Except for the reprehensible redevelopment of rent-controlled apartments, which should soon grind to a halt, Mountain View is adding substantially to its housing supply by creating mixed-use, medium-density neighborhoods in what were formerly commercial areas such as shopping centers and tech employment centers. This allows us to preserve our existing neighborhoods while making it much easier for people to walk, bike, or ride local shuttles to work. That is, we simultaneously address the housing crisis, traffic, and our principal source of greenhouse gas emissions: the automotive commute.
I agree with Scott that some people who oppose increased density are elitist, but some of their concerns — traffic, parking, and privacy — are valid.
A little bit of personal history here: One of my first ventures into Mountain View politics was back in the mid-1970s, when I lived in apartments in our central city. Already, the area had numerous apartment complexes, duplexes, and small apartment buildings. Those rentals are still here. I knocked on their doors this year campaigning against Measure D.
Anyhow, back in the 1970s I supported the downzoning of much of Old Mountain View because I believed that the look and feel of the neighborhood was irreplaceable. We zoned to protect most of the central city, and we blocked the further widening of Calderon Avenue and Dana Street, which had been slated to become four-lane arterials.
My wife and I were fortunate to buy a small, quaint house on a small lot on a narrow street in 1979. I'm not bothered by the presence of denser housing nearby, but I support preservation of the neighborhood for some of the same reasons I fought to save Hangar One at Moffett Field. No one will ever again build a hangar like that, and no one will ever build a new neighborhood like Old Mountain View.
So what can the state do to ensure that more housing gets built in recalcitrant communities?
First, I support programs that reward cities where housing, particularly affordable housing, is actually built. The state could provide such communities with more transit funding. That would help address one of the potential problems associated with new development.
I might support a state law that limits employment-generating development unless it is mitigated with new housing. Mountain View is trying to do this with city policy. Stanford University should be doing this (though it's not officially a city). Unfortunately, Wiener's SB 35 is forcing Cupertino to accept a huge office development in exchange for a moderate amount of housing.
In summary, while I appreciate Sen. Wiener's desire to see that California builds more housing, Mountain View is proving that cities can add a lot more housing, in an environmentally responsible way, while still preserving the character of our neighborhoods. It will be a lot easier to get residents of other cities to accept additional housing if they do not see development as a threat to their neighborhoods.
Lenny Siegel was mayor of Mountain View in 2018.
This story contains 594 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.