Whomever East Palo Alto's City Council chooses this summer to become city manager, he or she will possess a background that promises to bring understanding to the mix of rough streets and diverse cultures that define the city.
The council is scheduled to hold a closed session next Tuesday, July 17, to discuss the final two candidates, Jesus Nava and Magda Gonzalez.
Former manager ML Gordon resigned in January and was replaced on an interim basis by Police Chief Ronald Davis, who has not applied for the job.
Nava, City of Burlingame's current finance director, grew up in a tough San Antonio, Texas, barrio. He is the second oldest of 11 children. In a career spanning 29 years, he has been city manager in some of the West's toughest towns. That experience makes managing East Palo Alto attractive, he said.
Magda Gonzalez, former Redwood City deputy city manager, grew up in Redwood City and spent her teen years working at the Fair Oaks Community Center in the city's core Latino district. The center provides services to some of the city's most needy.
Nava has worked for governments in San Antonio, Santa Barbara, and Denton, Texas. He was assistant city manager in the border town of Laredo, Texas, and city manager in Las Cruces, N.M. He was deputy city manager in San Jose, he said.
He graduated from the University of Texas in Austin in 1982 and holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Kansas.
Gonzalez worked her way up to director of Fair Oaks. She was deputy city manager in Redwood City until she was laid off last year, and she was president of the International Hispanic Network and is current conference-planning chairperson at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
She graduated from Sequoia High School in Redwood City in 1981 and obtained a degree in social science from California State University in Sacramento. She has a law degree from Santa Clara University.
Nava said his interest in public service began with his parents' example. Both were community activists in the Texas Farmworkers' Movement and were active in political campaigns. His mother served as the local Catholic Church parish president for a time.
It was common for her to enlist her large family, including Nava, to bring food she cooked to the sick or to tell her kids, "Hey, you need to go mow this person's lawn today," he said.
Nava said he wants to help East Palo Alto resolve its problems and to help position the city for a strong financial future. The city had an operational deficit of $1 million in 2011, and it was taking money from its reserves.
He said he also wants to move forward with the city's Ravenswood Business District/Four Corners Transit Oriented Development Plan. The city is depending on the redevelopment for a large chunk of its future tax revenue and to help revitalize the area with housing, parkland, businesses and services.
East Palo Alto, like other California cities, faces challenges to carrying forth its redevelopment plans since the state dissolved redevelopment districts. The city laid off its redevelopment staff earlier this year.
If he is hired, Nava said his first job is to "listen and learn" -- to get a full understanding of the city, the culture of the government, and the council and the community, he said.
Gonzalez did not return phone calls requesting an interview, but she has written that she became hooked on local government while still a teen working at Fair Oaks.
East Palo Alto Mayor Laura Martinez said Thursday that the council would most likely take the rest of the summer to finalize its decision or possibly before the council's recess, which starts Aug. 1.