Three vie for two seats on EPA City Council

Second-time candidate Doug Fort is taking on incumbents Ruben Abrica and David Woods

Two years ago, nine candidates vied for three seats on the East Palo Alto City Council in the November election. Since then, the recession and other challenges have left the city of 33,900 in a state of limbo.

The council race this year is quieter than in 2008, with just three candidates contending for two open slots.

Two are incumbents, current Mayor David Woods and Ruben Abrica. The other is second-time candidate Doug Fort, who placed fourth in 2008.

Issues the new council will confront include personnel and financial challenges, with some bright spots.

Alvin James, the city's at-times embattled city manager, retired earlier this year. A recent search for a new city manager has fizzled, sending the council back to the drawing board, one official said.

Police Chief Ron Davis, who has been well-respected in the community, made his career aspirations known this year by interviewing (and being selected as a finalist) for the police-chief posts in Seattle and New Orleans.

The city continues to struggle financially, having seen home values and property taxes plummet along with those of many other California cities due to the Great Recession.

But there are, and have been, bright spots. After three decades without a full-service supermarket, Mi Pueblo opened a 35,000-square-foot store in November 2009. A drawn-out legal war over the city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance with the city's largest landlord, Page Mill Properties, has finally come to a close following Page Mill's financial implosion and subsequent acquisition by Wells Fargo.

And officials, ever hopeful for an economic boon, continue to work at turning a former industrial area in the northeastern corner of the city into a revitalized business district.

The five-member council also includes current Vice Mayor Carlos Romero and Laura Ramirez, both of whom were newly elected in 2008, and longtime councilman A. Peter Evans.

Doug Fort

Fort is best known as the founder of the anti-violence organization "For Youth By Youth." Currently studying for a law degree from the Silicon Valley Law School, he holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

Fort feels strongly that the city should reform its system of governance by adding more commissions to allow more residents to participate in municipal decision-making.

"We have very intelligent people in the city, but they don't have a place to engage," Fort said.

He favors launching commissions that could address public safety, finance, immigration and environmental protection. (The city currently has boards or committees for planning, rent stabilization, senior, youth and transportation.)

The reform would prevent City Council meetings from running so long and inefficiently, in part by curtailing the need for the council to conduct so many study sessions, Fort said. Plus, the council listens repeatedly to residents who feel they aren't getting answers to their concerns at any other level.

"There's nothing like your community talking to you -- but first to the commissions," said Fort, who said he watches council meetings on TV rather than regularly attending.

Though Fort compliments Chief Davis on "doing an excellent job," he also calls Davis "an island."

"We are a police state," Fort said. "I see (police) strategies put out there that criminalize children of color.

"The 'overcharging' is what I have problems with," he said, referring to charges being escalated -- drug dealers charged with gang activity when they're not gang members, for example. (Fort, for the record, said he sold drugs at one point.)

Fort briefly served on the Ravenswood Business District advisory board but dropped out when his daughter was born prematurely. He was also on the community board that interviewed candidates for city manager.

He is enthusiastic about the redevelopment district and favors hiring a city manager with depth of experience in that area.

"Bringing in jobs, shops -- all these things. We need to go in that direction. We need that expertise to help us," he said.

David Woods

David Woods was first elected to the council in 2002 and has served as mayor three times.

He believes the strongest reason for voters to re-elect him is "momentum."

"We've made good strides in the last six years. We can keep the ball rolling," he said. "At this juncture, experience is very important. ... We have relationships with (federal and other) agencies that have been able to get funding."

It takes time to learn the issues, and there are two members (Romero and Ramirez) who have served just two years, he said.

"One more new person will stall things," he said.

One of Woods' concerns is the city's fiscal health.

"We still lag behind per capita in tax," he said. "The biggest challenge in next couple of years is the property-tax revenues. Our property values have plummeted."

Some properties have been reassessed at half of what they were previously, and 40 percent of the city's general fund is derived from property taxes.

Wood's doesn't favor new taxes. He said he does want to start collecting fees that are currently waived for seniors and nonprofit organizations. He'd also like to recoup costs for services the city is providing for free or at almost no charge -- such as police overtime expenses for staffing parades.

"We're not doing a good job of collecting what's on the books now. It's run on emotions," he said.

He compliments former City Manager James for keeping the city going "in the right direction" but said he wants to see several departments in the city restructured.

He defends how City Council meetings are run, despite some tumultuous exchanges.

"The end product is good. How we get there is just a little rough."

