For a snapshot of Mountain View's housing situation, take a look at the soon-to-be complete Evelyn Avenue Family Apartments. The new project, located at 779 E. Evelyn Ave., is held up as exactly the kind of housing expansion the city needs. It features 116 new apartments as well as a gym, a homework center and community event space.
But most importantly, all of the apartments are subsidized for families earning well below the median income. That means they provide a rare opportunity for someone working in construction, retail or the restaurant industry to afford new housing.
The Evelyn Avenue Family Apartments are the largest affordable-housing project completed in Mountain View in years, but what resulted is typical -- it has turned into a fierce lottery. The developer has reportedly received more than 1,500 applications, three-quarters of them from families already residing in Mountain View.
It is just one example of the pent-up demand for housing that Mountain View faced through 2018 that's likely to continue to dominate city politics in 2019. City officials are mostly united in the belief that adding housing could help cure the Bay Area's worst problems, such as traffic congestion, wage inequality and possibly even global warming. But that housing push requires a series of sacrifices from local residents, and it relies on Mountain View's example eventually inspiring other nearby communities to take similar risks.
"Our commitment to build housing remains the biggest thing that makes Mountain View stand out," said Mayor Lenny Siegel. "More and more, other communities are now realizing it, and they're following our lead."
In this look back at 2018, the Voice reviews some of the top stories and issues, and how they developed through the year.
There could hardly be a clearer sign of the housing crisis than the surging number of people living on the streets. Across the Bay Area, homelessness has become the most visible sign of the region's high cost of living and its history of restricting new housing development.
This homelessness epidemic is remarkable because it is pushing many children and working families onto the streets. Earlier in 2018, the Voice profiled students at local public schools and community colleges who were living out of vehicles because their families couldn't afford housing in Mountain View.
In Santa Clara County, more than 2,500 youth are believed to be homeless, nearly triple the number last counted in 2015. Many experts believe this figure is actually a severe undercount.
Santa Clara County has made strides in building new housing, reportedly adding about 1,500 new subsidized apartments since 2015. This growth comes thanks to the $950 million Measure A housing bond that South Bay voters approved in 2016.
In Mountain View, the politics surrounding this issue have become extremely polarizing, especially when it comes to people living out of vehicles on public streets. A large number of residents say their sympathy has bottomed out, and they have publicly complained that inhabited cars shouldn't be parked in front of their homes.
For much of the year, the City Council held off on imposing harsher parking restrictions on inhabited vehicles until there was some alternative in place. Earlier in 2018, the city helped sponsor a safe parking program, but it has managed to secure only eight spaces. Mountain View officials believe there are about 300 inhabited vehicles in the city.
At their last meeting, council members approved a new safe parking site that could hold an extra 11 vehicles, but they also signaled they wanted some kind of stricter parking measures. Those restrictions are expected to come back before the city in early 2019.
Intertwined with Mountain View's housing troubles, the city's controversial and complex rent control program hit its stride in 2018. The system, which ties rent increases on older apartments to inflation, was approved by voters in 2016, but it was held up for much of 2017 by lawsuits and policymaking.
But 2018 showcased how the fledgling program still faces plenty of new challenges and unanswered questions. For example, mobile home residents led a campaign to also be included under the rent control program. After waging an unsuccessful lawsuit, they are currently considering an appeal, or possibly a ballot initiative in 2020.
Similarly, rent control opponents who lost in court also sought redress through the ballot box. A political action committee, Measure V Too Costly, began collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to essentially gut rent control by allowing it to only take effect under extraordinary circumstances. The measure spurred allegations by tenant advocates that it was a "sneaky repeal" being promoted under the guise of a reform or expansion of rent control. The measure failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the 2018 election, but it has qualified for the 2020 ballot.
Rent control's system for sorting out tenant-landlord disputes was also put to the test. As of October, the city had received a total of 14 petitions from landlords seeking additional rent increases, half of which were decided, settled or withdrawn. Two cases went to long drawn-out appeals, including one over a 105-unit apartment building at 141 Del Medio Ave.
The year also showed how much was being demanded from the city's Rental Housing Committee, as the volunteer members often endured long meetings and fierce public complaints. Committee members Tom Means and Evan Ortiz both announced their resignations, leaving two seats in need of new members.
If the capstone of 2017 was the precise plan to build 9,850 homes in North Bayshore, then 2018 was marked by the tricky details for how to get that done.
After years of work and countless meetings, city leaders laid out an ambitious road map for bringing thousands of homes into the heart of the tech hub. But the challenges inherent in that goal became clear as the first residential project came forward.
A 635-unit project by Sobrato was nearly scuttled based on the hefty costs, particularly for parks and a future school. Since 2015, those fees have nearly doubled to about $60,000 per apartment -- or, in the case of Sobrato's project, about $38 million in additional costs. The city later agreed to reduce the fees in order to make the project pencil out.
Google has also raised warnings that the city's fees could need to be lowered. In December, the company pitched its first high-level plans to eventually build 8,000 homes in North Bayshore, split among three new mini-neighborhoods. The first of these plans calls for the creation of the Shorebird neighborhood, including 2,950 homes and 1.18 million square feet of new offices.
Other plans for a new neighborhood at a gateway property along Shoreline Boulevard face a different challenge. The firm SyWest, which owns about 16 acres in the area, announced it could not reach a compromise with Google, and it is independently moving forward with development plans.
Meanwhile, the future prospects of a new school in North Bayshore remain uncertain. Google has reportedly offered a 3.5-acre site near San Antonio Road at Casey Avenue.
The 2018 election represented a stunning change of course for Mountain View -- all three council incumbents, who had been elected four years earlier, are leaving office. Siegel and Councilwoman Pat Showalter lost in their re-election bids, while Councilman Ken Rosenberg declined to seek a second term.
In their places, three newcomers will be stepping in. Ellen Kamei, Lucas Ramirez and Alison Hicks will assume their council seats later this month.
It was the closest election in Mountain View going back at least 20 years, particularly for Hicks and Showalter, who traded third and fourth place several times as updated vote results came in over the course of a month. In the end, Hicks won by just 97 votes.
But it was hard to diagnose what message voters were sending, aside from an anti-incumbent sentiment. Aside from former council member John Inks, who finished last, the other five candidates campaigned on strikingly similar platforms, voicing support for housing growth, rent control and tolerance toward the homeless.
Siegel believed that residents were frustrated with the slow pace of housing growth, despite its popular support. As mayor, he said he suspects that he became a target for voter anger.
It remains to be seen what this means for city policies. In the coming months, the new City Council will face several big decisions to test their mettle on homelessness, mass transit and North Bayshore housing growth.