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Mountain View City Council hopefuls talk housing, homelessness, bicycle safety and more

Original post made on Sep 20, 2022

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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, September 19, 2022, 1:43 PM

Comments (27)

Posted by Tal Shaya
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Sep 20, 2022 at 1:32 am

Tal Shaya is a registered user.

There are two types of homeless people who need help: drug/alcohol addicts and the mentally ill. Excuse me but someone living in a recreational vehicle is not homeless. They choose that lifestyle because it's cheaper than paying rent. Homeless is a blight on the city.


Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 20, 2022 at 2:28 pm

MyOpinion is a registered user.

Very disappointed that they glossed over the RV issue by only asking if they supported Measure C, the question SHOULD be, "Recently an RV on Pioneer way was engulfed in flames, sewage dumping signs are now posted in parts of the city, squalid conditions are seen around many of the RV's that clearly not road-worthy and are not up to code and unsafe for human habitation. Police have been called for incidents involving RV dwellers. How would you address these public health and safety issues which are unrelated to the lawsuit?


Posted by Local
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 20, 2022 at 3:54 pm

Local is a registered user.

How many people living in oversized vehicles on our streets, are prior residents of Mountain View - or did they come here for the free services and lack of enforcement? Why isn't there a vetting process by the City, so MV can take care of our own - and other cities are responsible for those who lived or worked in their city? Many refuse to move to the Safe Lots, because those lots have regulations against drugs and alcohol. Ask our local police about the crime that exists in these encampments - very little of which is made public. The trash and sewage from these vehicles goes directly on our public streets. The City becomes responsible for cleaning streets and providing police/fire protection, but there is zero money coming in to pay for this, as these people live tax free on our streets.
Surrounding cities don't have these problems, as they were pro-active in enacting laws to prohibit street camping - thus Mountain View carries the majority of the tax burden for the entire Peninsula. The voters passed Measure C - but let's see if the Council respects the public enough to actually enforce it. Li Zhang seems to be the only candidate that will do this.


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 20, 2022 at 4:24 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

There were two areas in the debate where Mayor Lucas Ramirez' answers troubled me greatly:

1) At ~21.06, question: "In the coming years, MV's housing stock is poised to grow significantly ... How will you ensure MV's housing growth won't impact the quality of life for current residents?"

2) At ~39.30, question: "What should the city council's role be in lowering our city's greenhouse gas emissions?"

Re "quality of life", Ramirez basically gave a NON-ANSWER: "“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."

It scares me that he is not willing to acknowledge the feedback given by the Environmental Planning Commission, who articulated many of the concerns of existing residents. "With Mountain View poised to grow by 15,000 units, planning commissioners worry about parks, utilities and public services" - Web Link

"“The fact that (the) Mountain View Los Altos High School District is already over capacity and is going to have more students, was not addressed,” Commission Chair William Cranston said of the draft EIR. “... That seems like an unavoidable impact.”"

"“I can’t imagine going from 80,000 people to 140,000 people with the parks that we have today and nobody notices,” [Cranston] said. “It doesn’t sit right with me.”"

Newcomer Zhang gets it, though: "“If I’m elected, I want to ensure sufficient infrastructure and services to maintain our high quality of life” "

Re greenhouse gasses, Mayor Ramirez appears to confuse the city's own emissions with the emissions generated by employers, especially Google. He was the only incumbent to suggest that use of "the great power that cities have, land use authority" to create housing near jobs "will go a long way in addressing greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation". This is a CA YIMBY talking point that I've seen before, though I haven't seen much (/any) data about the actual number of commuters / scope of the problem.

It needs to be said that these emissions are NOT CAUSED BY THE CITY OR RESIDENTS, they are caused by private industry choosing to create new jobs in MV instead of in areas where housing is affordable. And since Google is the major employer in MV, these emissions are primarily caused by Google. Said emissions will continue as long as the employees deem the housing in MV to be "unaffordable". Do these persons believe market-rate units to be "affordable" today? Apparently not, as they choose to commute.

I have previously mentioned how the last 8 year RHNA cycle resulted in 88% of the housing units generated to be market-rate, while 12% were "affordable". No legislation has been passed to expect that the next RHNA cycle will yield any different results. As a result, I think it is disingenuous to claim that the draft Housing Element will have any kind of significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions re transportation to jobs in MV. Building thousands and thousands of market-rate units in MV is not going to stop techies from commuting to MV. Market-rate is market-rate. If it is "unaffordable" today, it will continue to be "unaffordable" tomorrow.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 20, 2022 at 4:37 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

I was mostly disappointed with the two newcomers.

