The city of Mountain View recently launched The Briefing – an online newsletter designed to help residents feel connected during the state’s shelter-in-place order. The newsletter begins by highlighting several acts of kindness.
The issue distributed Thursday (April 9) spotlights the Cuesta Park neighborhood’s canned food drive for Community Services Agency and a high school student helping others make cloth masks, among other deeds of goodwill. The Briefing, emailed three times a week to residents who sign up, encourages people to look for a silver lining during the gloomy days of the coronavirus pandemic. City and community leaders are doing their part outside of The Briefing to inspire residents and lend a helping hand.
Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga said emails from worried residents and business owners flooded her inbox after the county enacted the shelter-in-place order March 17. Many reported having – or anticipating having – a problem paying rent or utilities as a result of lost jobs and furloughs. Merchants forced to close their doors were unsure whether they would be able to reopen them again.
Abe-Koga heard talk of federal funding but wondered how long would it take to trickle down to the local level. At the same time paying for groceries was at the top of many people’s minds, other residents were asking how they could help. The mayor and city council jumped into action to connect the two through the #TogetherMV campaign. The initiative includes two funds residents can contribute to, one for small business relief and the other for rent relief. Los Altos Community Foundation is overseeing the donation portals; rent relief funds will be disbursed through CSA, while small-business funds “will go toward loans or grants (TBD),” according to the fund’s portal page.
A little help from friends
Abe-Koga enlisted help from Google Inc. to fund grants for small businesses.
The Mountain View-based high-tech company canceled its annual I/O conference at the city’s Shoreline Amphitheatre, usually held in the spring. Google officials wanted to compensate for the loss of income Mountain View businesses have come to expect from the approximately 7,000 attendees. Google seeded the small-business relief fund with a $350,000 donation, and the city pitched in an additional $500,000.
The rent relief fund – a partnership between the city and CSA, a Town Crier Holiday Fund recipient – has operated for at least a decade, according to Abe-Koga.
“We help folks if they are having trouble paying rent for a month or two,” she said. “I thought we should add to that fund, so we were able to identify $500,000 of housing funds we collect through housing impact fees new developers pay.”
As of Monday (April 6), 300 residents had donated more than a collective $50,000 to the funds, Abe-Koga said, and LinkedIn Corp. pledged $100,000 to the small-business relief fund.
A great need
The city of Mountain View has received 1,100 requests for rent aid to date, depleting the city’s $500,000 allocation, Abe-Koga said. When the federal government distributes community development block grant funds, estimated to total between $350,000 and $600,000, part of it will be used for rent relief. Further discussion on how to divvy up the funds is on the Mountain View City Council’s agenda for its Tuesday (April 14) meeting.
The council also established a $100,000 fund to help vulnerable residents pay their utilities.
“If people are having challenges paying water or paying their garbage bills, they can contact the city and we can help them out there,” Abe-Koga said. “In total, the city has put in $1.3 million toward all of these relief efforts. With the Google grant and the (Los Altos Community Foundation funding) portals, we have generated close to $2 million.”
Abe-Koga previously served as mayor of Mountain View in 2009, the last time the city experienced a recession. She said her goal is to find balance between “helping folks now and being mindful of the future.”
“I remember how we had to tighten our belts,” she said. “People have gotten used to a strong economy in the last few years and people have been able to spend money more freely. That won’t be the case moving forward.”
Inspiration comes full circle
Abe-Koga said she is proud of Mountain View’s efforts and all it has been able to do in a short time for “a city its size,” noting that representatives of regional boards she serves on have asked how the city set up #TogetherMV. Councilwoman Ellen Kamei told the Town Crier she is grateful to city staff and for the fact that Mountain View “has always been a leader.”
Kamei recognized acts of solidarity, similar to those introduced in The Briefing, ranging from city teams that will soon mobilize to provide outreach in various neighborhoods – including answering questions and connecting residents with resources – to residents joining several cities nationwide to cheer and bang pots and pans outside nightly to thank health-care workers.
“We are a city that’s donated the most (to relief efforts) outside of the city of San Jose,” she said. “Staff is working tirelessly around the clock, and not just essential staff. All city employees are being paid at this time. It’s very important, and it shows the community that we are together in this.”
To donate to and for more information on #TogetherMV, visit mountainview.gov/depts/manager/communityinfo/togethermv_donations.asp.
To sign up for The Briefing, text MVCOVID to 22828 or visit bit.ly/3aZ7xZl.