Year in review: Housing crunch, toxic sewer lines among top stories | December 27, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - December 27, 2013

Year in review: Housing crunch, toxic sewer lines among top stories

by Daniel DeBolt

Perhaps the most significant change in Mountain View over the past 12 months in terms of its impact on the city's social and cultural fabric had to do with staggering rent hikes and the subsequent displacement of residents who don't work for thriving high-tech firms or at other high-paying jobs.

Rents skyrocketed in 2013, with new employees at Google and other tech companies overwhelming the city's housing supply.

There were rent hikes of as much as $500 a month in some apartment complexes, and a number of residents were forced out of the city altogether. "Anywhere else in the world I think I would be able to live well," said a single mother of three who was priced out of the city over the summer despite her $70,000 a year job.

Real estate data-tracker RealFacts said average rents for a two-bedroom apartment rose from $1,897 in 2009 to $2,520 in 2012, and rents were clearly rising even more in 2013.

Meanwhile, the city's first new apartment development many years quickly became 100-percent occupied over the summer at Prometheus' Madera complex at 455 West Evelyn Ave. Rents there for a luxury two-bedroom apartment are now $8,000 a month, reflecting a level of wealth and luxury the developer expected to see at two other large complexes it has in the works for Mountain View.

Meanwhile it was reported that county-wide funds to build subsidized housing for low-wage workers had dropped in half in recent years and would continue to decrease.

City makes pedestrian safety a priority

Following public outcry over several deadly pedestrian and bicycle-related collisions with cars, the City Council made safer streets a top goal in early 2013, then took action.

By June's end a number of improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians were being planned, including: flashing lights for Shoreline Boulevard crosswalks; new bike racks for downtown; a bike-sharing system; a bicycle track from downtown to Google headquarters that includes a promenade at 100 Moffett Boulevard; and a road-narrowing plan to slow traffic and add bike lanes on Castro Street in front of Graham Middle School, where several students were hit by cars in late 2012.

City staff also responded quickly to install a new stop sign at the intersection of Hans and Phyllis avenues after Ruifan Ma was struck and killed in the crosswalk there in March.

Police stepped up enforcement as well, using crosswalk decoys to catch a large number of drivers not stopping for pedestrians on Shoreline Boulevard near downtown. Police announced in March that the number of reported collisions with bicyclists and pedestrians dropped nearly in half from the year before.

Contamination found in homes, Google offices

It was big year for news related to the 2-mile-long underground plume of toxics in northeastern Mountain View left behind after decades of semiconductor manufacturing along Whisman Road.

Despite over two decades of cleanup and attention, regulators and watchdogs were surprised to find trichloroethylene (TCE) vapors rising from the basements of two homes on Evandale Avenue and also inside two Google office buildings at 369 and 379 Whisman Road, where several pregnant women were put at risk for birth defects.

The exposures in the office building were blamed on a faulty ventilation system, but the situation on Evandale Avenue was more baffling. The EPA said that the only plausible explanation was that sewer lines had leaked TCE into the ground near the homes, a theory that may explain as many as six other "hot spots" of TCE in northeastern Mountain View that have been a mystery for years.

The EPA tested more than 95 homes in the Evandale Avenue and Leong Drive area, finding toxic vapors in six of them, though four were under EPA action levels.

New hope for Hangar One

Potentially closing a long, uncertain chapter in the history of Hangar One at Moffett Field, the federal government announced that it was seeking proposals for its re-use in May.

Because of delays from the federal government shutdown in October, as the year closes it is still uncertain which of the proposals submitted for the hangar by the Dec. 2 deadline would be chosen. Possibilities include parking a fleet of private planes for Google's founders, hosting one of two organizations looking to spur the private space exploration industry, or housing a major air and space museum created by the Air and Space West Foundation, whose director was rumored to be looking to also make Moffett Field into an airport for business jets.

With the massive runways of the Moffett airfield also up for grabs, likely bringing business jet air traffic to the area's skies, the scheduled announcement sometime in January of a long-term tenant at Hangar One is one many await, with the Google executives rumored to be one of two bidders.

Council flip-flops in cat license controversy

Showing that a little scrutiny can go a long way, in June the City Council made its most dramatic change in position on a matter in at least seven years when the Voice published a story titled,"You got a license for that cat, mister?"

The news that council members had almost unanimously approved a new cat license and vaccination requirement with a new animal control ordinance caused a considerable backlash from the city's numerous cat owners, with concerns about its effects, including the possibility that it would discourage cat rescue operations, would impose an unnecessary cost on cat owners, and would put some cats at a health risk from a vaccination that veterinarians don't always recommend.

A week after the news broke, the council voted nearly unanimously to reject the entire animal control ordinance — which turned out to have a number of problems that had gone unnoticed — and voted unanimously in September to not require any licensing for the city's cats.

Email Daniel DeBolt at


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