One of the most important City Council elections in decades will take place on Nov. 4 when voters will pick three candidates to replace outgoing council members Jac Siegel, Ronit Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga.
More so than in any other election in the last decade, the issue taking center stage in this election has been about how to preserve housing affordability amidst booming job growth.
Each candidate says it's a top priority, but they differ in their solutions. All of the candidates say that increasing housing supply and restricting office growth will contain prices, but only five support a significant change in course for the city by building a new neighborhood around Google headquarters with as many as 5,000 homes. It's a move Google, the Chamber of Commerce and a growing number of residents support, but a slim majority of the current council, including all three outgoing members, have opposed.
Other key issues this year include how to address growing traffic and the need for new transportation systems and bike infrastructure. Some candidates are more willing than others to embrace bike boulevards, narrower streets to make way for bike lanes, and dedicated bus lanes. The need for rent control and a $15 minimum wage have also been hot topics, and are addressed in the following candidate stories. The candidates are listed in the same order as they are on the ballot.
Pat Showalter's unique passion for policy detail was evident to her when she first joined the city's planning commission in the early 1990s and she found herself enjoying a long and technical environmental impact report. "I thought, Patricia, what is wrong with you? You're reading an EIR and having so much fun."
Showalter works as civil engineer with the Santa Clara Valley Water District and says her expertise in reading technical environmental documents would be valuable on the council.
Showalter says she "throughly enjoyed" being on the city's planning commission for nine years, where she helped champion the city's original below-market-rate housing ordinance, which subsidizes affordable housing projects with fees on market-rate development.
"The problem I have most passion about is really the housing issue," she says. In 2012, she helped lobby council members to approve housing around Google headquarters in North Bayshore, to no avail. Now she hopes to approve it herself as a council member. She says she wants to create a better balance between jobs and housing in order to reduce commuter traffic and meet the city's goals to fight climate change.
As a bicyclist she expressed awareness of existing efforts to improve bike infrastructure and stood out by saying she supported a "pilot program" to see how residents would like California Street with a lane removed in each direction to calm traffic and encourage bike riding.
Showalter has lived in Mountain View for 30 years, has two grown kids and lives with her husband in Waverly Park, where they own a home. She has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club, county Supervisor Joe Simitian and Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
Candidate Mercedes Salem is a new face in local politics, a family law attorney who has experience working in tech and as an aid to Congress members on Capitol Hill. She says she aims to represent middle-class families and immigrants as the only foreign-born candidate in a city with over 8,000 foreign-born registered voters. She is Iranian-American and speaks fluent Farsi.
"The biggest problem we have in Mountain View is livability and that encompasses a multitude of things," Salem said. "All we do in life is work so we can have better lives and our kids can have better lives, but that's not happening anymore."
Though she acknowledges the city's housing shortage, Salem opposes housing in North Bayshore, "We have a massive jobs-housing imbalance," Salem said. "I don't believe housing in North Bayshore is the answer. There aren't enough services to support a community as it stands" and businesses there are struggling because Google and other employers provide "everything from soup to nuts." She says the East Whisman area is better for housing, and would like to see the 3.4 million square feet of office slated for North Bayshore reduced.
Salem has a unique interest among the candidates in helping working families through city services, such as better summer programs for kids from families who can't afford summer camp or special summer classes, calling such programs "a huge relief it means a lot. There's so many things we can do to ease the pain for them."
When it comes to the city budget, she said, "I don't believe in cutting pensions, salaries or health benefits for workers. The city works because workers do."
Salem is a renter in the Sylvan Park area and has lived in Mountain View for four years. She is endorsed by the local chapter of the Democratic party, Congressman Mike Honda, and former mayors Laura Macias, Jac Siegel and Sally Lieber, among others. She holds an anthropology degree and a law degree from Santa Clara University.
Of all the candidates, Lenny Siegel is the most familiar to residents, having been involved in Mountain View civic life since the 1970s and early 1980s, when he ran for City Council three times, led two failed efforts to institute rent control, and helped lead efforts to address toxics left behind by early tech companies which turned into a decades-long career as director of Mountain View's Center for Public Environmental Oversight. His expertise in environmental work is sought by communities around the country.
