Mountain View’s Gatekeeper Process is a review mechanism created to review proposed development projects that may require a new zoning designation, and has been the city’s main mechanism to build large-scale projects. Proposals must first undergo a “pre-review” by the council before city staff evaluates them. The intent of the current Gatekeeper process is to make project expectations more clear, and simplify the path to council approval.
Formal Gatekeeper hearings have been delayed since 2016, and several potential residential developments have been left in limbo awaiting process reforms. As a part of the Housing Element process, the Housing Action Coalition (HAC) strongly advocated for the city to resume the Gatekeeper Process, increase the frequency of hearings, and streamline the process for housing proposals. The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) enforced our requests, and they made it into the certified housing element. This resulted in the creation of program 1.3 in the Housing Element which includes commitments to:
(1) Identify additional Gatekeeper exemptions for residential projects based on location, size, affordability and other policy goals
(2) Hold at least one Gatekeeper meeting per year, which may be limited to residential or residential mixed-use projects only, creating greater opportunities for project-specific rezonings
(3) Create increased opportunities for project-specific rezonings through the Gatekeeper process
In the city’s first opportunity to begin implementing a newly certified Housing Element, Mountain View staff recommended that the council implement new “qualifying criteria” in the Gatekeeper Process. The qualifying criteria are essentially a list of community benefits that projects would have to meet to participate in the Gatekeeper. If projects don’t meet the qualifying criteria, they will be immediately denied with no opportunity for an appeal. Although described as a way to streamline housing, the qualifying criteria doesn’t provide a direct path for approval, and the project would still have to hold an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and get approval from the Council. HAC, SV@Home, MV YIMBY, and the Mountain View Chamber worked in unity to reject the staff recommendation and advocated to resume the Gatekeeper as is.
On January 23, 2024, the Mountain View City Council decided against further postponing the contentious Gatekeeper development plan review process. This decision upheld the city’s obligations in its state-certified Housing Element. The council dismissed the city staff’s alternative proposal to delay a hearing until the end of the year while they continue to develop a new, controversial set of applicant screening requirements.
The council’s resolution ensures the process will meet the state-imposed June deadline, even if other process reform considerations are delayed. This decision was a compromise for the city and closely aligned with the recommendations HAC submitted to the council. While the Housing Element commitment aimed to create additional exemptions from the process to streamline and promote development, city staff and earlier Council discussions appeared to support new constraints and costs rather than reducing them. HAC will continue to engage with the city and HCD to ensure compliant implementation of the housing element.