by Robert Cox and Manny Ramirez
On Friday, March 29, OMVNA treasurer Manny Ramirez and I met with Mountain View’s Chamber of Commerce President Oscar Garcia, at his office at 580 Castro Street. Mr. Garcia grew up in Mountain View, graduated from U.C. Berkeley, and worked at a number of high-tech startups before joining the Chamber as its President and CEO in January 2009. We spoke to Mr. Garcia about some of the leading issues facing business owners and residents living in our downtown Mountain View neighborhood.
Mr. Cox: Thanks for granting us this interview. Many of our readers aren’t that familiar with what the Chamber of Commerce is or does. What is an average day in life of the Chamber’s leader?
Mr. Garcia: There are no average days in this job! We do have several important goals. We seek to promote our local businesses through more than forty annual events. The most visible of these are the Art and Wine Festival, our mixers, and our speakers’ series. We also advocate on behalf of those businesses and act as a conduit between philanthropic organizations and the community. Our larger members, in particular Google and Intuit, often come to us to ask what the community needs and how they can help.
Mr. Ramirez: Mountain View is well known for these larger businesses,but what about the smaller local businesses? Does the Chamber reach out to the Hispanic community and their business owners and help them become more effective?
Mr. Garcia: One of the great things about the Chamber is that we don’t have to do everything ourselves. In this case, we can direct business owners to the Renaissance Center. They provide basic business classes for beginning entrepreneurs.
Mr. Cox: Since this is an election year, we’re wondering if the Chamber endorses candidates for city council and, if so, what qualities the Chamber is looking for in a council candidate?
Mr. Garcia: We do endorse candidates for council. In 2010, we endorsed the three incumbents. In particular, we are looking for candidates who will support the construction of affordable housing, are pro-business, and are interested in helping businesses be successful while adopting environmentally sound policies. Not all candidates choose to seek our endorsement. Those who do need to fill out a questionnaire and work with our subcommittee, which then recommends who to endorse to the board. The board then makes a final decision.
Mr. Cox: Do you have a position on the kind of housing that needs to be built here in Mountain View? When you think of affordable housing, what in particular are you thinking of?
Mr. Garcia: Construction of new apartment complexes is key. We need to build housing for the young people who are relocating to this area to work for Google and similar companies. Apartments are more affordable than ownership housing. But we do need to face the reality that Mountain View is only twelve square miles, and we will eventually tap out. At some point, we will need to decide if we are willing to give up some open space to keep building. I don’t think we will ever get to the density of San Francisco, and I’m not even sure we want to get there. We don’t want to lose what is special about downtown Mountain View. We want to preserve its uniqueness.
Mr. Ramirez: With companies like Google providing food and even basic services like shoe repair for their employees, is there still a role for small businesses in the North Bayshore area? How does the Chamber work with a company like Google that wants to be the end provider of all of its employees’ basic needs? Does Google have too much influence in Mountain View?
Mr. Garcia: In general, we are trying to encourage companies that provide these services for their employees to use local businesses as suppliers. This is working well at Linked In, which takes bids from local restaurants, who are then employed to cater their events. Many people are worried that Google has too much influence in our city. Rather than focusing on this, I encourage people to think about how to influence Google in a positive way. The Prime Minister of Israel was a recent visitor here. He didn’t come here to see Mountain View, he came to visit Google. So we here in Mountain View benefit a lot from Google’s presence. Google just provided the local school system with a million dollar grant. On the other hand, I am concerned that, as a city, we may be putting all of our eggs in one basket. When it comes to the future, we can’t be passive. We need to keep an eye on what Google is doing, and determine how to influence them in a way that benefits our city.
Mr. Cox: The Old Mountain View neighborhood is home to not only the downtown business district, but also to 2300 residential households. Are there ever issues where the interests of businesses and those of the residents come into conflict?
Mr. Garcia: The most recent one that comes to mind is the disagreementover the new Prometheus apartment complex on the Minton Lumber site. The Chamber strongly supported this development, as it provided new housing that would be attractive to people moving into the area to work for high tech companies. But the homeowners were concerned that it would disrupt their lives. I think that both the business owners and the residents value the vibrancy and activity of our downtown area. Our restaurants and nightlife are a big selling point. If we don’t preserve the attractiveness and uniqueness of our downtown, we won’t continue to bring in customers. Of course, the neighbors and their association need to be involved and actively participate in the dialogue that determines what our city will become. I think they are doing a good job at that.
Mr. Cox: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Mr. Garcia: My pleasure!