"I have a history of getting people from diverse perspectives and backgrounds to work together," says Siegel, who also led the fight to keep air cargo traffic out of Moffett Field and to save Hangar One. "We don't always agree but we maintain dialogue."
Siegel is also a known lefty who has opposed America's wars since he was a member of Students for a Democratic Society at Stanford. He often rides a bike to get where he's going and says anyone making decisions on bike infrastructure should do the same.
The problem Siegel is most passionate about fixing is the city's jobs-housing imbalance, which he's been fighting since the start of the year as the founding leader of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View. Siegel has been organizing residents to support at least 5,000 new homes in North Bayshore and to build housing instead of office in the San Antonio shopping center area, which he says is one of the few places in the city where a lot of housing could be built. He has often called for new family friendly neighborhoods with schools.
Siegel said he would consider but not necessarily favor road diets, like the one proposed for California Street to reduce car lanes and allow buffered bike lanes. "Philosophically I believe in enticing people out of cars, not forcing them out of cars. A lot of people, they don't really have that option."
Among his endorsements are community organizers who say Siegel can be trusted, such as Job Lopez, the co-founder of the Mountain View Day Worker Center who wrote a letter to the Voice in support of Siegel; and former mayor and state Assembly member Sally Lieber, who notes that Siegel's ability to listen has helped him work "on some of the toughest issues facing our community." Siegel is married and lives in Old Mountain View.
Ken Rosenberg is financial adviser for Morgan Stanley. He came to the city in 1997, and got his introduction to local politics as an active member of the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association. He's been a member of the Human Relations Commission since 2011 and a board member of the Chamber of Commerce. He organized the city's "Civility Roundtable" discussions on such issues as immigration and gun control. He's married, with a daughter and a son.
"I am passionate about open communication, open dialogue, and (engaging in) collective decision making as much as possible," Rosenberg says, adding that having an ideology doesn't fit well with the job of council member. "Everybody will attest that when I'm the person in charge of a meeting, I don't allow the meeting to go forward without everyone getting a chance to speak."
Rosenberg has earned endorsements from a wide swath of the community, including local police, landlords, the Chamber of Commerce, housing advocates and city and county elected officials.
His priorities include advocating for adequate housing growth, building new infrastructure to reduce traffic, and preserving the city's character while making it more vibrant.
As a member of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View, along with candidates Greg Unangst and Lenny Siegel, Rosenberg says he has "tremendous commitment" to seeing housing being constructed in Mountain View, especially in the North Bayshore and East Whisman areas. "Housing near work seems like a solidly, fundamentally, good idea," Rosenberg said. In North Bayshore that means "swapping out commercial or office space and not encroaching on wetlands."
Unlike some other candidates, Rosenberg doesn't take a clear position on what sort of transit systems the city needs, but says it is a priority to figure it out as a way to reduce the amount of housing that might need to be built for all the jobs expected to come to the city. He disagrees with the position taken by the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View about prioritizing housing in the San Antonio precise plan area, saying that not putting jobs near train and bus lines would be a wasted opportunity.
At the start of the year Rosenberg lamented the loss of city Human Relations Commissioner Nilda Santiago because rent increases forced her to move away. "I don't know if there's equity or fairness in capitalism, but capitalism is rearing its ugly head right now, and it's really affecting people," he said.
Rosenberg expressed excitement about maintaining the city's healthy budget reserves and AAA bond rating. He said he wouldn't have approved housing or office on the city's Moffett Gateway site, and would have gone with hotel development instead to generate the most lease revenue while relieving some pressure on the housing market. He would also support a look at narrowing California Street to three lanes to calm traffic and allow buffered bike lanes.
"The housing situation is one of the primary reasons I got involved in this I think we're jeopardizing the future of our younger generation," says Greg Unangst, a retired aerospace engineer who served as an Army colonel during the Vietnam War, for which he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He's lived in Mountain View since 1998.
