Former East Palo Alto mayor Carlos Romero has been selected by the East Palo Alto City Council to take the seat vacated by former Councilwoman Laura Martinez.
Romero was appointed by the council on Tuesday night out of 12 applicants, including former mayor Sharifa Wilson, East Palo Alto Sanitary District board member Goro Mitchell and San Mateo County information tech analyst Isaiah Vi.
Romero was elected to the city council in 2008 and served as mayor in 2011. He then ran for San Mateo County supervisor in 2012. Romero is currently an affordable-housing and land-use consultant with prior connections to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Regional Planning Committee, Stanford Searsville Dam Alternatives Study Advisory Group and other local and regional agencies. He is the former chairman of the East Palo Alto Community Law Project and a co-founder of EPA CAN DO.
Martinez vacated her seat after being appointed to the Sequoia Union High School District board. Romero's term for her seat will last 19 months.
Mayor Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier said the council had many highly qualified applicants.
"It was not an easy decision at all to come to. We had a lot of great candidates," she said. At the end of the day, it was Romero's experience that stood out, she added.
"I'm looking forward to building consensus on the council and moving the city forward," she said.
Romero said that he mostly agrees with the current council's priorities. He has identified the city's general and Westside Area plans as top priorities. Other pressing needs include addressing the city's budget structural deficit, improving public safety by reducing crime and providing services to youth and ex-felons, he said.
On the question of growth and economic development, Romero said he wanted to help guide the city through the maze of trade-offs between community needs and economic development, and he wants to balance the growing demand for East Palo Alto's land with the desire of residents to stay in the city.
Other cities have approved thousands of jobs but they have not planned for adequate housing, he said. Romero provided Menlo Park as an example, saying when the city was planning for Facebook's impact it assumed that 4,000 housing units would mostly be absorbed by neighboring communities.
"It was just a travesty," he said.
Romero said he doesn't want to see the same thing happen in East Palo Alto as the Ravenswood/4 Corners Transit Oriented Development area grows, or the commercial projects by the Sobrato organization are developed.
"We should be looking at affordable-housing overlay zones that go above and beyond the state's and get additional concessions from developers," he said.
Romero also thinks the city should make transportation and parking management part of any project approval. Businesses that come in will find alternatives such as ride-sharing that will reduce traffic congestion. He also supports a jobs-housing linkage fee for commercial developments that will help support affordable housing.
Yarbrough-Gauthier said she encourages the other candidates to stay involved through the city's boards and commissions.
"There's more than one way to be involved in the community. Don't walk away from the process," she said. "The community is fortunate to have this caliber of candidates come out and be interested in the community we live in. Now it's time to move this city forward."
Romero will be sworn in and will take his place on the council on May 12, city spokeswoman Emily Pharr said.