In November, professional skateboarder and businessman Mikey Taylor was elected to a four-year term on the Thousand Oaks city council. He spoke with The Conejo Guardian about his vision to attract young families to the Conejo Valley and more. This interview was edited for length.
Conejo Guardian: Were you surprised to win?
Taylor: I wasn’t surprised that I won because I did this thinking I could do it, but after the fact, I found out how rare it is for you to win your first time ever running. So me being a little bit naive helped to think it was possible.
Conejo Guardian: Big-picture, what are your near-term priorities and bigger stuff you want to tackle?
Taylor: One is the homelessness issue we have here, which is growing, then planning for water, for drought years. What we’re experiencing right now is we’re getting dumped on [with rain], which is great, but what tends to happen is we have drought years, and everybody’s concerned about water, and all of a sudden, it rains, and we forget to plan for future drought years. So I’m really glad we’re getting the water, but we’re watching so much of it not be captured and used. I really want to start building out additional storage and, ultimately, a system where we’re actually capturing rainwater. … We’re looking at where we could do this and how it would potentially work with new development. In four years, I’m hoping on that front we could make progress.
The homeless one’s going to take longer than four years. This is going to be something we’ll be trying to help with for, unfortunately, I think, a long, long time.
Conejo Guardian: Where do you start with that issue?
Taylor: To me, it always starts with what is the root cause and how do we address that so we can get people off the streets long-term? I think that’s a big reason why we’re in the situation we’re in because most of the message around homelessness is, “People are homeless because they can’t afford homes.” It completely neglects the majority of people who are suffering with addiction, substance abuse and mental illness. Until we address those factors, which are ultimately leading to people being on the streets, we’re not going to see a lot of movement happening.
We will need the state to change some of the regulation we have around mental illness. But as far as housing goes, you have to incentivize behavior. When you work with people and they start drawing away from substance abuse, that’s when you start talking about something like subsidized housing. My solution is more temporary shelter that hyper-focuses on the issue so we can rehabilitate the people, and then we can help with something like housing. Right now, we’re taking the opposite approach; it’s a “housing first” model. My concern is [that] the need and care they have, which would be on the back end, isn’t what we’re going to need to actually get people off the streets permanently. [We need] a different approach than we’re currently taking. Navigating through that is going to take time.
The other one is, in my perspective, there’s a gap in our area when it comes to the age demographic of, let’s call it, 18 to 30 [years old]. The typical trend is you grow up here, then you move away, then you go to school, then you live somewhere and maybe come back to raise kids. I want to put effort towards filling that.
‘There’s a gap in our area when it comes to the age demographic of, let’s call it, 18 to 30 [years old]. I want to put effort towards filling that.’
When I was in my twenties, we just wanted things to do and people to hang out with. It’s a very experience-focused point in time. We are starting to get a potential glimpse of that in our area, but if you go on, say, Thousand Oaks Boulevard, there [are] not [many] experience-driven amenities for that age demographic.
Conejo Guardian: What’s an example of an experience-driven amenity?
Taylor: I don’t want to make it all about alcohol, but I think Tarantula Hill would be maybe a good step in that direction, where you’ve got a beautiful, designed open space with an indoor-outdoor element, with food, with people. It’s gathering community. There are things happening right now further down south in rooftop, outdoor cinemas where it’s almost a vision for drive-in theaters.[Then there are] storage conversions happening. They take storage containers and convert them into little pop-up stores or restaurants. There are areas taking more open space and creating this outdoor experience with seven different storage conversions. Maybe two have some type of restaurant element; maybe there’s a bar element and some cool retail. It’s finding new ways to offer things to do for that group.
Conejo Guardian: The cost of housing has to be the big barrier.
Taylor: Cost of housing is another one, but believe it or not, a lot of the places the youth are going aren’t finding that much of a discount in rents in comparison to Thousand Oaks. The housing shortage is an issue in a lot of places throughout the nation. So maybe you’re getting a small discount. We have people leaving Thousand Oaks to stay in California. They might be going to Los Angeles or San Diego. It’s not cheaper there.
Have you been to the coffee shop, 507? 507 is packed, and if you look at what Sean is doing with 507, he’s taking elements of what they have in San Diego or Los Angeles or Santa Monica as pertains to coffee and has created a place where people will take meetings and work. It’s more in touch with what Gen Z or early millennials are looking for to go spend their time. More stuff like that gives youth more of a desire to want to stay.
Conejo Guardian: What other priorities are percolating with you?
Taylor: The next thing would be small business and more entrepreneurship programs, so we have new business being homegrown in our area. That’s something I’m starting to work on now, is like an incubator program where we have resources for young entrepreneurs to help not just educate them on what it takes to start a business but having people come in and speak who have actually done it, or having a film studio for them to create content at. That’s going to be a big one I’m going to want to do as well.
Conejo Guardian: City salaries and County salaries and school district salaries are all through the roof. You’ve got people doing jobs that are making upwards of $200,000 for stuff that people in the private sector might break six figures for. There seems to be salary inflation in these public entities because it doesn’t seem like anybody has an incentive to say no. I wonder if you have any insight into that? You’re a business guy. What kind of priority does that need to be? What can be done?