"High tech workers are starting to say they can't afford to live here either something is very wrong," he says. His own daughter, who has a good job with the Department of Veterans Affairs, can't afford to relocate to work in the Palo Alto office as much as she would like to, he says.
Unangst is the only candidate who is advocating for rent control, or what he calls "rent stabilization."
Unangst has a passion for bicycle and pedestrian mobility, is chair of the city's bike and pedestrian advisory committee, and has been the city's most vocal proponent of a bike boulevard along Latham and Church streets.
When the committee expressed interest in buffered bike lanes on California Street, he said, "city staff recommended against it because they didn't know how to clean the streets with that there." His thought: "Maybe you should call Portland they've had that for some time and they've figured it out. That's the mentality we've been dealing with."
Unangst strongly supports housing in North Bayshore and is a member of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View, which has called for 5,000 homes there, considered to be enough to support a neighborhood grocery store. At one time he was opposed to the idea, but has since spoken out strongly in favor if it. "I really didn't understand the magnitude of the housing problem," he says.
More housing there is necessary if the city is to meet its emission reduction goals under AB32, he says. "Half the carbon generated by the city of Mountain View is by cars and trucks," including many commuters, he says. To get a regional perspective on the problem, Unangst got involved with the Non-Profit Housing Associations' Housing Advocacy Network.
He doesn't want a cap on office growth, but instead favors replacing some amount of office slated for North Bayshore with housing. "I get the sense people want Google and LinkedIn to stay, but we're being punished by prosperity," he says. He's also got an affinity for Google's driverless car technology, which he says has promise for use in automated transit systems.
"I definitely enjoy working as part of a team," Unangst says. "I'm also used to working in bureaucracies. I listen to what people are saying, and why." When it comes to the city budget, he says he doesn't favor across-the-board cuts, calling it the "easy way" out.
In 2012, Unangst became a board member of the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail and the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board, where he made an unlikely friend in Lenny Siegel, who led protests against the Vietnam War while Unangst was serving in the Army in Vietnam.
Unangst graduated from West Point military academy and got an MBA from the Wharton Business School. He lives with his wife in a townhouse they own north of the Monta Loma neighborhood. He's raised two kids and worked as an engineering manager for 33 years, most recently at Lockheed Martin.
So far, Unangst has not taken any campaign contributions and has loaned his campaign $21,000 to "side-step any appearance of a conflict of interest." His endorsement list is also relatively short, though he is endorsed by Mountain View Voters for Housing Diversity, which has also endorsed Ken Rosenberg and Lenny Siegel.
After becoming involved in local politics to oppose bans on smoking and plastic bags, Jim Neal is making his second run for council; he has refined his brand of moderate libertarian individualism while speaking at and attending numerous council meetings.
"The number one priority has to be affordable housing; it's something I've been talking about for well over a year," he said. "Too much office is being approved and it is exacerbating the problem of rents increasing."
He is the only candidate to express concerns about increases to the minimum wage and its impacts to businesses like Ava's downtown market. He opposes the congestion pricing that might be used to charge rush-hour drivers going to and from North Bayshore, saying it is a "regressive tax" that "definitely hurts small businesses and poor people more."
Neal's libertarian bent seems to not be quite as strong as current member John Inks. He mentioned that at one point the city wasn't getting a fair exchange in community benefits, which Inks often opposes, for the proposed density of the Prometheus apartment project replacing the old Western Appliance building. He also says of potentially privatizing some city services, "I don't think that's a good idea -- that would mean displacing a lot of the current workers."
He's also concerned that "smaller businesses are being forced out by redevelopment," such as the Milk Pail market and the Rose Market.
Neal says he didn't seek campaign contributions and endorsements for a reason, but did get the endorsement of former mayor Tom Means, the owners of the Sports Page bar, and resident Linda Curtis. Neal is a renter who lives with his wife in Old Mountain View. He works as an IT administrator at U.C. Berkeley.
Margaret Capriles nearly won a council seat in 2012 and has served on the city's planning commission since then.
