Op-Eds

Before making big post-Covid decisions, companies should take a breath

with Paul Rupert / June 19, 2020

The earliest days of the Covid-19 shelter-in-place order forced previously unsupportive tech companies to let millions of their professional employees work from home. Realizing that they could function with a remote workforce, numerous firms went on to announce their own plans to disrupt long-held business models with remote work.

Based on limited prior experience designing and managing these challenging ways of working, some executives are proposing options such as everyone working elsewhere as full-time remotes and eliminating regular office time.

It’s time — and there is plenty of time — to take a breath.

Successful companies, mostly outside the San Francisco Bay Area, have been refining their approaches to remote work over two decades. On this issue, there exists what you might call settled science. The experience of hundreds of companies and consistent public and internal company research shows that, with some clearly defined exceptions, a mix of office days and home days promotes both greater job satisfaction and teamwork… continue

Can Housing Be Built Safely Above Mountain View’s TCE-Contaminated Groundwater

Center for Public Environmental Oversight / June, 2020

Mountain View, California, like several other Silicon Valley communities, suffers from a chronic housing shortage, making it one of the most expensive places in the country to live. Since the great recession of 2008-2009, employment growth, especially at high-tech businesses such as Mountain View-based Google and its affiliates, has far outstripped housing construction.In 2016, the most recent year for which I have found data, Mountain View, a suburb with 81,000 residents,had 44,000 more jobs than employed residents, or nearly two jobs per employed resident.

The 2020 COVID-19 outbreak hit Silicon Valley before it exploded across the United States, and Bay Area health officials responded earlier than other regions, issuing a shelter-in-place order in mid-March.While many workers are able to work from home, and some continue working in essential occupations, many others were furloughed. If this condition continues, the local demand for housing may grow more slowly. But given the number of people who have been commuting great distances to work in Silicon Valley, the need for additional housing is unlikely to disappear.

In fact, based on previous downturns, it’s likely the economic recovery will be quick and substantial, whenever the virus outbreak is controlled. To the degree possible, Mountain View and its neighbors should be using this period to prepare for another round of housing development… continue

What kind of a community are we?

Mountain View Voice / October 18, 2019

On Tuesday, Oct. 22, the Mountain View City Council majority is expected to finalize the latest version of its attempt to drive residential motor homes out of town. The proposed ban is a bad idea, not only because it would leave many of our residents with no place to live in Mountain View, but because no one really knows where they would be allowed to park their vehicles.

Over the past few years, the growing number of vehicle residences in Mountain View and other Bay Area communities has upset a lot of people. Some people are upset because they don’t want to see what they consider blight in our community. Others, such as the Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition, are upset because so many of our neighbors cannot afford to live in the town where they work, attend school or most recently rented an apartment. Our city and companies have created a housing crisis, yet we haven’t done enough to serve its victims.

As I’ve written before, very few of Mountain View’s motor home dwellers are chronic homeless, with mental health and substance abuse problems. The chronic homeless also deserve help, but we need to recognize that Mountain View’s vehicle residents are here for the same reasons as the rest of us: jobs, school, family and weather. A majority are employed and/or go to school; others are retired. Many built our community, paying property taxes directly or indirectly until high rents drove them onto the streets.

The current version of the proposed ban, the “narrow streets” ordinance, would outlaw oversized vehicle parking, with narrow exceptions, in most of Mountain View. But on Sept. 24 the council majority approved the restrictions without knowing exactly which streets would be restricted. They don’t know if motor homes will end up massing on other Mountain View streets. In fact, the proponents of the ban rewrote their motion the following week, in a highly irregular modification of council minutes, in conflict with the official recording of the Sept. 24 meeting. They hadn’t realized what they were voting on.

Regardless of the footprint of the enacted ban, I believe this policy is intolerant. While site-specific restrictions — near driveways, for example — are necessary for traffic safety, a generic ban will be inhumane and unconstitutional if there’s no place for people to go. While Mountain View’s safe parking initiative is well-intentioned, it would provide only a fraction of the spaces needed — only 36 motor home spaces next summer. Indeed, by requiring every vehicle to leave by 9 a.m. every day, and by denying electrical service, it is designed to fail.

The real question is what kind of community do we want Mountain View to be. As far back as I can remember, Mountain View has treasured our diversity, not just cultural and ethnic, but socio-economic. I have heard many people say that they moved here so their children could grow up with kids from other backgrounds.

I don’t have much hope that the pro-gentrification majority on the council will have second thoughts on Tuesday, but there is an alternative. Ordinances don’t take legal effect for 30 days, and voters will have the opportunity to block implementation and place the ban on a 2020 ballot by collecting signatures of 10% of the city’s voters on referendum petitions within those 30 days. The Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition, at mvhousingjustice.org, is making plans to circulate petitions immediately after final passage by the council.

