Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 2, 2012

Seven vie for East Palo Alto City Council

Candidates focus on public safety, affordable housing, communication and economic issues

by Sue Dremann

East Palo Alto is at a crossroads, with gentrification, a stalled business-district redevelopment plan and nagging violent crime on the city's streets, according to seven candidates who are vying for three spots on the City Council.

The Weekly asked the candidates to discuss how they would handle three key issues the city faces as it moves forward: crime reduction, affordable housing and economic development.

A. Peter Evans

Occupation: Retired

Prior public positions: City Council member, 2004-prsent; former board member East Palo Alto Sanitary District; started the first environmental justice organization in East Palo Alto to deal with land use, environmental and hazardous-waste recycling issues

Crime reduction: Supports a progressive education and recreation department for youth and also starting a public-safety commission.

Affordable housing: Lauds city's rent control but said there is not good oversight. It isn't enforced on a regular basis.

Economic development: Council members never pushed the Ravenswood Business District project to make it happen with developers, he said. Evans criticized the council as "nonprofit oriented" and not business-development oriented. He wants to re-institute departmental reports for accountability and better fiscal oversight.

What's one vote you are proud of casting on the council? No answer. He said he has only one vote on the council.

Bernardo Huerta

Occupation: Board member of Nuestra Casa

Prior public positions: Planning Commission 2005-12; Public Works and Transportation Commission, 2001-present; Community and Transportation Plan Committee, 2003-present; worked to get grants for Safe Routes to School program

Crime reduction: Wants to increase number of police officers and make the department more accountable for solving crimes, especially those that could be easily solved or controlled. Supports increasing the police force by a percentage equal to the number of new homes that are constructed.

Affordable housing: Develop an ordinance to stop monopolistic buy-ups of rental properties and to possibly force the breakup of wholesale acquisitions, such as the Equity Residential purchase of the 1,800 Woodland rental units. Supports finding ways to help residents purchase homes. He would consider legal action against Menlo Park and Palo Alto for impacts on East Palo Alto if those cities don't build a fair share of affordable housing.

Economic development: Supports the eventual development of the Ravenswood Business District but is concerned that it is too long-term to have good economic returns. Costs for city staff run at $600,000 annually, which would cut deeply into the projected annual $2.5 million revenue. Cutting crime would attract more retailers. Supports creative ways to fund projects, such as a possible increase in car registration fees that could be directed to the city.

What's one vote you would have changed if you had been on the council? "I would have gotten rid of the interim-uses ordinance the council recently voted on for the Ravenswood Business Development area. It's killing local businesses," he said. The ordinance issues a permit for a limited time for light-industrial businesses to occupy the area. Businesses that make large investments to come into the area or upgrade would have to leave in just a few years, he said.

Laura Martinez

Occupation: Program director at East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy

Prior public positions: Currently is East Palo Alto mayor; City Council member 2008-present.

Crime reduction: Favors seeking grants to put more police officers on the streets, continuing the parolee reentry program and youth programs. East Palo Alto was one of the first cities in San Mateo County to have converted all street lights to light-emitting diodes (LED) last year to increase visibility at night under her tenure, she said.

Affordable housing: As mayor and council member, she supported rent stabilization and a condominium conversion ordinance to protect apartment dwellers. In January 2013, the city is expected to pass a tenant-protection ordinance, which she supports. Favors seeking affordable-housing funding and a program for first-time home buyers.

Economic development: Directed the creation of the Community Development Department to seek ways to fund Ravenswood Business District. Supports a youth economic-development plan. Under Martinez, in July the city council adopted a citywide economic plan.

What's one vote you are proud of casting on the council? "Early on as a council member in 2008 when Mi Pueblo wanted to establish a local grocery store, there was a lot of pressure from the community. It was a tough vote. Three council members voted 'yes,' and two voted 'no.' I am proud that I voted 'yes.' Now we have a full-service store that offers fresh fruits and vegetables, which we hadn't had in more than 30 years," she said.

