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November 3, 2020 — California General Election
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Local

City of Mountain ViewCandidate for City Council

Photo of Leonard "Lenny" Siegel

Leonard "Lenny" Siegel

Environmental Oversight Researcher
9,972 votes (9.71%)
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • Implement plans, such as North Bayshore, to build mixed-income, medium-density, mixed-use neighborhoods complete with homes, schools, parks, transit, trails, habitat, retail, and jobs.
  • Prevent displacement by strengthening rent control, halting the demolition of naturally affordable housing, and provide places for ALL vehicle residents to survive.
  • Improve public transit, including Caltrain, the proposed automated guideway, and the community shuttle while expanding and improving our bicycle infrastructure.

Experience

Experience

Profession:Environmental Advocate
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight, a project of the Pacific Studies Center (1994–current)
Member, Santa Clara County Housing Bond Oversight Committee — Elected position (2017–current)

Education

Stanford University Physics (1969)

Community Activities

Founder/Member, Save Hangar One Committee (2005–current)

Biography

Lenny Siegel served as Mayor of Mountain View from January 9, 2018 through January 8, 2019.

Siegel has resided in Mountain View since June 1972, owning his home in Old Mountain View since August, 1979.

He was married to Jan Rivers in June 1976; his daughter Misha Siegel-Rivers is 38; and his son Abram Siegel-Rivers is 33.

He served on the Mountain View Planning Commission from 1978-1980, and he was elected to the City Council in November, 2014, taking office in January, 2015.

He has been President of the non-profit Pacific Studies Center since 1970, and he has served as Executive Director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, a PSC project since 2006, since 1994. See www.cpeo.org for a compilation of Siegel’s environmental work, including the oversight of the cleanup of toxic groundwater in Mountain View and at Moffett Field. EPA named him national “Superfund Citizen of the Year” in 2011. His many publications include The High Cost of High Tech: The Dark Side of the Chip (Harper & Row, 1985), co-authored with John Markoff.

Siegel founded several local non-governmental organizations, including the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View, Mountain View Voices for Peace and Justice, Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition, Alliance for a New Moffett Field, and the Save Hangar One Committee. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

He was an undergraduate in Physics at Stanford University from 1966 to 1969. At Stanford he was a leading member of numerous activist groups, including the Students for a Democratic Society, the Stanford Anti-Draft Union, and the April Third Movement.

Born on December 7, 1948, Siegel grew up in Culver City, California. He was a valedictorian at Culver City High School in 1966.

Who supports this candidate?

Organizations (1)

  • See https://lennysiegelforcouncil.org/endorsements.html

Questions & Answers

Questions from League of Women Voters of California and Elect Justice CA (2)

Does your office have any plans to include currently or formerly incarcerated people in your decision-making process as it relates to criminal justice issues? What would that look like?
Answer from Leonard "Lenny" Siegel:

No current plans. This seems beyond the scope of the office.

With 8,000 people eligible for release from CA prisons to help stem the transmission of COVID-19, how, if at all, would your office aid these Californians and their families in navigating reentry?
Answer from Leonard "Lenny" Siegel:

Again, this is beyond our scope, but they should be tested and offered hotel rooms for quarantine and perhaps longer.

Questions from LWV Los Altos/Mountain View Area (2)

  What can the Council do to ensure people who work in Mountain View can also afford to live here?  
Answer from Leonard "Lenny" Siegel:

Build thousands of units of market-rate housing units near employment centers and build below-market homes in market-rate complexes and stand-along projects with social services.

  What are the leadership qualities that will make you an effective Council Member?  
Answer from Leonard "Lenny" Siegel:

I am honest. I involve the public. I work with people on some issues even when I disagree with them on others. I always do my homework. I stand up for what I believe in.

Questions from LWV Mountain View Area (1)

  Describe your vision for the City’s downtown? Has the Covid experience changed that vision? How?  
Answer from Leonard "Lenny" Siegel:

I believe in preserving the first three blocks of Castro Street, halting office construction, building housing with groundfloor retail and underground parking, extending downtown to Moffett Blvd., and making the pedestrian malls permanent.

