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Quality-of-life gripes mount among lower-income MV residents

As Mountain View City Council members set about articulating goals and projects for the years ahead, a large contingent of less-affluent residents attended a Feb. 28 study session to remind them: Don’t forget about us.

Addressing one overarching goal of aiding “vulnerable” citizens, resident after resident – some needing translators – cited a range of hardships, from being evicted to living in fear of deportation. The meeting came a few days after a reported U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in the Castro neighborhood.

One vehicle dweller – representing residents in approximately 300 RVs and cars parked along city streets – wanted to work more with the city to improve conditions. The speaker said a new group was forming, Mountain View Vehicle Residents, to address stereotypes “that we’re somehow lesser than human beings, that we’re all out for a free ride, that we’re dirty and hide behind curtains because we’re all meth addicts; those narratives are false.”

Mountain View Whisman School District parents asked the city to support after-school programs for low-income families, noting that some schools in more privileged areas have such programs, while schools in poorer areas do not.

Another group of residents said the city is undermining its own efforts to address the housing crisis by preventing more accessory dwelling units (ADUs) from being built under current rules that residents find overly restrictive.

Alice Chen noted that she couldn’t remodel an existing structure to be larger than 500 square feet, but she was allowed to build a completely new ADU at 700 square feet. She said the current rules “don’t make sense to me.”

Resident Shilpa Kumar said she and her husband, Santosh, purchased property after getting the OK from the city that they could remodel an ADU on the lot. However, shortly after work had begun and they had paid for permits, city officials halted their project, claiming the ADU was “noncompliant” with the current ordinance.

“City staff is putting the burden on us to demonstrate conclusively that the ADU was permitted legally at that time (it was built), when no such proof is available,” Kumar said. “They’re holding us to an impossible standard – the city needs an easier process to resolve these issues. … When in doubt, the city should favor increasing housing opportunities.”

Affordable housing

Wearing tags on their clothing that said “Stop Apartment Demolitions,” a group of residents asked the city to enact a nine-month moratorium on removal of current structures. Burdened by the city’s rent control laws, apartment owners have been selling affordable apartments to developers, who then demolish and build market-rate housing not covered by rent control. The Royal Viking Apartments on Rock Street are being proposed for demolition, with 15 new row houses built in their place.

“We do not support the redevelopment of affordable housing to be turned into townhomes because that increases the housing crisis in our community,” resident Jobe Lopez said.

“I can’t tell you how upsetting it is to be evicted,” said Julie Saxena, a teacher and 23-year resident. “I earn a decent wage and I can’t afford to live here, and I’m being kicked out.”

Resident Julie Solomon added: “(Despite) many important projects implemented by the city, vulnerable populations remain extremely vulnerable and our diversity as a community is threatened.”

Workforce protections

Other speakers raised the issue of “wage theft” and flagrant violations of employment law, especially among local construction workers.

Resident Robert Greeley, a volunteer attorney with the workers’ rights clinic of the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Center, said workers are getting undercut in pay or not getting paid at all, not only in Mountain View but nationwide.

Another speaker urged the city to enter into a “community workforce agreement” to “provide protections and measurable community benefits.”

Miguel Sanchez, a resident of the North Whisman district, cautioned the council to be aware of unintended consequences. He cited two townhome developments near where he lives, one that displaced a mobile home park.

“I can still recognize the vehicles of the people who lived there who are now living on the streets,” he said.

The second development, he noted, is suffering from slow sales, with most of the units empty.

“It was so ironic to me that I was on the third floor of this beautiful new townhome, overlooking what used to be affordable apartments for our residents,” he said.

Carol Whitaker of the group Livable Mountain View noted the city is expected to grow from 80,000 to 130,000 residents in five years.

“Our quality of life and liveability of our city is at a critical tipping point,” she said. “Until we get it right for all of our current residents, we must pause. Pause the building of offices, which require more housing. … No longer allow developers and large corporations to design our city for us.”

The Feb. 28 meeting was one of three scheduled to brainstorm, organize and refine goals and projects under themes that included aid to vulnerable populations, housing, transportation and a sustainable environment.

Assistant City Manager Audrey Seymour Ramberg said city departments and council advisory bodies will provide input on goals and potential projects, with a second study session scheduled April 23. The council is slated to consider adoption of the goals and work plan at its third meeting, set for May 21.

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