Larry J. Moody

Occupation:Board chairman of the nonprofit Making It Happen for Our Children

Prior public positions: Ravenswood City School District board member, 2006-10; East Palo Alto Sanitary District board member 2003-06; San Mateo County Housing and Community Development Commission, 2010-12; Sequoia High School Bond Measure Commission

Crime reduction:"I would put more police on the streets. We are constantly working on fumes for a long period of time," he said. Would seek $5 million to raise police force to levels suggested in a 2008 grand jury report. He would seek technical-jobs training for youth and parolees.

Affordable housing: He is concerned about the wholesale purchase of 1,800 apartments by Equity Partners. The city needs to educate residents about the importance of having affordable starter housing for future generations. He wants to institute jobs training so that residents can make better income to afford housing.

Economic development: Commercial development should be "the right match for the present workforce and the future workforce." Supports an economic summit with the city's 500 small businesses. Wants to train a residential workforce for future job trends. Considers Ravenswood Business District is the city's last opportunity to develop revenue to pave streets, replace pipes and develop open space but said the city must be "intentional in who we partner with." He would also consider traffic problems that could be caused by development.

What's one vote you would have changed if you had been on the council? "The way we handled the redevelopment issue when the state said it would abolish redevelopment. We erred when we pushed a lot of talented people away (after laying off staff), then we turned around and hired three or four other people," he said.

Jorge Prado

Occupation: Certificated analyst for human resources at the Ravenswood City School District

Prior public positions: East Palo Alto Planning Commission, 2006-12; board member, Drew Medical Foundation; Rent Stabilization Board; president of the Comite Latino for East Palo Alto, in charge of the city's Cinco de Mayo celebrations

Crime reduction: Increase police force. Collaborate with San Mateo County to investigate crimes. "Several crimes have not been investigated and we have to avoid letting someone get away with committing crimes," he said. Improve the communications capacity for the police department, which has sometimes been spotty.

Affordable housing: Prado supports rent stabilization. He would investigate and stop abuse by landlords who indiscriminately raise rents.

Economic development: Prado wants to attract businesses to the community but also businesses that serve the community. He supports giving the people a voice on any major development project.

What's one vote you would have changed if you had been on the council? He does not support the University Palms development.

Donna Rutherford

Occupation: Program administrator for a nonprofit

Prior public positions: East Palo Alto City Council, 2000-08; former mayor; Ravenswood City School District Board of Education member for 12 years

Crime reduction: Would hire more police to patrol the streets.

Affordable housing: The majority of individuals in the city are renters. The foreclosure crisis pushed more residents into rentals, which has caused rent increases, she said. Supports more housing for low-income and middle-income residents. Supports developing a plan for the homeless population and their rehabilitation.

Economic development: Would aggressively seek money to complete the Ravenswood Business District project. She would seek someone who is skilled in writing grant proposals and to speak on the city's behalf to funders. She also would continue to leverage relationships with legislators and would seek their leadership.

What's one vote you would have changed if you had been on the council? "I would not have voted to support (losing) the city manager. He did a good job. I would not have voted to let him go," she said.

Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier

Occupation: Executive assistant for a Foster City venture-capital firm

Prior public positions: None. Helped organize a recent peace march against crime in the city

Crime reduction: Would organize town hall meetings to talk about issues and how to solve crime problems.

Affordable housing: Supports ordinances protecting low-income housing. The city must have employees who understand corporate culture to better deal with large real estate firms buying up housing stock, she said.

Economic development: "Public safety has to play a key part in economic development," she said. Supports retaining mom-and-pop retail businesses and would work to attract customers to local stores, such as a Shop East Palo Alto campaign.

What's one vote you would have changed if you had been on the council? No answer. "It's easy to second-guess it afterwards," she said.

Additional candidate information is available on the League of Women Voters SmartVoter website at www.smartvoter.org or http://tinyurl.com/c6dplgg.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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