Ruben Abrica

Abrica considers himself something of an elder statesman of East Palo Alto, having served on the council when the city first incorporated in the 1980s and currently since 2004.

He said he is most proud of the planning that he and other council members have accomplished.

"As a result of some good planning over the last few years we were able to balance our budget, didn't lay anyone off, gave small cost-of-living adjustments and maintained a small reserve," he said in an interview with the Weekly.

The council also created a capital improvement plan, and with federal stimulus funds streets are being repaired for the first time.

"We're starting to see the results of that," he said.

Ravenswood Business District planning is underway, and he takes credit as mayor in 2006 for starting conversations in the community about the large redevelopment project. He appointed a joint committee and a community group of advisers to gather input on what residents and business owners would like to see in that area of town. This time next year, he expects the city will have developed what's known as a specific plan for the district.

He agrees with Fort's idea to add more commissions but opposes adding them this year, given that each commission requires staff time. People aren't clamoring to serve on the existing boards anyway, he said.

In regards to the Police Department, Abrica praises the recent decision to commission a $40,000 study of violence with Measure C funds in order to develop a comprehensive plan for what the city can do to reduce crime.

Demographic-based race relations are improving, Abrica said. The city is now nearly 60 percent Latino, and Abrica believes the transition of political power from the former African-American council majority to a Latino majority has been "successful."

"We've gotten into some fights, but ultimately you have to fight it out in public, and that's how we've done it," he said. "So I'd say we're in good shape."

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Like this comment
Posted by Jay
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2010 at 10:15 am

I am extremely disappointed with Mr. Fort's comment about Chief Davis. The Chief has been very helpful to Mr. Fort & his violence prevention organization. Mr. Fort does not follow through on his commitments. Additionally, he should seriously consider having someone edit his writings, which are full of grammatical errors. I would be very concerned with having someone on city council who does not have a basic understanding of the English language. One of the other candidates, Mr. Woods was accused of assault on his wife several years ago. It is unfortunate that there are not better choices for city council.

Like this comment
Posted by Finally!
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Jay, thank you for your intelligent comments, which I agree with re Mr. Fort. I like him very much. He is a god leader, has developed a good head on his shoulders and knows the city well. Frankly, what concerns me the most about him is that he seems to lack breadth of vision, which is important to a young city, and he often comes across as super religious. I have seen people in EPA fail to keep religion out of their public dealings and that concerns me a lot. Perhaps in a few years Mr. Fort will be better ready to handle such a crucial role.

Mr. Woods seems to have done much better than I thought he ever would. He's smart, quick, efficient, drills down into issues and is informed.

Mr. Abrica, of course, has been around for a long time and seems to quietly make an impact. there have been some tough times between African Americans and Latinos, but Mr. Abrica is a solid bridgebuilder, also intelligent, thoughtful and willing to take the high road much of the time.

I say we keep the council as is and see what they do in the near future.

It doesn't seem to me that Martinez had made any impact at all. I respect the hard work of Mr. Romero, especially with regard to housing, the rent stabilization ordinance and brokering on behalf of Latinos. He's super smart, educated, sizes up situations swiftly, seizes opportunities and is very accessible.

Like this comment
Posted by tired of the BS
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Okay, so Doug Fort, an admitted criminal, doesn't like the way that criminals are charged? Think he is a little biased? Here's a newsflash for you, although the chief of police does serve at the pleasure of the city council, the city council doesn't determine how law are enforced or charged. Would he prefer that the police selectively enforce the law? There are a lot of good people in East Palo Alto who appreciate the efforts of Chief Davis and the police department.

Both Woods and Abrica have a good head on their shoulders and the city has progressed under their guidance. They are educated and highly qualified for the position. They will get my vote.

Like this comment
Posted by The Real Doug Fort
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2010 at 1:57 am

@Mr. Jay - What commitments are you talking about? Please refresh my memory. You clearly are not reading the article with both your eyes! When I was asked about the Chief I clearly state "Though Fort compliments Chief Davis on "doing an excellent job," Please don't try to make this a Doug Fort vs. Chief Davis thing! I have tons of respect for Chief Davis and the work he has done in our city. Just like you I have my rights to my own opinion on things. By the way Jay if that's your real name I am willing to meet with you any day to discuss your concerns about me. If you are serious about meeting email me at

@Finally - Thanks for your support and I hear your concerns about me. First, let me address the vision aspect of your concern. Go to this website (Web Link) to view the candidates interview. In this interview I clearly state my vision for EPA. Secondly, let's talk about the "over religions" claim you state. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I do my best to live my life by the bible principles and examples. If I offended you or anyone else I am sorry. However, Mr. or Ms. Finally I plan to continue to glorify my Lord and Savior in all things I do! Without him in my heart I am nothing! If I lose your vote for this so be it! I will never stop glorifying the man that saved me from these streets!

