Fourth candidate makes council race competitive

Mountain View Voice
May 25, 2018

EPC member Ellen Kamei aims to run on civic engagement, housing platform

The race is on: Ellen Kamei, a member of the city's Environmental Planning Commission, announced last Thursday that she will run for a City Council seat. She is now the fourth person seeking to be elected this November.

Kamei, 34, points to her extensive involvement in local politics to prove her ability to get things done. Mountain View continues to face mounting challenges surrounding housing and transportation, and Kamei said she is best equipped to take on the job.

"I'm running to create and maintain opportunities for all residents to thrive," she said when asked to summarize her campaign.

Kamei is a third-generation Mountain View resident, and her grandparents previously ran the Kamei flower nursery in what is now the city's Waverly Park neighborhood. She has made a career out of public service, earning a master's degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and serving as a policy aide to Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, and as a staffer for Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo. Since last year, she has worked as district director for state Assemblyman Marc Berman, who represents Mountain View.

More than any other role, Kamei points to her six years on the city's Environmental Planning Commission. In that position, she was tasked with reviewing countless plans for new buildings, roadways and neighborhood plans. It gave her a knack for understanding the concerns of residents as well as private developers seeking to build in Mountain View.

Her priorities for leadership are to address the areas being left behind. In particular, she wants to help the so-called "missing middle," the median-income households who are too well-off to qualify for public assistance, but too poor to buy a home. Building more ownership housing should be a goal as the city revises its housing element, she said.

Stronger incentives for building inclusionary housing and easier approvals for smaller development should also be considered, she said. From housing, she quickly segues to transportation, emphasizing that city growth must be balanced by traffic mitigation.

Kamei is less enthusiastic about rent control, arguably the most polarizing issue in Mountain View. She doesn't count herself as a supporter of the city's current rent control policies, but she avoids any full-throated criticism of the program. Voters made up their minds when they passed rent control in 2016, she said; however, it is only fair for opponents to seek their own initiative in the 2018 race, she said.

"Rent control is not a permanent solution for housing," she said. "I'd prefer to brainstorm what else we can do."

As a top concern, Kamei points to the spread of people living out of RVs, and the need to tailor more local services to help them. In concept, she supports having some restrictions on people parking their vehicles near parks and schools, but admits that she needs to learn more about the issue.

Three City Council seats are up for election this November, and are currently occupied by Mayor Lenny Siegel, Pat Showalter and Ken Rosenberg. Siegel and Showalter have announced they intend to run for re-election while Rosenberg says he will not seek a second term.

Kamei's colleague on the city's Environmental Planning Commission, Lucas Ramirez, announced in February he would seek a council seat and has received Rosenberg's endorsement.

Kamei ran for City Council in 2014, a crowded race with nine candidates. Her platform was focused on quality-of-life issues and ensuring the city's growth didn't come at a sacrifice to its residents. When it came to future growth in North Bayshore, Kamei said that it was a poor location for housing that would cause a "traffic nightmare" on nearby roads.

Her views have evolved on that plan, as have the city's vision for how to do it. Kamei now counts herself as a supporter of the plans to build 9,850 homes near the Google headquarters, saying it makes sense now that the city is investing the forethought for transit, schools and other services. Last December, she voted as a member of the Environmental Planning Commission in support of the revised precise plan to add housing in North Bayshore.

"What's changed for me is now we have a real vision that shows it's actually possible," Kamei said. "For me, it wasn't a question of supporting housing, it was being thoughtful about it."