Mountain View City Manager Kimbra McCarthy remembers March 12, 2020, well. It was the day the city declared a state of emergency at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. McCarthy was nine days into her new position as the city’s lead administrator.
“It has certainly been a long and challenging year,” she said at Mountain View’s virtual “State of the City” event April 1.
The Chamber of Commerce-sponsored affair featured overviews of city operations and accomplishments over the past year from McCarthy and Mayor
Ellen Kamei. The theme of this year’s event was “Hope in View.”
“There is hope in sight, and we do have a lot of great things that are on the horizon,” McCarthy said.
Recalling the anxious early days of the pandemic, McCarthy relayed with pride how the city responded with aid for residents and small businesses as half the city staff – approximately 400 employees – adjusted to remote work. What emerged, with help from donations and partnerships with nonprofit groups and others, was more than $5 million in rent relief and grants for struggling residents and businesses. McCarthy said the city’s rent relief program was one of the largest in the Bay Area.
Kamei noted that over the course of the pandemic, the city granted $250,000 to 50 small businesses at $5,000 each, then followed up with $7,000 grants to 71 businesses and $15,000 grants to another 12. In addition to funding, the city offered promotional vehicles such as a Shop Local online portal and an e-newsletter.
McCarthy also highlighted the city’s decision last year to close a portion of Castro Street to give downtown restaurants a fighting chance to remain in business by offering outdoor dining options.
While the pandemic slowed the economy down for the most part, McCarthy cited a spike in the number of building inspections, plan checks and building permits – approximately 2,500 since last July.
“Ironically, this has been one of the busiest years we’ve ever had,” she said.
In partnership with Santa Clara County, the city opened a vaccination site in January at the Mountain View Community Center. Nearly 30,000 shots had been administered at the time of the “State of the City” event, McCarthy said.
Other improvements mentioned: automated crosswalk signals at 10 intersections to accommodate an increase in pedestrian activity; planned expansion of community shuttle services by the summer; and work on a downtown parking strategy.
Last year’s social justice movement prompted Mountain View leaders to form a committee on race, equity and inclusion, as well as create a public safety advisory board. City operations and staffing policies will be viewed through an “equity lens,” McCarthy said.
Kamei foresees “thriving development” with work on a downtown precise plan and two major Google Inc. projects – a 40-acre Middlefield Park development in the East Whisman area involving offices, a public park and nearly 2,000 residential units; and a 122-acre project in the North Bayshore area with more than 7,000 residential units. She referred to the plans as creation of a “complete community” with “new homes, parks, restaurants, services and jobs. … This is something we’ve been working on for years and years.”
The mayor anticipated a time in the near future when the city can hold in-person events again. She polled attendees on what they looked forward to most when public health orders are lifted. Visiting friends and family ranked No. 1. For Kamei, it was being able to run along Stevens Creek Trail without a mask.
The event ended with a question-and-answer session with Mountain View officials and Dr. Mark Adams of El Camino Health. Responding to a question about plans for Castro Street, business development specialist Tiffany Chew said the council was due to consider a waiver of permit fees at Tuesday’s meeting so downtown businesses could continue sidewalk use. She added that the city is preparing for an eventual Castro Street reopening to auto traffic but is open to continuing outdoor dining per feedback from businesses and residents.
Responding to a question on advice for those vaccinated and those who are not, Adams offered: “Until there’s a higher percentage of people vaccinated, we really can’t change too much.”
While vaccinated family members can interact safely among themselves indoors, Adams said precautions should remain in place in public.
“We still have to be careful,” he said.