Let’s work together to help vehicle residents get off the streets without driving them out of town.

Mountain View Voice link

Let cities decide where and how to build housing

Palo Alto Daily Post / May 15, 2019

East Palo Alto’s leaders aren’t the only ones who believe that Palo Alto and other slow-growth communities need to “step up” and plan for substantial residential development within their boundaries. But proposed state legislation to obviate local control, such as Senate Bill 50, is not the way to get it done.

Silicon Valley’s job-rich communities need to build more housing for many reasons. By driving up housing costs, our housing shortage is creating hardship for many people who work or have retired here. The high cost and low availability of housing is making it difficult for both the private and public sectors to attract and retain low- and middle-income workers, from restaurant workers to teachers.

The highly visible automotive commute of the vast numbers of local employees who drive more than an hour each way every day not only congests our roadways, it is our region’s number one source of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

Even long-time homeowners are finding that it’s difficult for their grown children and grandchildren to live nearby. And the cities that house more workers than work there, such as East Palo Alto and San Jose, are stuck providing services with inadequate tax revenue… continue

Housing Justice Coalition to challenge proposed oversized vehicle BAN

March 21, 2019

Thursday night, March 21, the organization formerly known as the Mountain View Tenants Coalition changed its name to the Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition and promised to challenge the proposed BAN on oversized vehicles that the City Council majority supported in principle Tuesday night.

The Coalition will work for the passage of a Safe Parking Ordinance that allows and encourages continuing (not temporary) Safe Parking Areas for vehicle residences, and it will oppose the BAN ordinance when it comes back to City Council.

If the Council enacts the BAN, the Coalition plans a referendum campaign. That means that Coalition members and allies will collect over 3,700 signature within 30 days. That will suspend implementation of the BAN and require an election after 88 days unless the Council repeals the BAN. While many Mountain View voters want the City to do something about the large number of vehicular households on our streets, I am confident that voters will vote down any outright BAN… continue

Mountain View’s strategy proves local control over housing is best approach

San Francisco Chronicle / Feb. 8, 2019

Everyone seems to agree that the Bay Area is suffering through a protracted housing emergency, and many housing advocates suggest that taking away local control is the way to get housing built. Yet Mountain View is able to build lots of housing, with community support, because the city itself decides how and where to build new housing.

State legislation favors transit-oriented development, and we’ve done a lot of that. But Mountain View, similar to many suburban communities, doesn’t have a lot of transit. So we’re emphasizing residential development amid our centers of tech employment, such as the North Bayshore area where Google’s headquarters is located. Residents will be able to walk or bike to work, and we’re planning to build new public transit.

Mountain View’s primary strategy is to convert suburban office parks and shopping centers into mixed-use, medium-density neighborhoods complete with parks, schools, retail, jobs and transit. By giving more people the opportunity to live near where they work, we expect to limit regional commute traffic. By creating complete neighborhoods, we expect to limit local traffic…continue

Former Mountain View and Palo Alto mayors: New business taxes won’t hurt jobs

Lenny Siegel and Pat Burt / Silicon Valley Business Journal / January 17, 2019

Under Carl Guardino’s leadership, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group has constructively represented the interests of the region’s largest employers on issues such as housing, climate change, education and immigration. However, the Leadership Group’s consistent position on government revenues is, to say the least, regressive. It supports taxes that disproportionately fall on residents with modest incomes. For all of its big tech affluence, Silicon Valley remains a region with exceptionally low business taxes.

The biggest obstacle to job growth and economic sustainability in Silicon Valley is not local taxes on big tech business, but the difficulty companies have attracting and retaining workers. And that is caused by the failure of housing and transportation to keep up with massive high-tech employment growth. In November, 71 percent of Mountain View voters passed Measure P — an increase in the business tax based on the number of employees — not only to provide funds for several specific transportation projects, but for the city to initiate projects in a county where the transit agency — VTA — consistently invests in transit designed to promote growth in downtown San Jose, instead of easing traffic on existing commute routes… continue

Don’t sign the Measure V Too Costly petition

Mountain View Voice / May 4, 2018

Petition from “Measure V Too Costly” is deceptive. Fake news alert!

Paid signature gatherers are showing up around Mountain View asking people to sign a “rent control” petition. Don’t be deceived! Don’t sign!

The purpose of the petition from the deceptively named group “Measure V Too Costly” is not to improve the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (i.e. the CSFRA or Measure V); it’s essentially to repeal it. Let this petition die the natural death it deserves. It can only get on the ballot if enough registered voters sign it.

