Six square off in heated City Council race

Voter Guide: Two incumbents, four challengers seek to lead city

Mountain View Voice October 23, 2018

It's a pivotal time for the city of Mountain View, and the stakes have become abundantly clear in this year's City Council election.

In recent years, Mountain View's leadership has struggled with the difficult balance between aggressively pushing new housing growth in the city while trying to avoid gentrification. A string of important decisions on future city plans have gone forward with a thin majority on the council, which could tip the other way depending on this election.

Three seats on the City Council, currently held by Mayor Lenny Siegel and council members Pat Showalter and Ken Rosenberg, are on this November's ballot. Siegel and Showalter are both running for re-election while Rosenberg decided against seeking a second term.

The candidates challenging them are former two-term council member John Inks, planning commissioners Ellen Kamei and Lucas Ramirez, and retired city planner Alison Hicks.

Ellen Kamei

Age: 34

Occupation: District Director for State Assemblyman Marc Berman

Education: B.A. English and Japanese, University of California at Santa Barbara; Masters of Public Administration from University of Pennsylvania.

Years in the city: 7

Website: ellenkamei.com

In a nutshell, Ellen Kamei sees her campaign's impetus (and her base) as Mountain View's so-called "missing middle." These are employed, educated households that in any other circumstances would be firmly on track for a middle-class lifestyle. Yet they can't afford homeownership but make too much to qualify for most subsidized housing. Kamei believes a large segment of Mountain View's population fall into this missing middle group, and she counts herself among them.

"In the conversations I've been having with people, they're either young families who fall into this category, or they're parents who are concerned their children won't be able to move back to the area," she said.

This leads to her pitch: she knows the challenges of the housing crisis personally as well as the policy and political hurdles for fixing it. As a public servant who has worked at the local and state level, Kamei believes she has the right mix of policy experience and know-how to encourage robust housing growth, particularly for more for-sale homes priced for middle-income households.

Amid the push for city growth, Kamei also points to her experience working on four precise plans over her six years on the city's Environmental Planning Commission. She speaks to the concerns of current residents, saying the city needs to preserve its historic character as well as its tree canopy. To better inform the public about proposed developments, the radius for public notices should be expanded to 1,000 feet, she said.

Kamei is less enthusiastic about the Mountain View's rent control program, describing it as an flawed answer to the housing shortage. During the 2016 election, she favored City Council-backed Measure W, the losing alternative to Measure V that lacked teeth but provided more flexibility. If elected, she said she would seek members of the Rental Housing Commission who represent a diversity of viewpoints and who demonstrate that they can collaborate.

Kamei casts a wide net when it comes to addressing the rising concerns about people living out of their vehicles. Everything is on the table and should be explored: case management services, better outreach, safe parking and rehousing programs, among other things. In addition, she suggests the city should look into the parking permit programs implemented in Berkeley and Santa Barbara to restrict where inhabited vehicles can park overnight.

"Obviously, there's no perfect solution, but these are the things I'm exploring," she said. "What I love about Mountain View is our compassion. Even for those who are voicing concerns, it's a question of how can we help those who are living in RVs."

Kamei support the city's Measure P business license tax update, describing it as a significant step for creating a new transit system. On transportation issues, she touts the city's free shuttle service, largely funded by Google, but she said it would benefit from having more stops. She expressed some skepticism with the City Council's push for an automated guideway system, saying she still needs to be convinced it is the best idea.

"We don't want to build something we think people will want, but they won't use," she said.