Mr Cohen basically seemed completely incurious about the issues facing our city, which kind of makes sense given that his platform is to be an empty vessel for whoever votes on his app.

Ms Zhang spent large sections of her responses clearly reading from her campaign website or prepared notes offscreen. This led to answers that were general and vague, demonstrating her lack of depth and experience. Her views on RVs make sense (you can see one of her endorsers responding approvingly above Leslie Bain's comment here), and she had a very terse response of whether she supports rent control in Mountain View (given her endorsers wanted to repeal it).

Just my two cents!


Posted by MyOpinion
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 20, 2022 at 6:09 pm

MyOpinion is a registered user.

@Frank Richards... I agree on Justin Cohen, "Let the people decide...." his stock response to every single question, the guy is clueless. who can blame him, 24 years old, has lived 6 months in Mountain View, he is no Pete Buttigieg that is for sure. It is unbelievable that he has BS in nuclear engineering and a MA in physics. Glad he works for Tesla and not a nuclear facility. It is unfortunate that more people did not step up to run. but I feel we need at least one new voice on the council, that new voice should be Li Zhang at least she takes this seriously and gives thought to her responses, I agree her delivery needs a lot of work. I won't vote for any of the incumbents.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 20, 2022 at 6:17 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

It wasn't just the delivery that concerned me about Ms Zhang. Her reliance on those canned responses led to her not having any concrete ideas, as all she recited were the bullet points on her campaign website. She claims issues she cares about, but didn't use the debate to put forth any specific ideas. Bike safety, housing, vehicle dwellers, parks; she didn't say anything of what she wanted to do.

With that level of vagueness, I usually look at their endorsers, and when you do that, you have anti-rent control and anti-RV people, which really concerns me.


Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Sep 21, 2022 at 6:57 am

SRB is a registered user.

I have to question the wisdom of running these forums via zoom:

1. As others pointed out, zoom forums allow candidates to read their notes (or even get talking points/answers in real time from their campaign); an in person forum would have avoided that.
2. Lots of talk during the forum about post-pandemic recovery. Shouldn't a first step be to resume in person council meetings or candidate forums?


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 21, 2022 at 2:23 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

I would much prefer to have a newcomer who is clearly passionate to represent the residents of MV, than an "experienced" politician who sidesteps questions about QUALITY OF LIFE issues here (schools, parks, water, traffic congestion on MV city streets). I admire Zhang greatly for having the courage to step forward and throw her hat into the ring.

Statement: "Ms Zhang spent large sections of her responses clearly reading from her campaign website or prepared notes offscreen."

Is it possible that there were two different debates? I watched the entire thing on Youtube, and did not see this. It would be nice if a person who makes such an accusation would provide timestamps (as I have done) so that others can see the evidence for themselves. And since the accusation is that she spent "large sections" of her responses doing this, I'd like to see multiple timestamps, not just one. Zhang's engagement was not noticeably different than the other candidates, in my opinion. She faced the camera and spoke. They all did.

Statement: "Her reliance on those canned responses led to her not having any concrete ideas, as all she recited were the bullet points on her campaign website. She claims issues she cares about, but didn't use the debate to put forth any specific ideas."

You know what I love best about this conversation? I sincerely hope it gets more people to actually watch the debate. Last time I checked, it had only been watched about 302 times. I hope others see the evidence for themselves, and then decide who is telling the truth, and who is stretching it.

Can we use the same yardstick for Zhang, and not a different one for her alone? She is now being criticized for having a campaign website, and for not saying anything "fresh" in the debate that does not appear there? What a strange criticism.

Zhang had at least ONE concrete idea, lol. It came re the second question, ~15.34. "The MV City Council has a reputation for collegiality. How important do you think it is to try to reach a consensus on thorny issues rather than settle for a split vote."

Zhang: ~17:40 "I have a slightly different opinion on this, that's why I want to bring a fresh perspective to the council. I do believe sometimes from my observations of the council meetings, some council members are not especially expressing their opinions due to they know they are not a majority of the vote. I believe for democracies everyone should take their vote seriously. If I'm being elected I will stand by what I believe the majority, the people, the residents who I will represent who their voices want to be heard. I am not going to be just voting with the majority because I don't think it really matters where I vote. That's my opinion".

Statement: "With that level of vagueness, I usually look at their endorsers, and when you do that, you have anti-rent control and anti-RV people, which really concerns me."