“Measure V Too Costly” claims that the rent stabilization program is costing the city a great deal of money. That’s fake news. Truthfully, the cost of Mountain View’s rent stabilization program falls on the landlords. The fee this year was less than $13/unit, per month. That fee is designed to make the program self-sufficient. The city did front the program some funds to get started, but that money has all been returned…. continue

Opinion: Talking about housing? Mountain View is actually doing something

San Jose Mercury News / January 23, 2018

Around midnight on Dec. 12, the Mountain View City Council unanimously adopted the Residential Update to the North Bayshore Precise Plan.

This visionary document is a key milestone in the transformation of one of the world’s most successful suburban office parks into a mixed-use, car-light, demographically diverse, multi-story collection of neighborhoods.

In partnership with employers including Google, developers such as Sobrato, and two school districts, Mountain View is setting a standard to which it hopes other job-rich Silicon Valley cities will aspire.

Adoption of the plan culminates a three-year process of studies, workshops and hearings that began with the 2014 election. It will take more hard work, public and private investment, and difficult decisions to turn this plan into a vibrant, sustainable community… continue

The ‘heartbeat’ of Mountain View

Mountain View Voice / December 15, 2017

As I meet with officials from neighboring communities, I am struck that they are not only impressed by downtown Mountain View. They tell me their favorite restaurants. Yet a narrative has emerged within our community that downtown is on the verge of self-destruction, that we should “pause” downtown development.
Downtown development is not piecemeal. It is processed according to the Downtown Precise Plan, which has been updated four times since 2000, most recently in 2015 when the City Council voted to further restrict ground-floor office uses.

To me the most important elements of that plan are:

  • Encourage walkability
  • Preserve the historic integrity of Castro Street
  • Increase intensity near transit
  • Protect adjacent residential neighborhoods

continue

We must confront Trump’s agenda on sustainability and human rights issues

Mountain View Voice / November 18, 2016

Listening to commentators discuss the presidential election, one might think that Donald Trump had won by a landslide. In fact, he won no mandate! Hillary Clinton seems to have won the popular vote by a substantial margin. Trump won less than a third of the presidential votes in California. Republicans held on to the their slim lead in the U.S. Senate largely because of their dominance of sparsely populated states. Few House seats changed hands because those who draw district boundaries, in both parties, have created a system that undermines competition… continue

Strengthen downtown with innovative Transit Center

Mountain View Voice / June 17, 2016

In Mountain View we love our downtown. My neighbors, family, and I enjoy walking to Castro Street, where we can select from a wide variety of delightful restaurants. When I tell elected officials elsewhere in our region that I’m from Mountain View, they rush to volunteer the name of their favorite Mountain View eating-place.

But Castro Street doesn’t do so well as a thru-way. When the trains are running, traffic backs up in all directions. As Caltrain electrification and high-speed rail bring even more trains, traffic could get much, much worse.

Fortunately, there is a solution that will improve traffic, enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety, and strengthen the vibrancy of our downtown. Closing Castro to auto traffic at the railroad tracks is one part of that solution… continue

Our housing crisis calls for regional cooperation

Mountain View Voice / Cory Wolbach, Lenny Siegel, and Kirsten Keith / September 7, 2016

Challenges of housing affordability, environmental sustainability share common set of answers

The housing crisis in our communities is both an economic challenge and a threat to sustainability. It is defined by the rapid escalation of home prices and rents; it displaces longtime residents; it drives urban sprawl; and it is rooted in the imbalanced growth of jobs without adequate housing for our community.

No single city or company can solve these problems, but together we can establish goals to manage and address an increasingly dire situation. The challenges of housing affordability and environmental sustainability share a common set of answers… continue

Getting people where they need to go

Mountain View Voice / Lenny Siegel and John McAlister / July 24, 2015

One of the reasons that commuter traffic in Mountain View is such a mess is that public transit doesn’t get people where they need to go. In particular, there is no fixed transit link from either Caltrain or the VTA Light Rail system to North Bayshore, which currently has nearly 25,000 people working there on a normal weekday, even before new offices expected to hold 13,000 or more employees are built. Building housing in or near North Bayshore will help, but it’s not enough.

We propose that the city start designing the Mountain View Monorail, which would zip people the 3 miles from the downtown transit center to the Googleplex and Shoreline Amphitheater, as well as travel 2 miles across Moffett Field from the NASA-Bayshore Light Trail Station to a new Transit Center near the Computer History Museum.

Actually, it doesn’t need to be a monorail. It could be light rail, personal rapid transit, or even hanging buses… continue