Political Beliefs

Political Philosophy

Some people seem happy with the gentrification of Mountain View. I’m not. I am running for Council again to preserve our socioeconomic and cultural diversity, as well as to preserve the quality of life in our diverse neighborhoods. I have spent much of my time and energy since I left the Council at the beginning of 2019 organizing for housing justice. I spearheaded the petition against the motorhome ban and played a key role in the campaign to defeat Measure D. I believe I can be even more effective as a voting Council member.

While I served on Council, my allies and I moved Mountain View to the forefront of the regional response to the Bay Area housing crisis. We made plans to build mixed-use, medium-density neighborhoods on commercial property, preserving existing neighborhoods as well as naturally affordable housing. These new neighborhoods will include thousands of both market-rate and below-market homes, jobs, retail, parks, and schools. The Council needs to work harder to make those plans a reality.

While my efforts to build housing and protect tenants, mobile home residents, and vehicle residents have been most visible, I did a lot more when I was on the Council:

  • Proposed and won passage of Measure P (2018), a graduated tax on employers 
  • Promoted non-peak service on CalTrain 
  • Revived hopes for a school and park in the San Antonio area
  • Built support for car-free zones downtown 
  • Successfully proposed linkage of office development to housing development—that is, limiting office construction if not accompanied by housing development 
  • Identified suitable sites for affordable housing projects
  • Initiated plans for a high-speed transit link between downtown Mountain View and North Bayshore
  • Supported electrification of local energy and the shift to clean electricity. 
  • Promoted cleanup of underground toxics on property slated for development 
  • Accelerated the re-opening of the Stevens Creek Trail after the washout 
  • Worked to Save Cooper Park
  • Worked to Save the Sierra Avenue Redwoods
  • Defended weekly garbage pickup
  • Opposed bus-only lanes on El Camino Real
  • Approved policies for regulated, monitored, and taxed cannabis sales, since undermined by the current Council

Position Papers

"Safe Streets for All" is Misleading

Summary

The proponents of Measure C are using the slogan, “Safe streets for all.” It’s misleading and elitist.

The proponents of Measure C are using the slogan, “Safe streets for all.” It’s misleading and elitist.

It’s misleading because most motorhome residents park on streets that don’t have driveways or cross traffic. Think Crisanto along the tracks, Wentworth along Central Expressway, and Continental Circle along Highway 85.

Where they pose a traffic hazard – limiting visibility – the city already has the tools to move them. When I was on Council, the City moved the motorhomes away from the Target driveway on Latham. When I was Mayor, I relayed, to Public Works, concerns from the CEO of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation that its garage driveway exit onto Continental Circle was obstructed by oversized vehicles. When I checked it out, I found construction trucks. So the City immediately painted the adjacent curb red, and soon we posted signs prohibiting tall vehicles a little further down.

Measure C is not about safety, it’s because some people in our community don’t want to see the signs of poverty in the midst of our collective affluence.

The proponents don’t want to make the streets “for all.” Throughout our single-family neighborhoods, people treat the public streets in front of their houses as their own private property, parking their cars for much longer than 72 hours and leaving basketball hoops there permanently. I don’t really have a problem with that. So why do they have a problem with other people parking their vehicles on streets that are not in front of houses?

This is the drawbridge phenomenon. Some of our residents have made it across the affluence drawbridge, and they want to pull it up behind themselves. This is not the spirit of the Mountain View that I’ve lived in for 48 years.

Finally, some of the proponents claimed that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our police were not enforcing the requirement that vehicles be moved at least every 72 hours. Vehicle residents, on the other hand, told me that the police were over-zealous. The proponents of Measure C chose to forget that the purpose of the 72-hour rule is to prevent the accumulation of abandoned vehicles, not to harass people who can’t afford the rent.

The courts have ruled that cities can’t roust homeless people (or people whose homes have wheels) unless there is someplace local for them to go. That’s why the proponents pretend that the measure is about traffic and parking.

If you truly believe in safe streets for everyone, join me in voting no on Measure C.

