Four residents vying for the Mountain View City Council’s vacant seat took stances on major issues facing the city at a virtual forum held by local community groups on Jan. 27. A fifth applicant dropped out of the running ahead of the event.
Ten people applied for the open seat left vacant by Sally Lieber, who resigned earlier this month. The City Council selected five finalists for the seat, which will be filled by appointment on Monday, Jan. 30.
On Friday, former council member Mike Kasperzak officially withdrew from the pool of finalists, he confirmed in an email over the weekend.
Kasperzak, who served a collective 14 years on the council in the past, said his choice to withdraw was based on “the high quality of the remaining applicants and the number of years I have already served.” The remaining applicants are Rental Housing Committee member Emily Ann Ramos and three former council members, Ronit Bryant, John McAlister and Chris Clark. Clark is currently serving on the Environmental Planning Commission.
Twelve local community groups – including the Los Altos Mountain View Community Foundation, Livable Mountain View, and the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, to name a few – pooled their questions for the Friday forum.
Applicants were asked about the city’s rent control law, known as the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), which took center stage during the forum. Candidates expressed support for rent control, but also posed ideas for how they’d improve it.
Clark said that while he appreciates how the city’s rent control measures helped people stay in their homes during the pandemic, he would have preferred to not tie the annual rent increase to inflation, as the ordinance currently does.
“I would have set it at a flat increase or basically had a ceiling in one way, shape or form,” Clark said. “Because what we’ve seen right now is, as the economy swings, inflation is currently really high and that creates an issue with the rent increases.”
When asked whether he’d support capping annual rent increases to 3%, as the Bay Area city of Antioch recently implemented, McAlister said it depends on inflation and the cost of maintenance that owners face for their rental units.
“There’s got to be somewhat of a balance, just to pick out a number,” he said, adding that he’s “not that familiar” with Antioch’s rent control policy, “so I couldn’t give you an answer at this time.”
Applicants were asked about their approach to new development and increasing the city’s housing stock. When asked whether building market rate apartments helps the city’s housing shortage, Ramos said both market rate and affordable development has a place in the city.
“On a basic level, we’re in a housing shortage because we don’t have enough homes, so building housing of all types is helpful,” Ramos said, pointing to research which suggests that what’s considered market rate development right now will likely be affordable in 40 years.
“So we need to think about addressing the affordable housing crisis now, but also making sure that we have the apartments into the future,” she added.
In order to get more affordable housing built, Ramos said the city needs to increase its staff and decrease regulatory barriers that discourage developers from choosing Mountain View for their housing projects.
“We are still severely understaffed in both the planning and housing departments, and it’s putting a large strain on our city in general,” Ramos said. “About reducing regulatory barriers and approval times, one of the things we need to do is create fully objective standards so that there isn’t a lot of back and forth between the overworked staff and the developers.”
Bryant agreed that the best way to overcome the housing crisis is to build more housing, and supported the idea of an office development moratorium that was recently floated by city staff.
“And maybe changing some office buildings to housing, I think that’s a really exciting possibility,” she added.
McAlister expressed strong support for adding affordable housing to shopping centers in the city.
“If we want to reduce people’s commute for working, your workers are right there. I wish I could put affordable housing up above it (the retail),” he said. “… People don’t want to commute, they want to stay closer to their homes.”
In line with his concerns about commuters, McAlister supported bolstering the city’s bike, pedestrian and public transit infrastructure, as did other applicants.
“We’ve got to make biking and walking more safe to schools,” he said. “If you see traffic in the morning, it’s because parents are driving their elementary kids to a neighborhood school, and they should be able to have biking and walking that’s safe to get them there.”
Clark said he’d like to see high traffic roads like El Camino Real and California Street transformed into more bike and pedestrian friendly corridors. He also supports the city’s push toward adding grade separations, “especially on Castro Street, to (allow people to) safely pass on bikes and on foot under Central Expressway.”
Bryant opined that if El Camino had more trees and safer intersections, “more people might be interested in taking transit.”
“Standing on a street where there’s no shade and where cars go very quickly doesn’t make taking a bus all that attractive,” she said.
When asked which council projects she would prioritize to improve quality of life for residents, Bryant said livability should be integrated into everything the council works on.
“Should I be appointed, my emphasis will be that every project that the city undertakes needs to further sustainability, improve livability, improve the quality of life.”
The City Council is expected to vote to appoint one of the four applicants at a meeting on Monday, Jan. 30, starting at 5 p.m. at the council chambers. There will also be a virtual Zoom option.