Update on Initiatives to Assist Homeless and Consideration of Parking Enforcement Options

On March 6, the City Council received an update on many initiatives previously approved to assist homeless people in Mountain View. A biannual count conducted Countywide revealed that the homeless population increased from 276 in 2015 to 416 in 2017. The Council voted to continue a number of programs with some minor refinements based on experience gained over the past 10 months. These programs include: rapid rehousing (short term financial assistance); biohazard waste cleanup and waste dump pilot (for RV dwellers); safe parking program pilot for vehicle dwellers; RV/vehicle repair assistance; Dignity on Wheels (mobile shower and washer/dryer services for hygiene support); and rental assistance.

The Council also provided direction on parking enforcement policy options to address concerns about RV and vehicle dwellers on public right-of-way. A December 2017 count by the Mountain View Police Department identified 291 inhabited vehicles in the City. After considerable deliberation, the Council voted 4-3 to “use current tools with enhancements to parking and towing enforcement in order to enhance the management of City streets.” Under this direction, the Police Department would continue to enforce existing parking regulations, and additional traffic measures and parking signage could be installed to enhance safety.

Short-Term Rental Regulations

Short-term rentals (like Airbnb) are currently prohibited under the municipal code – that is, hotel and motel uses are not permitted in residential areas. On March 20, the Council directed staff to study allowing and regulating short-term rentals. Short-term rental operators would pay the transient occupancy tax (TOT), which is paid by hotel and motel operators. Additionally, the Council directed staff to explore placing a limit on the number of days homes can be rented out unhosted (that is, without the homeowner occupying the home).

Amendments to the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance

The Council approved modifications to the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance on March 6 to conform to the voter-approved Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), also known as Measure V. This included increasing the eligibility threshold for relocation assistance from 80% area median income to 120% area median income. (As a baseline, the median income in Santa Clara County is $113,300 for a four-person household.)

The other key decision was related to the “First Right of Return” provision in the CSFRA. This pertains to the Ellis Act, a law passed by the state legislature in the 1980s that allows landlords to legally withdraw their rental units from the housing market. The Council on a 5-2 vote approved the staff recommendation, which was to be consistent with provisions previously approved by the Rental Housing Committee. Under this direction, tenants who are displaced when their landlord withdraws their unit from the rental market have certain rights and protections. If that landlord returns that unit to the rental market and re-rents it to a new tenant (or fails to provide the former tenant with a First Right of Return) within two years of the withdrawal, then the former tenant has a right to collect actual and exemplary damages. For up to five years after the withdrawal, the former tenant has a right to renew their tenancy under the same monthly rental amount as when the tenancy was terminated. For up to ten years after the withdrawal, the former tenant has a First Right of Return, but no longer at the original rental amount as at the time of the termination of the tenancy.

Gatekeeper Process Update

On March 27, the Council approved modifications to the gatekeeper process. Development proposals that require discretionary actions by the Council (such as General Plan Amendments or re-zonings) must first receive Council permission before they can be processed by City staff. This preliminary “approval” is referred to as the “gatekeeper process” – in other words, for development proposals that do not comply with existing zoning or General Plan regulations, the Council needs to explicitly allow the project to move forward to the entitlements process. This ensures that City planners do not spend a lot of time on a project that the Council will definitely not support.

Previously, gatekeeper proposals did not require public noticing beyond what is required for regular meeting agendas. The Council voted to require that notifications be mailed to property owners near gatekeeper sites and to any tenants living in units that would be demolished or affected by the gatekeeper project. Additionally, gatekeeper proposal applicants would need to provide more information about their proposal to the Council, and approved gatekeepers would require Council reauthorization if significant changes are made to the proposal. (In other words, if the Council allows a gatekeeper proposal to move forward, and the developer makes substantial changes to the proposal, then the proposal would need to go through the gatekeeper process again.)

Public Comment Regarding Newly Proposed Charter Amendment

On April 17th, nearly 20 members of the public used the portion of the meeting reserved for comment on items not on the agenda to speak about the effort to place a charter amendment on the November 2018 ballot that would significantly modify the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), also known as Measure V. Six speakers expressed concerns about the impact of the CSFRA on their rental property and supported the effort. The remaining speakers urged residents to not sign the petitions circulating to put the charter amendment on the ballot.

The most significant provision in the charter amendment would reduce the vacancy threshold at which the CSFRA would be suspended entirely. The CSFRA grants the Rental Housing Committee the authority to suspend the law (terminating the rent stabilization program and the just cause eviction protections) if vacancy rates exceed 5%. If approved by voters, the proposed charter amendment would reduce that threshold from 5% to 3% and make the suspension mandatory. The current vacancy rate is approximately 4.4%.

Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory

Despite strong support from the Council for environmental sustainability efforts and programs, the updated Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory revealed that 2015 emissions were significantly higher than the baseline 2005 levels. The inventory is a regular measurement of the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions being generated citywide.

On April 24, City staff alerted the Council that, even with the 100% carbon-free electricity being procured by the Silicon Valley Clean Energy Authority, 2020 emissions are projected to be significantly higher than the goal for that year. Transportation and energy together comprise more than 90% of all emissions, and while emissions from energy are down from 2012, transportation emissions have increased significantly. This means that, despite very positive progress on reducing emissions from electricity, increased emissions from transportation not only wipe out the progress made with cleaner energy, but in fact is making things much worse than projected.

The Council approved the staff recommendations to increase the frequency of developing greenhouse gas inventories, conduct a transportation greenhouse gas analysis, and begin working on the next Environmental Sustainability Action Plan (ESAP-4), which includes a number of programs and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Human Rights Analysis Pilot

In December 2016, the Council approved a resolution designating Mountain View a “Human Rights City” and adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as guiding principles. On April 3rd, 2018, the Council approved a pilot program based on a recommendation from the Human Relations Commission to “implement a human rights policy analytical framework to analyze policy decisions through a human rights lens.” The pilot program would assess the impacts of policy proposals on four priority concerns: housing displacement, housing affordability, social equity (disparate impacts on racial, ethnic and economic groups in Mountain View), and economic prosperity (fiscal impacts on small businesses and specific demographic groups in Mountain View).

The Council approved the staff recommendation to apply the pilot to three upcoming policy issues: Short-Term Rental Regulations, the East Whisman Precise Plan, and Vision Zero, which is a goal to eliminate all bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and injuries caused by collisions with cars. During the pilot, the Council will evaluate the usefulness of the additional analysis and the impact on staff time and resources.

VTA North Bayshore Transportation Access Study

On April 17, the Council provided input on a study conducted by VTA in partnership with Google regarding transportation access to the North Bayshore area. Originally a feasibility study on a Light Rail extension project from the Bayshore/NASA Station, the study scope expanded to evaluate several transportation technologies. Based on a number of factors including capital and operational costs, the study recommends a “hybrid option of buses and autonomous vehicles (AVs)” in the near term, and further analysis of AVs and possible light rail in the long term. The Council generally agreed with the analysis and directed staff to work with VTA to identify funding partners and integrate this work with the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) study, which is investigating alignments and transportation technologies that will connect North Bayshore with the Downtown Transit Center.

— Lucas Ramirez, Observer