Let cities decide where and how to build housing

Summary
Silicon Valley’s job-rich communities need to build more housing for many reasons.  But proposed state legislation to obviate local control is not the way to get it done.

East Palo Alto’s leaders aren’t the only ones who believe that Palo Alto and other slow-growth communities need to “step up” and plan for substantial residential development within their boundaries. But proposed state legislation to obviate local control, such as Senate Bill 50, is not the way to get it done.

Silicon Valley’s job-rich communities need to build more housing for many reasons. By driving up housing costs, our housing shortage is creating hardship for many people who work or have retired here. The high cost and low availability of housing is making it difficult for both the private and public sectors to attract and retain low- and middle-income workers, from restaurant workers to teachers.

The highly visible automotive commute of the vast numbers of local employees who drive more than an hour each way every day not only congests our roadways, it is our region’s number one source of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

Even long-time homeowners are finding that it’s difficult for their grown children and grandchildren to live nearby. And the cities that house more workers than work there, such as East Palo Alto and San Jose, are stuck providing services with inadequate tax revenue.

About SB50

So it’s no surprise that people genuinely concerned about our housing crisis have joined the corporate backers of regional government to support top-down state legislation such as state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB50, which would require cities to accept denser residential development proposals than they would approve on their own.

SB50 is a moving target. In response to criticism and to win votes in Sacramento, it continues to undergo changes, some of which may make the legislation less problematic. Furthermore, the language is subject to interpretation. However, SB50 is fundamentally flawed in two ways.

First, it takes a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, in originally emphasizing housing near transit, it ignored the fact that many cities don’t have respectable public transit in areas where housing should be built. Both Cupertino and Mountain View’s North Bayshore Area barely have any public bus service. Now it includes “job-rich” areas, but those are not clearly defined. I don’t see how state legislators can figure out, in advance, where dense housing should be built in every city covered by the legislation.

As I read the legislation, it focuses on property already zoned for housing. However, to protect existing neighborhoods and naturally affordable apartments, Mountain View is zoning commercial properties for housing, not properties already designated residential. This strategy should make it easier for people to walk or bike to work, or simply to drive less.

There’s more to it. Mountain View is designing medium-density, mixed-income neighborhoods in what have long been shopping areas and office parks, complete with housing, jobs, parks, schools, retail, and transit. Palo Alto could do the same, building complete neighborhoods in the Stanford Research Park, Stanford Shopping Center, and the industrial area east of San Antonio that everyone thinks is in Mountain View. Nothing in SB50 encourages this approach.

Tying the hands of cities

Second, it limits the ability of local governments to address how housing is built. Some of the concerns that housing skeptics raise are valid: traffic, parking, provision of schools, and ensuring that other services are made available.

So when Mountain View approves or plans for housing, it places conditions on development and requires community benefit funding in exchange for added density. It determines, on a case-by-case basis, which residential projects can manage with minimal parking.

The proponents of SB50 say that cities would retain much of their leverage, but if that were the case recalcitrant city councils could simply use that authority to block development, or at least tie it up in court.

To get housing built in North Bayshore, Mountain View found that it had to negotiate park and school funding requirements to balance public needs with developers’ financial requirements.

Mountain View is building a steady stream of both market-rate and subsidized housing. There is widespread support for housing precisely because the city, after consulting with residents, determines where and how it will be constructed.

If cities are forced to accept projects that don’t address neighborhood concerns, one can bet that there will be a backlash that limits growth in the long run.

Alternatives

Finally, there are other things that the state can do to promote housing growth in our area. It can provide funding for transit, road improvements, and school construction to communities that build their share of housing, as well as money to build subsidized apartments. Such a strategy not only would provide incentives for cities to address the housing crisis, it would create better communities.

Rent Control

Summary

Every time we think rent stabilization is safely established in Mountain View, a new obstacle arises. The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted apartment vacancies, raising the possibility that the Rental Housing Committee (RHC) will suspend rent control. However, this fall’s Council election creates an opportunity for the Council to appoint RHC members who support the goals of Measure V, limiting the possibility that they will vote to suspend rent regulation.