Poppycock. TBH, I didn't really think I was formally endorsing Zhang when I left my previous comment: "Newcomer Zhang gets it, though: "“If I’m elected, I want to ensure sufficient infrastructure and services to maintain our high quality of life” "". I was simply trying to point out that she understands the CORE MEANING of the question that had been asked, "How will you ensure MV's housing growth won't impact the quality of life for current residents?

But at this point, I will take the leap and formally endorse her. And let it be known, for the record, I voted against the RV ban, and in favor of rent control. I admire Zhang for being willing to fight on behalf of the residents who actually live here, period.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 21, 2022 at 3:14 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

There were a couple of points I noticed. First, at 23:00 (quality of life question), at the very least, she was reciting verbatim the "Sustainable City Growth" section on her priorities page. To me, it looks like she's reading it off screen, since she's not looking into the camera, but that's no smoking gun. Next, for the greenhouse gas emissions question (43:00), she's reading almost verbatim from the "Combat Climate Change" section (she improvised the IRA bit a little), with the same lack of camera eye contact. I wasn't taking notes during the video, but those were pretty obvious. Her closing statement also has the same character, but closing statements are always kind of rehearsed so I don't really ding her for that one.

I think you misapprehended a couple points I was making. I was only referring to her reading verbatim from her campaign website, not being upset that she had a campaign website. For endorsers, I wasn't referring to you, I was referring to the people on her endorsements page, including the RV Ban proponents like Albert Jeans, Robert Cox, and Shari Emling. She was endorsed by "Local" above (the comment I was referring to), who is a long-running anti-RV activist that prefers not being identified. I have serious concerns about the judgment of someone who seeks the endorsement of the people who ran that hate campaign and who campaigned to repeal rent control in the city.

Someone who doesn't care about RV residents isn't "willing to fight on behalf of the residents who actually live here."


Posted by Betty Ying
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 21, 2022 at 4:40 pm

Betty Ying is a registered user.

Downtown should serve as main business and commercial area of a town or city. Hence, it should be more active and lively rather than a quiet neighborhood. This is the whole purpose of downtown business area.


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 22, 2022 at 10:53 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 22, 2022 at 11:48 am

Frank Richards is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:59 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 23, 2022 at 11:13 am

Frank Richards is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by father of 3 sons
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 24, 2022 at 8:45 am

father of 3 sons is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 24, 2022 at 12:08 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 24, 2022 at 12:47 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 25, 2022 at 1:51 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 26, 2022 at 9:43 am

Frank Richards is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 26, 2022 at 11:25 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 26, 2022 at 12:16 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 27, 2022 at 11:02 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 28, 2022 at 2:34 pm

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

I am disappointed that mods felt it necessary to delete the last comments, but I remain grateful to the Voice for it's fine reporting on housing issues and for holding a debate with all of the candidates. I hope I am permitted to make one last comment now.

I encourage all voters to read Web Link . One can see how

- city BMR "requirements" are really more like "guidelines"
- the developer is giving the city a Sophie's choice:

o option 1: they provide the correct number of BMR units, but want to waive the requirement that units be distributed throughout the project (which is necessary to ensure that BMR folks are not given the crappiest units and/or are not stigmatized by other residents)

o option 2: they provide fewer units than are required, but better units distributed correctly.

OBSERVATIONS

1) Our current housing policy relies primarily on developers to fund BMR units. Over the last RHNA cycle, housing units were created at a ratio of 12 BMR units for every 88 market-rate units. Under the best scenario, the max ratio that developers will EVER deliver is 20 BMR units for every 80 market-rate units. This ratio is far too small given our current housing CRISIS. If we are serious about more AFFORDABLE housing in MV, we have to fight for SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONAL FUNDING.

2) Current policy gives developers too much power, they can play hardball with the city council and they know it. Council either accepts the "least evil" choice, or faces the wrath of voters who have been led to believe that building "more housing of any kind" will actually lower rents significantly.

3) In order to meet the RHNA targets using developer funding alone, MV needs to essentially double the number of housing units. It's like we would be building another MV!

LI ZHANG

Li Zhang views affordable housing as a "quality of life" issue. She wants to
-"Identify additional funding sources to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city, while also partnering with others to increase home ownership opportunities."

Obtaining additional funding will reduce the power that developers have over the city council. Alert readers know I think we should fight to pass Prop 15, so that large corporations like Google stop starving cities and schools of important revenue. Prop 15 came VERY CLOSE to passing in 2020.

Furthermore, If state Dems want to turn MV into a mini-SF, then MV has every right to consider collecting municipal taxes just as SF does. Web Link A 1.5% local income tax is imposed on residents and also nonresidents who work in SF (tax is imposed on employers, not employees). I would be more open to a large surge of new highly paid techies if a portion of that $$$ is used to subsidize BMR units and thus prevent the displacement of lower income people. I want teachers, service workers, and our kids to be able to live here too.