Taylor: It’s a good question. The lens through which I look at it is the same way I look at our business. First off, is what we’re doing sustainable during good times and bad? That’s a very important outlook. Do we have the money to do this? If somebody’s worth what they’re doing, I have no problem paying for it. I’m not always trying to penny-pinch, but that’s nuanced because I’m not just going to pay somebody astronomically, either.
This part is a little different than the private sector, in which the market decides the price. I don’t think government necessarily works that way. But if people are worth it, I have no problem paying it, but I do want to make sure we’re not putting ourselves at risk, overspending and putting ourselves in a situation where it’s not sustainable.
Conejo Guardian: One issue has gone under the radar but caught our attention — when they started putting up license-plate readers at a dozen intersections or so. They’re using them to catch these Chilean gangs, and everybody loves that, but the fact is they are recording every motorist that goes by, and there’s a database. It’s kind of a surveillance state prototype [because they’re] data-sharing with entities all around the country that can track you. Does that raise any alarms for you?
Taylor: I actually drove around with the chief of police yesterday, and we were having the conversation around where is the line between this being a useful tool for us to help with something like the Chilean break-ins versus us having no more freedom or everything [being] watched.
I think right now they can store the data for, I believe, thirty days, but I think the conversation is making that smaller — I want to say to have it stored for only 24 hours. Do I want to be filmed everywhere I’m going? No. Does our phone do that already? It kind of does. In a sense, we opened a door with technology where this is at play, and now we’re trying to figure out where this doesn’t become a complete surveillance world or everything-is-watched scenario. I think it’s a concern for everybody. It’s trying to find that balance.
Conejo Guardian: What kind of community would you like to see built here?
Taylor: When it’s just my wife and me, and we have a babysitter for the kids, we think about what we’re going to do. If we’re going to stay local, there’s only a handful of places we’ll go to. Stonehaus is a go-to for us. I think they did a phenomenal job of creating that. A lot of times, we go to Ventura or drive [elsewhere] to experience a specific vibe. But my parents live here. My wife’s parents live here. Thousand Oaks isn’t just for the youth. There’s every age here. I just think that gap is missing.
My vision is having more things to do for the youth without making it feel completely like my parents’ generation [is] looking around saying, “What is this? We don’t even enjoy this place anymore.” There’s a balance to everything, and I think it’s important to maintain that balance, but I do want to create more experience-based amenities for the 18 to 40 [age group].
We’re relying a lot on the private sector. We need the entrepreneurs and businesses to look at Thousand Oaks and say, “This would be a great place for me to start this business.” I think it starts with a city council [that] is easy to work with and has a vision that they’re able to communicate and spread the message that this is a need we’re looking for, similar to what they did with the life sciences industry. That was awesome for them to make it known that we are looking for this to be done in this area. It doesn’t take long for word to spread in that industry that Thousand Oaks is a great place to do this.
Conejo Guardian: The state is making demands on cities regarding housing. How should people think about that? What are ways to retain the character of this place?
Taylor: It’s changing. The city council in the past had a strong ability to control the growth of an area. With everything we’re seeing, that’s completely changing. A lot of the power the city council once had is going away.
Santa Monica is the perfect example. The Santa Monica city council didn’t put certain metrics for their growth, and because of that, a developer went around them and is now going to build a 15-story, 5,000-unit apartment. They’re basically going right around the City, and they’re not going to be able to do anything to stop it.
That said, it’s important for the city council to make sure everything is in the plan, and in that plan, we’re doing it in a way that we just don’t blow out our area. But the no-growth — city councils aren’t going to be able to do that anymore. How you slow it is to make sure you have everything in the plan, so you don’t open yourself up to allowing a developer to build a 13-story apartment on Thousand Oaks Boulevard. We have to have everything in the plan.
How do you do it correctly? You’ve got to be really careful with where you put things, what kind of residential you’re including in that. I know there’s a big push toward apartments, but I want to see a blend of homes or townhomes or condos that people can have ownership in. You just have to be careful that you’re not oversaturating it. The good news is it takes a long time to build something. Us putting 4,000 units online is not possible.
The challenge of building in California also stops you from overbuilding. Historically, California has been more expensive than anywhere else, but a big reason prices have been so high is that it’s so difficult to build here. Because of that, it puts California in a scenario where we’re undersupplied for the demand. Even though the state has taken power from city councils, it is still very, very difficult to build in California. Even though the state is saying it’s go-time, because it’s so hard to build, at least that will limit the concern a lot of people have that we’re going to look around next year, and this place is going to be completely different.
‘My vision is having more things to do for the youth … I do want to create more experience-based amenities for the 18 to 40 [age group].’
Conejo Guardian: How did your family feel about your win, and what do you hope your wife and kids will say about your time on the council and in public life?
Taylor: I had this conversation with my wife last week. It hit her that not only did I win, but this is real.
For my kids, what I hope they take away from this is two-part: One, if they see a need, it’s their opportunity to step out and be part of the solution. Second, I hope they can look at me and see that impact is everything. That is what leads to great things. I hope they can look at me and say, that was a great example for us to try and do as we get older.