Seat 1: Smart Growth vs. NIMBYism
This is Part 2 in my series on Sunnyvale’s 2018 Election. Start with Part 1, my overview of the race, if you haven’t read it yet. I also wrote an addendum for this race, addressing Alexander’s claims regarding crime. Part 3 is my endorsement of Glenn Hendricks over Josh Grossman for Seat 2, and Part 4 is my endorsement of Mason Fong over John Cordes for Seat 3.
I’ll be taking the Sunnyvale campaigns in order of seat number, which entirely coincidentally is also the order of difficulty in making a choice. Seat 1 is currently held by Councilmember Gustav Larsson, who is facing a challenge from Parks and Recreation Commissioner Henry Alexander III.
Seat 1 is the second easiest decision facing Sunnyvale voters this fall (passing Measure L is the easiest). Gustav Larsson has been a hard-working, competent councilmember who has consistently been a voice for building desperately needed housing. He’s pushed for the inclusion of seven new “urban villages” in our General Plan, for an entirely new housing density level for the El Camino Real Corridor Specific Plan, and for additional density as part of the Lawrence Station Area Plan. Larsson may not call himself a YIMBY, but he is perhaps one of the strongest, most consistent voices for housing on our council. And that’s saying something, because we have quite a pro-housing council!
Beyond the issue of housing, I’ve had the privilege to watch Councilmember Larsson in action over the past year. He is one of our quieter councilmembers, but his analysis is always deliberative and carefully reasoned. He’s been an excellent force on our council, which is likely why virtually every major progressive political organization and officeholder in the County has endorsed him.
Commissioner Alexander has made traffic and “quality of life” the chief issues of his campaign. His solution? Halt development. He has specifically stated that he believes that council needs to stop approving every development that comes before it. Much of his ire is focused on office development, but he has also stated that he believes that high density housing is not a solution to the housing crisis.
Alexander is right that traffic is a major problem, as anyone who’s sat on Mathilda, Wolfe, the* 101, or the 237 during rush hour could tell you. But as Larsson pointed out at the Livable Sunnyvale candidate forum, much of that traffic is pass-through traffic. And much of it comes from people who work in Sunnyvale, but are unable to afford to live here. This is a regional problem that is the direct result of adding jobs without adding adequate housing. As the rents in job rich areas go up, people are forced to commute longer and longer distances, creating worse and worse traffic. The solution? High density housing near jobs: precisely what Alexander rejects.
Alexander was one of the main proponents of 2016’s Measure M, a disastrously written proposal which would have required virtually any sale or lease of public lands to be approved by the voters. By contrast, Santa Clara’s Measure R, which passed without substantial opposition, only applies to parks and recreation facilities, and does not apply to lease renewals. Measure M would have paralyzed the city and created a bucket of problems. Alexander’s decision to back it is disqualifying in its own right.
He also backs a referendum on mobile home park rent control, along with Cordes and Grossman. The question they fail to answer, though, is what would happen if such a resolution went to the voters and failed. If that happened, mobile home park rent control in Sunnyvale would be dead for a generation. Park owners like the Carlyle Group could sink millions into fighting such a referendum, and such a ballot measure would be unlikely to draw substantial support outside the mobile home parks.
Alexander’s campaign has been lackluster, and his presentations have often lacked polish. Alexander has missed some of the more important forums in the city, such as the Snail neighborhood forum.** And as far as I can tell, he hasn’t received any major organizational endorsements. The Sunnyvale Democratic Club asked all five Democratic candidates if they supported the new ordinance the city recently passed banning the sale of centerfire firearms to individuals under the age of 21 at our endorsement meeting.*** All of them supported it straightforwardly, except Alexander, who gave a meandering response about mental illness and the baleful effects of violent videogames. For the record, no such connection between violent video games and actual violence has ever been established.
In a recent Facebook discussion, Alexander asked me, in response to my concerns about rising rents, “What are you and your friends willing to do to stay in Sunnyvale?”. The fact is my friends are sacrificing plenty to be able to stay in this region. Even the best off of us find homeownership, the traditional ladder to prosperity in America, to be far out of reach. I know people living in converted living rooms, people living with their parents, people living two or three families to a two bedroom apartment. That doesn’t include the people who are just leaving. Of course, then there’s this:
I don’t know about you, but that isn’t the kind of rhetoric I’d applaud.
The choice for Seat 1 couldn’t be more clear. If you want to freeze Sunnyvale in amber, if you want traffic to get worse, if you want to see the housing crisis get worse faster, then vote for Henry Alexander III. But if you want Sunnyvale to continue to be a region leader in the production of housing, if you want to see more bike lanes and better transit, if you want to see urban villages and more affordable housing, then vote for Gustav Larsson. I know I will be.
* I will fight you all for that the. Signed, a born Southern Californian.
** The Snail Neighborhood Association is among the oldest and most active in Sunnyvale.
*** Mayor Hendricks, the lone Republican in the race, also backed the ordinance.