“I think about my grandparents’ generation…in that earlier generation, houses weren’t for flipping around, they weren’t for speculation — houses were to live in, and to build a life with.”
- President Obama
We need to build more housing in our community and also protect existing neighborhoods.
That sounds like a contradiction. It is not. It is a challenge that we have to take on to make Mountain View a great city for everyone.
How can we do it?
Build new projects in empty spaces, not in neighborhoods.
We have a surprisingly large amount of empty land in Mountain View.2 There are empty lots on major streets and big tracts of land that are undeveloped around Moffett Field and 101. By focusing development on these neighborhoods we can build more housing and we can preserve the character of existing neighborhoods.
Make sure construction is done responsibly
No one should have to put up with construction noise waking them up early on a Saturday morning. No one in our community should have to dodge construction debris on our streets. The city has to ensure that construction is done in a way that does not impact the quality of life around the project. This needs to be done by making sure the contractors are responsive to neighbors and that the city housing department is responsive to complaints. We should also be utilizing electronic monitoring of construction sites' noise and traffic to make sure it stays in compliance before neighbors need to complain.3
Approve projects faster
Right now it can take years for the city of Mountain View to decide if a housing project can be built.4 This delay creates a huge cost for everyone involved, which ultimately gets passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents. Housing should get an up or down vote 90 days after the project is submitted for approval. Doing this reduces housing costs for everyone, and it also makes it easier for citizens and neighbors to kill bad projects. You should not have to rally neighbors to project approval meetings for years on end to make sure something bad for Mountain View does not get built.
Fully digital submittal for housing projects
Today reams of paper documents are submitted about every project. This is expensive for the city and for everyone involved in the process. It is also terrible for the environment. It also limits how much information is available to neighbors and concerned citizens.
Stop City Council Bottlenecks
Right now a very large percentage of the council's time is spent voting up or down on individual projects. The City Council should not be routinely voting on individual projects but should instead be updating the zoning code to reflect the housing priorities and protections our community wants and directing city staff how to best implement this.
Eliminate the Gatekeeper Program
Right now the city of Mountain View has a policy that before a large project can even be looked at by the planning department the city council must approve that city resources are available to review the submission.5 The city today also does not know how much it costs in staff time to review a large project.6 This is crazy! We need to reform the planning department so that it has capacity to review every project and so that developers get charged for the cost of reviewing their projects.
Close Down Airbnbs That Violate Rules
A large percentage of Mountain View AirBnB rentals do not pay the legally required fees.7 The city has let them slide and does not enforce current law. We need to get tough with people that flagrantly violate our housing laws locally and put the quality of our neighborhoods at risk.
Good Data, Good Policy
Right now the city of Mountain View struggles to make good housing policy because it does not have the necessary data about housing in our community. It has no idea how many apartments there are in the city, how many are vacant, and what the average rent is. Collecting this data and more is the very first step to really solving housing as a problem in our community.
Reduce the Housing Complexity
Right now there is a thicket of programs, subsidies, rules, exceptions, and regulations about developing housing in our community. This makes the process opaque, hard for citizens to participate in, and expensive. Lawyers love it because it creates a high demand for their services, but we need to reduce the vast number of different, conflicting, overlapping programs for housing in our community so that we can better help our community.
Reduce the Administrative Cost
Right now the Mountain View Rental Housing Committee spends $500 per rental per year overseeing rental housing in our community. I believe this same work could be done for far less, with fewer consultants and legal advisors in the mix. I believe renters would prefer to get a $500 refund check in the mail from the city than have this one city committee continue to spend over $1.5 million dollars on administrative overhead per year.8
Naturally affordable housing
The goal of the city of Mountain View should be to make sure we have rules and regulations in place in our community so that naturally affordable housing can be built here. Housing that is accessible to all, that does not require subsidies, set asides, or any other special rules. Just simply good housing, that is affordable, safe, and part of a rich vibrant community.
“The creeping web of [local housing] regulations has smothered wage and GDP growth in cities by a stunning 50% over the past 50 years. Without these regulations, the US economy today would be 9% bigger — for the average American worker an additional $6,775 in annual income” - The New York Times