The race for the Mountain View City Council is heating up, with Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and community activist Alex Nunez both announcing Monday their intent to run in the contested race this November.
Both candidates say they would push for policies that would provide relief to those hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, including tenants behind on rent and businesses struggling to survive. Both said they would support a public dialogue on policing and potential policy changes to improve confidence between Mountain View residents and their local police department.
Abe-Koga and Nunez are joining an increasingly crowded race for the City Council this November, which is poised for a big shake-up on Election Day. Four seats are up for grabs, currently occupied by Abe-Koga, Lisa Matichak, Chris Clark and John McAlister, and two of those members -- Clark and McAlister -- cannot run for re-election due to the city's term limit rules.
Matichak has announced her intent to run for re-election, while former council members Lenny Siegel and Pat Showalter and Mountain View Whisman School Board member Jose Gutierrez have also announced they will run for a seat on the council.
Though past council races have focused tightly on housing, traffic and quality of life issues, the recent entrants say the problems caused by COVID-19 and civil unrest are too big to ignore and should shape council priorities in the coming years.
Abe-Koga, running for her fourth term on the council, said she believes she has the experience needed to weather both the near-term economic fallout of COVID-19 as well as the economic recession that follows. Her experience in public policy, particularly as mayor during the fallout of the 2008 Great Recession, will be an asset during the difficult financial times, she said.
"The experience that I've gained not just in the past few months but over my three terms, especially as mayor back in 2009 when I had to lead the city out of the great recession, I think is going to be very critical and useful as we move into the next phase," she said.
Abe-Koga has been supportive of city financial assistance programs to date, including a $2.6 million program to help those struggling to pay the rent, and she believes future rounds of economic recovery need to help small businesses that have struggled to survive during the shelter in place. The city's financial outlook depends on the success of local businesses, she said, warranting the need for a concrete small business support strategy.
With possible cuts to city services on the horizon, Abe-Koga said it's important to have someone on the council that was around before the city has had plenty of money and strong tax growth.
"We haven't had to make hard decisions on terms of how to spend our city resources, but I imagine we'll have to do that," she said.
Abe-Koga is planning to launch a three-member council subcommittee to talk about policing and the concerns raised by residents about police use of force and racial bias, and acknowledged that it's a topic that needs to be discussed in a public way. She said she is proud of Mountain View's diversity, and that the city's conversation about race shouldn't be constrained to policy department activities.
"There is a bigger discussion about race relations in this country beyond police department procedures," she said. "It's really about us as individuals, as people and as a nation and how we interact with each other."
Beyond civil unrest and concerns over COVID-19, Abe-Koga said she plans to push harder to support environmental sustainability and the battle against climate change, noting the extraordinary drop in emissions that has taken place since most Bay Area employees were forced to work from home. It's a clear example, she said, of what could happen if the city more aggressively supported walking, biking and alternative modes of transportation.
Abe-Koga said the city has done a good job supporting housing growth during her tenure on the council, including rezoning to allow a cumulative 17,000 additional housing units in Mountain View, but she warned that the housing may not get built during a deep recession.
"My concern is I remember during the Great Recession all building construction stopped," she said. "So I want to do what I can to encourage the construction to continue even during the slower economic times."
Alex Nunez, a frequent face at council meetings and an active member of the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, is running on a platform focused heavily on expanding the city's housing supply -- particularly affordable housing -- and preserving and even expanding the tenant protections under Mountain View's rent control law.
In a statement Monday, Nunez said that COVID-19 and the public health restrictions that followed have been challenging for vulnerable residents, particularly the homeless and those unable to pay the rent. Many families were already struggling to keep up with the cost of living in Mountain View, and COVID-19 further exacerbated the problem.
"I believe that the needs of many Mountain View residents have been largely left behind throughout our longtime housing crisis, and especially now during our COVID-19 emergency," Nunez said. "This has left many in our community feeling hopeless and powerless for their ability to ever recover and establish a better life for themselves or their families."
Nunez is a resident of the Shoreline West neighborhood, a place he describes as one of the most diverse locations in Mountain View -- full of homeowners, tenants and people from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. He said it's shaped his thoughts on what it means to have a city that serves families and their desire for nice, peaceful neighborhoods, which he said will be helpful in representing the city as a councilman.
Though Nunez has spent much of the last year advocating on behalf of tenants, supporting anti-displacement measures and campaigning against attempts to curtail rent control, he said his long-term goals are focused squarely on sustainable housing growth.
An adequate housing supply means residents from all incomes -- ranging from service sector jobs to high tech -- will be able to afford to live in the area, he said, reaching a point where rent stabilization won't even be necessary to prevent mass displacement of low and middle-income renters.
"I think we should grow our way out of rent control," he said.
Seizing on recent concerns over policing and use of force in Mountain View, Nunez said he would push for citizen-led input on both the police department budget and department policies, and for training for first responders so they are better equipped to handle mental health crises.
Nunez has received endorsements from former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber; Mountain View Whisman school board member Tamara Wilson, Rental Housing Committee members Emily Ramos and Susyn Almond; and Foothill-De Anza Community College district board member Laura Casas.