"The most pressing problem in Mountain View right now is housing and transportation. I think they all go together," Capriles says. "We have many folks that can't live in Mountain View because the price of housing is so high."
She says she wants to know if residents want to cut in half the 3.4 million square feet of office space slated for North Bayshore so there would be 10,000 new jobs instead of 20,000 or so to reduce the demand and the price of housing. "If employees cannot even afford to live here and they want to live here, we have a problem."
Capriles opposes a big contribution to the city's housing stock by building a new neighborhood in North Bayshore with thousands of new homes. "The reason for that is several: There's no public transportation near the North Bayshore area, which has a really heavy traffic problem already, and there are not services out there."
Capriles said she supports road diets to "continue to improve the bike and pedestrian routes and give people alternatives to get people out of their cars and make sure it is practical."
She is a retired data analyst for Hewlett Packard, and she touts a "pro-business background" and ability to listen well. Capriles is also proud of her relationship with labor and says she strongly supports prevailing wages on city projects. She has been endorsed by the South Bay Labor Council, the Sierra Club and the California Apartment Association, which represents landlords.
She owns a home in the Waverly Park neighborhood with her husband, Bob.
Lisa Matichak is a tech executive who became involved in city government seven years ago by rallying opposition to a housing project on the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct behind her home.
She has made her positions on development known over the last five years she has served as a planning commissioner, voting against including housing in North Bayshore. Matichak, who is endorsed by outgoing council members who also oppose housing in North Bayshore, cites most of the same reasoning: struggling retail near Google, the need for a a new school on expensive land, a lack of transportation, and potential impacts to wildlife. She says East Whisman is a better place for housing, pointing to a smaller Google property at 700 East Middlefield Road that could be rezoned for residential development.
"The biggest challenge we are facing is the quality of life for residents," Matichak says. "I do believe we want to retain the character of Mountain View."
With 2,500 housing units in the pipeline, "if we are looking to add homes more quickly, it could happen more quickly in the Whisman area," she says.
Adding park space is a top priority for her, and she indicates a desire to continue outgoing member Jac Siegel's legacy of advocating for the inclusion of park space in developments. She says she is interested in major regional transportation infrastructure so people can commute from farther away. "I would love it if we had BART on the Peninsula."
Matichak is a founding member of the Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association. She touts her 25 years of work experience in high tech. "A lot of things you can bring from a business perspective you can apply to a government perspective."
Her key endorsements include the Sierra Club, the Chamber of Commerce, Mountain View firefighters, and former mayor Laura Macias.
Ellen Kamei joined the city's planning commission in late 2012 and has quickly forged many ties in the community, garnering a long list of endorsements, including nearly every local state and federal legislator and county Supervisor Joe Simitian, for whom she works as a policy aide.
Kamei says her top priority is balancing the preservation of Mountain View's character with increased job growth. But that doesn't mean she supports housing in North Bayshore. "I don't think that there's enough services to support residential. I also don't think there's the transportation infrastructure necessary to create a vibrant neighborhood." She adds that the land is too expensive for affordable homes.
Kamei tends to seek the middle ground on issues, sometimes making her position hard to discern. She is a renter who says rent control is a "noble idea," but also says she isn't supporting it, saying it is "not a panacea."
When asked what she was most passionate about, she said, "It's hard to choose just one. Something I am passionate about is the transportation issues we have in Mountain View." She's already begun talking to county transportation officials about dedicated bus lanes in Mountain View.
Kamei is clear about wanting better bike and pedestrian infrastructure. "I love the idea of complete streets," she says, with activated ground-floor retail and "protected bike lanes so people feel safe on bicycles."
Another top priority is fiscal discipline, and she says she'd like to see the city request more feedback on its budget decisions through its new Open City Hall website feature.
Kamei is a third-generation Mountain View resident. Her family first came to Mountain View 70 years ago and eventually ran a plant nursery, which later moved to Morgan Hill, where she grew up. Kenzo Court is named after her grandfather. She recently returned to rent a home near Moffett Boulevard and Middlfield Road.