@Tired of BS – Once again you and Mr. Jay are barking down the wrong tree. Refer to the above statement to Mr. Jay. I am also willing to meet with you any day to discuss your concerns about me. If you are serious about meeting email me at

Let me leave this with you bloggers - In my Hood anybody that makes a comment without stating their real name is a “COWARD!” See definition below:

Coward - noun
A person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.

The Real Doug Fort

Like this comment
Posted by Finally!
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2010 at 11:14 am

Yes, well, Mr. Fort has definitely lost my vote, but not due to religion. Calling us cowards for not posting our real names show me that he lacks vision, is still too street-oriented for the job and has that all-or-nothing machismo that there is still way too much of in EPA. It's simplistic and disrespectful, as is calling us cowards.

As for the religion thing, I don't care what religion anyone in office does or does not follow. My concern is letting religion infiltrate waaaay too much of life in EPA when it comes to organizations, city-run events, meetings and the like. On one hand, I appreciate what praying together can build re a sense of community. On the other hand, it's disturbing that when meetings end with a prayer, city officials take part in the prayer. It's not the working together or loving aspect of that, it's that everyone thinks it's the way to go, and as a result, narrow-minded Christianity dominates in a way that concerns me. I have heard "Christians" in EPA denigrate others in the city who make a huge difference because they aren't religious, or because they use tarot cards, or are gay. Those things aren't acceptable, but narrow-minded Christianity is? That's what worries me about Mr. Fort - that it will increase that type of behavior. His post here also leads me to think that as well. Thanks, Doug, for helping me confirm where my votes will go.

Perhaps with some seasoning, some breadth of vision and some integrating your personal religious views a little better you'll be ready to help lead EPA in city government in a few years. As a minority in EPA, I have concerns about how those who don't share the same religious beliefs are treated.

I've been to city meetings where I've been told to smile because Jesus loves me. It demonstrates how provincial EPA is with regard to religion and separation of church and state. Doug Fort is not someone who I feel can be trusted to keep religion out of local politics.

Like this comment
Posted by tiredoftheBS
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2010 at 8:36 am

"Yes, well, Mr. Fort has definitely lost my vote, but not due to religion. Calling us cowards for not posting our real names show me that he lacks vision, is still too street-oriented for the job and has that all-or-nothing machismo that there is still way too much of in EPA. It's simplistic and disrespectful, as is calling us cowards."

I could not have said it better myself. Fort wants to keep EPA a Hood. A lot of us see more for the city than that. Both Woods and Abrica have brought leadership and guidance to the City Council. I feel that they both try to reach out to all segments of our city and have done some work addressing the ongoing, but not talked about racism between the black and Hispanic communities in East Palo Alto. I have found Abrica and Woods approachable and interested in the opinions of their constituents. I truly feel they have the best interest of All of EPA at heart.

Finally! On the religion thing, I always thought it was nice that religion was such a big part of the city, but I have not witnessed the derogatory comments you have talked about. I don't feel that the city needs to remove religion from its activities, but it should be inclusive rather than exclusive. If they are going to have a Christian prayer, then other religions should be invited too. After all, it is freedom of religion, not from religion.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:42 am

Mr. Fort, what a shame. As a candidate for a political office, one would think that you would consider how you respond to criticism by those who have the power to support your efforts by electing you to office. Calling people cowards as a verbal retaliation is not the sign of a mature candidate. People who comment on blogs are in no way inviting themselves to have one-on-one conversations with you. How can East Palo Alto residents trust him not to have outbursts during meetings when faced with adversity from the public or other figures? Will he ask them to “meet me outside?” Shaking my head.

As someone has mentioned, you still have too much residue of hood mentality to lead a city that is trying to elevate the citizens to higher standards. (In your hood???) I agree that the current candidates should be given a chance to allow their hard work to develop into sustainable programs that will benefit the city.

(I am not sure about the possible issues that Mr. Woods had with his wife several years ago but I believe Mr. Fort to have 3 children with 3 different mothers and he is behind on his child support. That is relevant because East Palo Alto needs to challenge its leaders to be full of integrity, even when they are not in the council room.)
Please, Mr. Fort. Do not invite me to discuss these issues with you one on one. This part of politics, Everyone will not agree with your campaign and your life will be examined with a magnifying glass.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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