by Noam Livnat
Over the last couple of weeks a lively and sometimes heated debate has been taking place on the OMVNA newsgroup. It all started with a post from a new neighborhood association, Wagon Wheel, that was founded in Whisman to oppose the proposed Hetch Hetchy development. The City Council rejected the developer’s proposal on April 23 to the dismay of the developer and the land owner, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who had spent significant time and money on project planning.
It’s reasonable to assume that some of the neighbors’ objections stemmed from a classic NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) syndrome: they didn’t want denser development right next to them, didn’t want neighbors peering down at them from a third story window, and may have been generally opposed to change. This is certainly not unusual. The discussion on our newsgroup, however, featured contributions from people who won’t be affected in the same way as the Whisman residents.
In broad terms, the argument pitted those who see value in expanding the Mountain View community and those who believe that the city will be ill-served by growth. The first group pointed out the benefits that come with a larger local population: a more lively downtown and improved ability to support and fund schools and public services which add to the health of the community. The second group worried about overtaxing the city’s extended resources and the growing congestion and noise. They wanted the city to retain its historical character. Interestingly, environmentalists supported the project as it allows people to live closer to public transportation and their jobs which reduces commutes and increases sustainability.
My belief is that in order to keep Mountain View thriving and diverse we will need to continue growing; change, while not always good, is inevitable. We’ll need new higher-density housing. We’ll need growing families to expand existing homes so they can remain in the city. And we’ll need new businesses in the area to offer jobs. Complain as we might about the downside of growth, not growing might mean losing out to global “competition” for business and people and a drop in our quality of life. But our growth should be smart and offer the appropriate benefits. While I expect the number of second story houses in downtown to grow, I’d expect public places to be increased and improved. I’d like to see our schools become more attractive to all downtown residents, many of whom currently opt for private schools.
The most important lesson from the development discussion is that this is truly an intricate question, even when you neutralize the NIMBY effect. Transparency and public debate are the surest way to find the optimal way to improve our quality of life while balancing our other needs. So educate yourself, get involved, and get heard on our newsgroups and in City Council hearings.