A man with a microphone speaks to a panel of people seated in chairs
Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, speaks to a panel of five local mayors during the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce's annual Mayors' Breakfast event in Milpitas on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Photo by Joseph Geha.

How do you get the leaders of neighboring Silicon Valley cities to sit down and talk about critical issues facing the region?

It’s simple. Serve breakfast.

Five local mayors shared their perspectives on housing, transportation and other pressing needs Thursday at the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mayors’ Breakfast.

This year’s event included Milpitas Mayor Carmen Montano, Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Cupertino Mayor Sheila Mohan, Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein and Mountain View Mayor Pat Showalter. Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, moderated the panel, which was held at the Embassy Suites in Milpitas.

One of the biggest topics was housing and the failure of Silicon Valley cities to get enough homes built, especially for people not working in high-paying professions who struggle to meet basic daily needs in the pricey region.

Some mayors bristled at the state’s regional housing goals and mandates.

“The state with their housing element, they are making it really difficult for a lot of cities because we’re not the builders, it’s the developers. This is a free enterprise country, everybody, they have to have a profit margin,” Montano said. “To build affordable housing for really low, and very low incomes, it’s difficult.”

Some mayors including Klein and Showalter noted the broader economic trends — including higher interest rates and increasingly difficult financing packages for housing developments — are forcing developers to halt their work.

Gillmor, whose city has thousands of homes planned or in various stages of construction, said cities need to consider how their fees or cost structures could tamp down on building.

“Either the city costs are high and the interest rates are down and it pencils out for developers, but now they’re both high,” Gillmor said. “So we have to take a really good look at what our costs and fees are for development because that plays a big part especially when the interest rates are high.”

Showalter said funding mechanisms for affordable housing are overly complex, but state tax credits are a common pot of money used to help private developers get those projects built. She wants to see that resource grow.

“We really need to do advocacy to increase the cap on those tax credits. That’s a way to get money and to get private enterprise to help,” Showalter said.

Klein told San José Spotlight he thinks the regional governments need to do more to prevent people from falling into homelessness, in addition to the work being done to create affordable housing.

The mayors also talked about the need to have more interconnected local transit and ride-sharing for residents and workers, such as the Silicon Valley Hopper program, which serves Cupertino and Santa Clara, or the SMART program in Milpitas.

“These little sub-transportations, whether it’s Silicon Valley Hopper or any of the other last-mile type transportation systems, are what our constituents are looking for,” Gillmor said. “They’re looking for something that fits their schedules.”

Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor speaks during the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mayors’ Breakfast event in Milpitas on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Photo by Joseph Geha.

Gillmor said Santa Clara, Cupertino, Sunnyvale and Mountain View leaders are meeting quarterly to work on those kinds of issues and helping each other out.

Harbir Bhatia, CEO of the chamber, told San José Spotlight the biggest issue facing the cities of Silicon Valley is the lack of conversation about their interconnectedness and interdependence when it comes to major policies.

“I think we help them become a little bit more mindful about what they should be doing. So it kind of indirectly encourages them to think more holistically,” Bhatia said.

She added that the central chamber needs to shift its purpose to help address these challenges.

“I know traditionally chambers think of themselves as here to represent the business community. We want to go a step further,” Bhatia said. “We want to talk about how these things together impact the economy, not just the one silo we call business.”

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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