is very much something we need to look at” — something the city is slated to do soon.
“When it comes to public versus private, I’m a pretty strong believer in that somebody that owns property should be able to look at the rules that the city has and be able to work within those rules,” Cranston added. “The tradeoff of public versus private is when they want to go outside of those rules.”
Each council member was allowed to cast votes for two candidates, and six out of seven members cast one of their votes for Cranston. He will be officially reappointed to the EPC at a Dec. 13 council meeting.
Incumbent Gutierrez has served on the commission for the past year. He was selected as an alternate by the city council in November 2021, and then appointed after a vacancy opened up later that year.
“In the past year, I’ve been trying to do everything I can to promote affordable housing, to see what we can do to have partnerships established between the city of Mountain View and others as well,” Gutierrez said during his interview.
He said that the general plan needs some revision.
“Times have changed, needs have changed, COVID has impacted us in all sorts of different ways,” he said. “… The development of the city has to continue on, and those plans sometimes affect and dictate the pace in which developers look at our city for potential output.”
When it comes to balancing private property rights versus public community benefits, Gutierrez said it depends on the project.
“Our job is to figure out how much can we get for the benefit of the community, whether it’s more units or more green space or more park space,” he said.
In the first round of votes, Gutierrez received three votes, as did Paymer, leading to a second round of votes to break the tie. In the second round, Gutierrez received four votes and Paymer snagged three, giving Gutierrez the majority. He will be reappointed alongside Cranston at the Dec. 13, 2022 council meeting.
Though Paymer wasn’t able to get enough votes to secure a seat on the EPC, she did earn the support of council members Alison Hicks, Sally Lieber and Pat Showalter in the first round of voting.
A 15-year resident of Mountain View, Paymer is an environmental science teacher who hoped to bring “an awareness of the nuance of how we can develop our city while also keeping in mind the environmental impacts” to the Commission, she said. She's also a frequent participant during meetings of the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
Paymer said she supports the city’s general plan as it stands, though acknowledged that “there’s been some conflict between projects and precise plans as to how to really meet the (general) plan’s goals.”
She added that she’s excited about potentially redeveloping neighborhood centers like the Blossom Valley Shopping Center– an idea that has proven controversial among residents.
“They’re not very walkable right now and so I would really love to see them developed into much denser, more walkable spaces for everybody,” Paymer said of the city’s shopping centers.
In the first round of votes, Paymer tied with Gutierrez, each receiving three votes. But in the tiebreaker, Gutierrez came out victorious.
Donahue also garnered some initial interest from council members, picking up votes from Showalter and council member Lisa Matichak in the first round. He’s been involved with city advisory bodies for the past 16 years, he said, including time on the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Library Board, plus nine years of land use experience on the county’s Airport Land Use Commission.
While some other applicants were keen on reopening the general plan, Donahue was less eager.
“The general plan was put in place about 10 years ago, and my recollection is that it took about four years to get that thing through,” he said. “It seems like a pretty heavy lift and I don’t think we should be spending four out of every 10 years redoing the general plan. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be amended.”
In response to the question about private property rights versus public amenities, Donahue said, “generally I would lean towards public open space that can be used by all of the community.”
Though he picked up two votes in the first round, Donahue didn’t nab any support in the tiebreaker.
Other applicants included Anne Cavanaugh, a 22-year Mountain View resident, downtown resident and landlord; Molly Smith, a two-year resident of the area with an environmental studies degree; and Li Zhang, a resident of more than 20 years with a PhD in Chemistry who also ran for the Mountain View City Council earlier this year on a platform prioritizing sustainable development.
“From time to time, we don’t have a lot of strong candidates, and that’s not the case this time,” Vice Mayor Hicks said before casting her votes. “We have a lot of strong candidates, and it’s not the easiest decision.”