The first clue that housing problems
in Mountain View have reached crisis proportions was the huge
crowd of people brandishing signs saying things like "WE LOVE MTN.
VIEW!" Then, before they approved the consent calendar a couple of
items were pulled from it. One of them was 4.11, an item to
approve a safe parking lot for mobile home dwellers.
Most of the discussion of the topic
followed predictable patterns. They could accommodate a lot more
parkers if they came in cars instead of RVs. Some were worried
that it would attract crime. The people behind the project
explained that part of the budget for the project was to hire
security to solve problems as they came up. To make a long story
short, they ended up approving the project. That made the woman
who sat to my right happy.
The comment that struck me came from
this guy, who said "If someone would design a car that you could
sleep in, that would be great."
Then it was time for the main event.
The presenters gave us a slide show that laid out the project in
enough detail that reading through their presentation gives you a
good idea what the developer wants to do with the place.
People listened patiently and
quietly to all of it.
The place was SRO. I was happy I had
a seat in a reasonably comfortable place.
After the presentation the developer
stood up and said a few words. He emphasized the relocation
assistance that he was giving the tenants, which was above what
the law required of him.
Many people lined up to speak on the
matter. The Mayor held everybody to two minutes per speaker.
The land was currently occupied by
an old apartment complex that the owner had kept the rents low on.
This speaker must have been the one that asked the members of the
audience that just wanted to show support to wave their signs,
because her picture is followed by many signs.
Job said the people who live in this
complex are the fabric of the community, and "You have a moral
obligation to do the right thing for them."
Usually when there were two speakers
one of them was a tenant in the current building. The other was a
translator. The usual story was something like "We have lived here
for many years. My wife and I both work so we can afford the
current rent. After we lose this apartment we will have to leave
the area, because too many other affordable places have been
replaced by row houses and condos that cost more than a million
dollars and we can't afford that."
It was already an hour or two later.
Still they kept coming with well thought out points and human
interest stories that ripped at your heart strings. The kid in
front of me was quietly watching a spider man movie on uTube or
something like that.
Sally Lieber said that while waiting
to speak she had browsed apartments for rent in Mountain View.
Most had "All been north of $2,000/month, with some in the $3000
to $4000 range and higher." These numbers were clearly way above
what anyone cooking or cleaning for Google could afford.
After all the members of the public
that wanted to be heard spoke Lenny brought it back to the council
for deliberations. The first to speak was council member Pat
Showalter. She spoke so briefly I didn't get a chance to take her
picture. The gist of it was "The math of this development doesn't
work for me. We are replacing 20 naturally affordable units with
15 mini-mansions. I will be voting no."
Ken Rosenberg remembered when they
had voted to replace an affordable duplex with another pricy three
units. The tenants then had been a pair of women. He didn't know
then but found out later that those women had been the MVPD's go
to couple when they had a teenage street kid that they didn't want
to arrest. The police would give the kid to the women and they
would be social workers/parents and try to sort out the matter.
When they left town the police had lost that resource, giving them
no choice between "let the kid go" and "arrest them". He sang the
blues about how the council can't know the unintended consequences
of votes like this one.
I forget what Lisa said, but it was
something that indicated she would vote as the developer wanted.
Chris Clark said that he wished they
could kick the can down the road, but that option isn't available.
Next time the topic comes up there will be a new council, and who
knows how they will vote? If the permit is denied because they
deny the exceptions the developer asked for the replacement
proposal will likely have fewer units and the effect will be even
worse. Those units had been naturally affordable because the land
lord had kept the rent low on purpose, only to be blind sided by
the rent control that had just come into effect. Maybe they were
old now and wanted to cash out. He felt that they had approved so
many similar projects that they had a duty to approve this one.
Margaret said paying a million
dollars for a place like that is the going rate nowadays. She
talked about how her family had started in such a place and then
found out when the kids came along that they needed a bigger
place. She felt that bringing these units online would reduce
housing pressure on the engineers and managers at Google and other
McAlister talked about how tough it
is to be a small businessman in this environment. As someone who
sells ice cream for $3 per scoop, it's hard to find employees that
can afford to live on what he can afford to pay. He also
understands the pressures on the developer, needing to make
payroll and invest years in getting the project approved with
money costing as much as it does nowadays.
Lenny said the developer isn't going
to lose his shirt if this project isn't approved. The council has
approved a lot of housing over the past few years, and maybe some
of that would come online soon. It seems unlikely those units
would have the natural affordability that the units being lost
Finally the staff recommendation
came up and it looked like the time for the vote had come.
Everybody stood to see what was
going to happen. But then someone wasn't happy with how the vote
was going to go and more negotiating over votes and time frames
In the end, Chris Clark found a way
to make the developer give the tenants more time (six months)
before they had to be out. After that the vote fell on the lines
some thought it would before all the noise and confusion.
After the vote they took a short
Lenny talked to the press.
Outside the tenant organizer talked
about what a victory it was to push back the exit by six months.
He also talked about how never before had they been confronted
with the damage that tearing down the naturally affording housing
is doing to the community.
Despite the fact it was late, the
City Council moved on to the next agenda item.