 

Every time we think rent stabilization is safely established in Mountain View, a new obstacle arises. The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted apartment vacancies, raising the possibility that the Rental Housing Committee (RHC) will suspend rent control. However, this fall’s Council election creates an opportunity for the Council to appoint RHC members who support the goals of Measure V, limiting the possibility that they will vote to suspend rent regulation.

 

Voters passed Measure V, 53% to 47%, in November 2016. But it was not immediately implemented because housing investors (landlords) took the city to court. The court threw out the lawsuit.

 

Next, the Rental Housing Committee (RHC) took steps to weaken rent regulation. Most notably, it ignored its own lawyers and excluded mobile homes from Measure V.

 

In 2018, the California Apartment Association (CAA, corporate landlords) circulated a petition that I labeled the “Sneaky Repeal.” Tenants and their advocates organized, discouraging voters from signing, and the CAA failed to make the November 2018 ballot. The City Council scheduled their measure for November 2020, but the landlords withdrew the proposal because it was doomed to certain, overwhelming defeat.

 

Measure D on the March 2020 ballot, funded by the CAA, would have seriously undermined Measure V. Voters rejected it 70% to 30%.

 

But the COVID-19 pandemic has created yet another obstacle. Measure V contains a little-known safety valve or loophole:

Section 1718. - Decontrol.

If the average annual vacancy rate in Controlled Rental Units exceeds five percent (5%), the Committee is empowered, at its discretion and in order to achieve the objectives of this Article, to suspend the provisions of this Article. In determining the vacancy rate for Controlled Rental Units, the Committee shall consider all available data and shall conduct its own survey. If the Committee finds that the average annual vacancy rate has thereafter fallen below five percent (5%) the provisions of this Article shall be reimposed.

This made sense in normal times. If the housing supply were to rise or demand were to fall, a vacancy rate of 5% might mean that the market would hold down most rents.

 

However, the pandemic and associated economic hardships has forced many tenants to leave town. The city says our vacancy rate is 7.2%. That’s plausible, given the number of empty apartments I’ve been noticed while delivering campaign fliers.

 

If the RHC confirms the high vacancy rate, then it has the authority to suspend rent control. That’s where the Council election comes into play. If voters elect Council member who agree with the voters on Measure V and Measure D, then they will have the opportunity to appoint RHC members who hold the line.

 

Suspending the provisions of Measure V could seriously hurt those Mountain View tenants who are hanging on, despite the pandemic and recession. Rents are down right now, but they are likely to jump back up once the pandemic ends. Without Measure V remaining in force, landlords would again be able to charge what the market bears. And everyone knows what that means!

 

For more information, see https://lennysiegelforcouncil.org/media.html

 

 

 

Videos (5)

Mountain View can build more housing without demolishing naturally affordable housing or undermining the quality of life in existing neighborhoods.

— October 7, 2020 Lenny Siegel for Council 2020

Last fall, the Mountain View City Council voted for a de facto ban on people living in motorhomes and other oversized vehicles on city streets, pretending it was all about narrow, neighborhood streets. We blocked it with a referendum petition. Now it's on the November ballot as Measure C.

— October 7, 2020 Lenny Siegel for Council 2020

Corporate landlords have been unable to weaken Mountain View's Rent Control law (2016 Measure V), but now they're hoping to elect Council members who will appoint Rental Housing Committee members who don't support its goals.

— October 7, 2020 Lenny Siegel for Council 2020

In 2015 Mountain View became a leader in the fight to overcome our regional housing crisis, a housing shortage that leads to unacceptably high rents and home prices. In December 2017 the Council unanimously approved the Residential Update to the North Bayshore Precise Plan. But no housing has been built yet in North Bayshore.

— October 7, 2020 Lenny Siegel for Council 2020

For four centuries, racism and ethnic discrimination have been a blemish on the American experience. I believe it essential that local leaders speak out for justice, not just locally, but nationally. I’m Lenny Siegel, and I’ve been fighting for racial justice since I was a teen-ager.

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