Nobody wants to pay higher taxes, ever, but if we are truly serious about creating more AFFORDABLE housing in MV, we cannot rely on developer funding alone. These are just two possible ideas to generate additional funding, they are my mine, I don't know if Li agrees with them or not.

Li also wants to
-"Comprehensively plan the city through reopening the General Plan and Precise Plans rather than piecemeal development as in the R3 process."

If we are going to DOUBLE THE SIZE of MV, a comprehensive planning process seems entirely appropriate. I also think it is necessary to prevent another horrific developer proposal like turning the old Wells Fargo site into more OFFICE space instead of residential housing, which was "reluctantly" approved because “it meets the rules”. We need to change those rules.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 28, 2022 at 3:07 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

I truly don't understand why you're fixated on percentages over the actual number of low-income homes built. Isn't that the more important number? Isn't 10% of 100 better than 50% of 10?

The other statements show why Li just reciting her campaign website is disappointing. Shouldn't a candidate identify the additional funding sources before getting elected? What other funding sources will she find that others haven't yet? How much money will that bring in?


Posted by Leslie Bain
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 29, 2022 at 11:54 am

Leslie Bain is a registered user.

I apologize to those who think I am overposting, but Frank raises a very important question. Why is building new housing units at a ratio of 12 BMR for every 88 market-rate a problem? Isn't the "actual number of low-income homes built" the more important number?

1) The YIMBY movement has gained power because we are in a housing CRISIS. Many people are in pain because "the rent is too d*mn high". We need solutions that will address that CRISIS, not fake solutions that will allow it to continue.

If a forest fire is raging, we do what is necessary to PUT IT OUT. Imagine if firefighters bragged about the quantity of water being used, knowing that it was not enough to put out the fire. Would that be good enough? Wouldn't we find such arguments to be rather disgusting, unless they were doing EVERYTHING IN THEIR POWER to put it out?

2) In order to meet RHNA targets using developer funding alone, we essentially need to build as many units as we already have today. 88% of the units will be for the highest-paid workers in the land, mostly techies. 12% of the units will essentially be "the servants quarters".

First, I think it is troubling and elitist to want to build out MV using that ratio.

But let's think about "new MV" a bit more. How many servants will be needed to meet the needs of the new 88%? The need for public teachers will go down, so would the need for gardeners I suppose. But won't the need for additional maids, private cooks, restaurant and retail workers, uber and delivery drivers, nannies, etc, go up? Is 12% of all housing really enough to allow these people to live here in MV? And remember, if these folks have to commute, think of the carbon emissions! Also, think of our kids who aren't techies, they have to squish into that 12% too. I don't think 12% is enough, it won't allow POOR PEOPLE who want to live in MV to live here. We want AFFORDABLE housing for THEM, don't we?

3) Finally, the ONLY REASON that we have developer funding in the first place is due to policies put in place by the so-called "NIMBY" residents of MV before the CA YIMBY movement was ever born. Now the YIMBY movement actually wants to claim CREDIT for the measly amount of affordable housing being created, which obviously hasn't been enough to prevent the housing CRISIS from taking shape. My jaw is on the floor. I think good arguments can be made that we need to INCREASE the percentage of BMR units constructed for every new housing project, instead of patting ourselves on the back for the great job we are doing now.

Think back to the firefighters. Is building BMR units at a rate of 12% for every 88% market rate units the best possible effort we can make to fight the housing CRISIS? No. And if we can't find additional funding to build more of them faster, we should certainly make it a priority to pass emergency legislation to prevent any new office construction until the CRISIS is over. That is in the power of the City Council to do. I can only think of the howls from developers if such legislation was passed.

Statement: "Isn't 10% of 100 better than 50% of 10?"

I find this question to as ridiculous as a firefighter trying to convince me that the quantity of water being used is the most important metric for their work.


Posted by Frank Richards
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 29, 2022 at 1:02 pm

Frank Richards is a registered user.

At the end of the day, the most important outcome is how many low-income homes we build, end of story. I don't think a person making $30K per year who lives in a new low-income home cares whether their complex was 50% low-income or 10% low-income, and in the interests of avoiding economic segregation we should strive to avoid concentrating poverty in specific areas.

I hope it's not controversial to say that it's bad for the city to prevent a 100-home development with 10% guaranteed to low-income from being built in order to get a 10-unit development with 50% low-income homes. Outcomes are the most important, and to that end, actual numbers of built homes are more important than percentages.


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