Incumbents re-elected to East Palo Alto City Council

For school board, voters choose Pulido, Knight and Lopez

Donna Rutherford and Ruben Abrica have been re-elected to the East Palo Alto City Council. Ana Pulido, Charlie Mae Knight and Marcelino Lopez were elected to the Ravenswood City School District, according to tallies by the San Mateo County Registrar of Voters on Thursday morning.

The third city council candidate, challenger Kimberly Carlton, ran a strong race with 29.27 percent of the vote but could not overcome the incumbents. Rutherford has 36.11 percent and Abrica has garnered 34.62 percent in the registrar's unofficial results report.

Rutherford's and Abrica's victories are doubly sweet because the city announced it has hired a new police chief after a nearly one-year vacancy since longtime police Chief Ronald Davis took a federal position. Abrica pushed this year for a quick replacement to maintain stability, but controversy over former city manager Magda Gonzalez's audit of the city's Rent Stabilization Program, which resulted in the non-renewal of her contract this fall also slowed the process down.

Abrica said on Wednesday morning that public safety continues to be one of his top priorities.

"I'm happy that we have a new police chief. This year has been challenging in that area. I feel strongly about keeping our own police force," he said.

The City Council and the City Manager will be tasked with making sure the department is improved and public safety is addressed, he said.

Abrica and Rutherford both stressed that crime cannot be fully addressed without eliminating school truancy. He and Rutherford are on a council subcommittee to "once and for all" try to eliminate truancy, he said.

Students who habitually miss school "either become victims of crime or they themselves become involved in crime," Abrica said. Of the ongoing truancy, "It's just unconscionable," he added.

Rutherford echoed that sentiment. She said she will work collaboratively with the Ravenswood City School District to continue to reduce truancy numbers.

"Thirty percent of our population is under 18," she said, and programs for youth and seniors using Measure C funds and working with the city's nonprofit organizations will be among her priorities.

"We will continue to chip off and get to be the city we've always wanted to be," she said of longstanding problems. "East Palo Alto is a beautiful place and I've always known that. That's why I've continued and wanted to be involved."

Rutherford and Abrica said the city has recently discovered an additional source of water in a location called Pad D beneath IKEA. That underground water source appears to be potable and will allow the city additional development, which is needed to build revenue for its parched coffers and for residential use.

"I'm very concerned about water issues. To have development we need to have enough water for everyone," she said.

The city will also face affordable-housing challenges, which Rutherford said is "a really big issue." About 60 percent of East Palo Alto residents are renters, and minimizing the dislocation of low-income residents and renters will be a top priority, she said.

Rutherford also wants to hire more code-enforcement officers. The illegal conversion of garages to "granny units" is another balancing act, she said.

"We certainly don't want to have tragic accidents," she said.

At one point there was talk of closing the East Palo Alto Senior Center and merging it with Belle Haven's, but Rutherford said she has heard "loud and clear" that seniors love their center and they want to keep it open.

Abrica, who has spearheaded flood control and levee rebuilding due to damage in 2012 by an overbanking San Francisquito Creek, won a victory when a logjam broke with the Regional Water Quality Control Board over permitting for the San Francisquito Creek Restoration Project. Disagreements with Regional Board staff caused a one-year delay in the permits, which board members now say would likely be granted soon. Additional state and federal agencies will now consider permits.

Abrica hailed the breakthrough as an example of successful regional collaboration between East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Palo Alto on a project that will benefit people across counties and city borders.

"We've worked very hard. I think we've finally managed to get out message across," he said of the regional board's decision.

Third-place candidate Kimberly Carlton said on Election night that she is pleased with the results despite not winning.

"I have no regrets about running. It's not a bad showing. I'll be back," she said.

On the Ravenswood City School Board front, Pulido had 27.05 percent of the vote; Knight had 20.95 percent, Lopez garnered 20.30 and Valdes had 15.9. Vi came in close behind with 15.81 percent as of Thursday morning.

During their public forum, candidates Isaiah Vi, Ana Pulido, Marcelino Lopez and Charlie Mae Knight addressed educational improvements already attained and where the district needs to improve. Candidate Nicholas Valdes did not take part in the forum.

Pulido, who is the school board president, and Lopez, an incumbent, pointed to improvements they say the board has made in the past four years.

Pulido, a product of East Palo Alto schools, said she came back to invest in the community and to create stable relationships on the board. As a student, she was frustrated by her experiences, and she came to realize that change "comes from the top," she said.

Since joining the board, she and other members have hired a new superintendent to increase academic success, and revamped courses and services. District improvements are still a work in progress, she said.

During her next term, she wants to create interventions that will help address issues students have outside of the classroom that affect learning.

Vi and Lopez echoed that view. They said they support more parent involvement to help address student stress and to improve learning.

The candidates also discussed the Ravenswood School Improvement Plan, a 2000 court settlement that grew out of a 1998 report mandated by a federal court to investigate special-educational inadequacies. U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who presided over the case, concluded in March 1999 that both Ravenswood and the California Department of Education failed to meet their obligations to serve special-education students.

Knight, who was the district's superintendent for more than 17 years, was at the helm during the controversy. Her re-election represents a vindication after years of bad press and surviving conflict-of-interest charges after she tried to help teachers get housing using private funding.

As author of the Ravenswood School Improvement Plan, Knight said she would be in the best position to assist in orchestrating its achievements.

Pulido said the plan has cost the district millions of dollars that could have been used for education. Those funds went to court-appointed federal monitors.

"We've had the best report of compliance in the last 17 years. ... We're looking at getting rid of the existing monitoring mandate by the government," she said.

Under Pulido and Lopez, the board has expanded early literacy to kindergarten through second grade. It is looking at expanding early-literacy programs through the eighth grade, Pulido said.

The school district has developed a more well-rounded curriculum, adding more science, arts and other programs to engage students. It is also developing a master plan of its facilities, Pulido said.

Lopez said the district "is improving a lot, but it is not enough." He vowed to continue making progress with mandated Common Core State Standards for education.

Knight said she is not satisfied with progress of still-failing students in core subjects such as math and English, which is what sparked her to seek a seat on the board again.

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