Meet Alex Brown, quasi-famous MV activist and ‘Official Guy Who Does Stuff Sometimes I Guess’

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

Community activist Alex Brown’s official, voted-on title and email signature is the “Official Guy Who Does Stuff Sometimes I Guess,” but it should probably be changed to be “Official Guy Who Does Stuff All the Time.”

An involved political activist, the Mountain View resident is a part of numerous community organizations advocating for everything from mobile home rent control to environmental sustainability and social justice. 

His lengthy resume includes working with the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, Santiago Neighborhood Association, Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition, Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America, Mountain View Tenants Coalition, Mountain View YIMBY, Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability, Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, Balanced Mountain View and Alphabet Workers Union.

“I’m sure that there are other ones that I forgot that just slipped my mind,” Brown said. “Yeah, there are probably others.”

Estimating that he attends an average of eight to nine meetings per week, Brown, pictured above with neighbor and MV Mobile Home Alliance administrator Bee Hanson, said he juggles simultaneous video calls on multiple computers by reading live transcripts on one and listening to the other — and that’s just for his various advocacy groups and city council meetings.

He laughed that he is able to keep up with such a packed Zoom schedule by having “no free time.”

“Gotta dedicate a lot of time to it,” Brown said. “And that’s how most of [the organizations] work. It’s just the people who are able to spend the time to show up to things, that’s what counts.”

Surprisingly, Brown said he is not a fan of having responsibilities or obligations despite taking it upon himself to make change in his community.

“I know I do a lot, but I don’t want people to expect it,” Brown said. “It’s fun if they’re just surprised.”

His consistent appearances and punchy remarks at city meetings have made Brown somewhat famous in local politics. 

One of his moments to shine was during a City Council meeting last December in response to the number of street signs necessary to enforce Measure C.

“There’s nothing more attractive than signposts with giant letters on them,” Brown said sarcastically during the meeting. “Because who needs trees? At some point the sign density will be great enough to support its own ecosystem. Wow — very priorities, many wisdom, so leadership, much proud.” 

But as memorable as his comments are, Brown said he is not one for planning and usually comes up with his lines on the fly, jotting down what he wants to say on a piece of paper after listening to other people’s comments and council presentations.

“I try to keep my comments short because I want them to be something worth hearing,” he said.

Saying that he hopes people he encounters will remember him, Brown expressed his disappointment when one of the Rental Housing Committee officials allegedly pretended to not know him and asked what his name was, even though he had been at every meeting. 

“I was like, ‘Vanessa! Gah!’ … Come on,” Brown said. 

Other than “Vanessa,” most city officials remember his name.

“Yeah, they all know me,” he said. “I’ve talked to each of them one on one multiple times. And some of them I chat with regularly because they’re people who want to get involved, want to do stuff and usually have strong opinions, and sadly I know what that’s like.”

When asked why it was “sad” that he has strong opinions, he said “it’s gotta be easier otherwise, right?” 

Growing up in a conservative household in Paradise Valley, Ariz., Brown said he was always “politically aware on different levels.” But this interest didn’t translate into his current activism until he moved to Mountain View. 

In 2015, the mobile home park Brown lived in saw rent prices skyrocket from around $900–$1,000 to $2,000 over the course of a couple of months. Brown, who by day is a software engineer at Google, has never been personally affected by the gentrification in the region, but his neighbors and friends were.

There was the couple near the front of the park with a pet bird, the rental right next to his that turned over owners three times in seven years, the guy in the beret who would walk around the park smoking a cigar.

“What was his name? Gary?” he said. “Nice guy — fragrant. … I know a lot of people that have moved on.”

Costs were so high, according to Brown, that many of the residents who were priced out of the park weren’t able to find buyers who could afford it, and the park’s flyers stopped listing the prices since they were no longer a selling point.

Brown became increasingly active in local politics since then, and by 2017, he was attending every city council meeting. 

“There’s a shuttle that would take me from work to Castro and El Camino [where city hall is],” Brown said. “And so I timed it right where I’d be able to grab a mint tea from the corner and then just walk over.”

Despite his prolific appearances at those council meetings, Brown doesn’t think that public comment should entirely dictate the council’s actions. If council were to respond fully to each of these comments, he said, it would “ping pong back and forth between very vocal opinions about how things should operate.”

“It is strong stances, it’s emotion, it is something to be considered,” Brown said. “But, I mean, that’s not legislation. That’s not how actual things [work] and I’ve never seen them work.”

And while he has clashed with council on numerous issues, Brown thinks they’re doing the best they can. The “default mode” in which council members don’t immediately take action, he said, makes sense so long as they are considering and learning from what they hear.

“Everyone’s just … trying to do something that they think is how they should be operating at any given moment,” he said. “It’s not always in alignment with the other people, but they’re trying. Most of the time, at least you think — you hope.”

Brown recently applied to be appointed to two groups: the Rental Housing Committee, which enforces rent laws, and the Public Safety Advisory Board, which will advise council on matters like policing.

His chances of being appointed are slim, Brown said, but “I’m gonna act like I have a shot because I think that’s the only reasonable way to act.”

“It would be fascinating if they tried to appoint me to both — just like the whole smoke the pack strategy,” he added. “They’re gonna cure me of my activism.”

Either way, Brown isn’t planning on stepping back from politics anytime soon. Next up: pushing through rent protection for mobile home residents just like him.

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