#parents | #teensvaping | Vaping ordinance and youth mental health are now top goals for Mountain View City Council | News

Faced with too many ambitious plans and not nearly enough staff time, the Mountain View City Council took a scalpel to its long list of big-ticket priorities Tuesday night.

Transportation initiatives were largely the losers, while a bid for a citywide vaping ban and improvements to youth mental health won coveted spots in the lengthy catalog of council goals.

The Feb. 4 meeting marked a major check-in for the council’s biennial goal-setting process, which sets a road map for addressing the city’s most pressing issues. It also gives council members a broadly defined forum to spitball ideas, rapidly taking on a bevy of disparate topics in a small theater inside the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts. Council members “voted” by placing colored stickers on easel pads next to favored items.

Gaining the sticker of approval from all seven council members was a new plan to help address gaps in youth mental health care in Mountain View. The idea, put forth by Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga last year, would have the city bring together school districts, nonprofits and county health officials to figure out what services are lacking and what can be done about it. It could also usher in a boost of funding from the city to mental health providers.

Abe-Koga said she believes the city could become an important “conduit” between health care agencies and local schools. The idea comes after the deaths of two high school students by suicide since August 2018.

The council was cautious, however, of overstepping boundaries, and agreed that the work should be done primarily by council members themselves through the Youth Services Committee. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said the city doesn’t have the expertise to champion mental health initiatives that have long been the purview of Santa Clara County and local nonprofits, and worried it would take up too much staff time.

“I would prefer the city not take the lead, given how much we have on our plate,” she said.

Also getting added to the priority list is an ordinance restricting the sale of electronic cigarettes and vaping products within city limits, which could come back to the council for a vote in June. The decision follows recent calls by county officials and local school districts urging the city to do more to curb a troubling rise in teen vaping.

Mountain View does not have an ordinance restricting the sale of tobacco products near schools and in pharmacies, and does not prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products that appeal to teens. A study last February found a reduction in tobacco use among youth and young adults in areas that adopted robust compliance checks and enforcement programs to monitor illicit sales to minors.

Though the Tuesday meeting was a chance to add new priorities, the bulk of the discussion was spent trying to find a middle ground with city staffers seeking to postpone time-consuming tasks or items that require new hires. A study originally slated to begin this month on an automated transit system into North Bayshore got bumped to November, pending the hiring of a new assistant public works director. The launch of the city’s new electric scooter program got postponed from June until some time in the fall, again because of vacant transportation staff positions.

Council members were less willing to relent on housing goals that staff sought to delay. Councilwoman Ellen Kamei balked at the idea of pushing back plans to support middle-income housing strategies by eight months, and prevailed in getting a lean version of the plan to move forward next month. Families making between 80% and 120% of the area’s median income — currently set at $131,400 — are in the uncomfortable spot of making too much to qualify for subsidized housing but not enough to afford market-rate housing, and city officials have sought to bridge the gap for the so-called “missing middle.”

Kamei asked city staff to come back with options for a down payment assistance program and other ways to help families make the leap to homeownership.

“It’s really a large jump, and as a community that is 25% working young professionals, I think we as a city really need to show a pathway for middle-income families to stay in our community,” she said.

Councilman Lucas Ramirez pushed back on a delay in changing the city’s tenant relocation assistance package, which is part of the council’s plan to curb tenant displacement following a series of redevelopment projects that tore down older, more affordable apartments. The council is expected to revisit its relocation assistance ordinance in the spring, including plans to lower the income threshold for eligibility and circumstances in which displaced tenants could receive an additional $5,000.

Discarded goals at the meeting included an ordinance that would have required the safe storing of firearms in homes and vehicles, which received only three stickers, as well as a bid by Abe-Koga to prohibit smoking in apartment complexes and other multi-unit residences.

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