The Nov. 8 election could prove pivotal for the City of East Palo Alto as it faces an affordable-housing crisis, gentrification pressures, a dearth of water that's hindering economic development, and a need for funding to maintain law-enforcement staffing and to rebuild roads and water infrastructure.
Amid so much uncertainty, three City Council incumbents are running for re-election, while a fourth candidate -- a newcomer with decades of civil-rights experience -- is hoping to snag one of the three seats opening up. (Read "Who is running for East Palo Alto City Council?")
As part of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, the city approved a plan to protect the southern part of the city from disastrous flooding.
They also acknowledge disappointments during their tenures, such as a lack of economic development and small business development and a failure to revamp the city's First Source Hiring program.
Duane Goff, the challenger, said the council hasn't done enough to protect residents from evictions and high rents, and he is running on a platform to make the tech industry and surrounding Silicon Valley jurisdictions play a role in solving the affordable-housing crisis.
The Weekly asked the candidates to weigh in on the most important issues facing East Palo Alto.
Why are you running for council and what do you hope to achieve if elected?
Goff: "The city has not been proactive on affordable housing (or) protecting residents from becoming displaced or homeless. I would work with other local jurisdictions and the tech industry to help solve the housing problem."
Moody: "I hope to accelerate our economic-development strategy. We need shovels in the ground and cranes in the sky, whether it's housing projects or shopping plazas. This will demonstrate that the water problem has been resolved. Local job creation is possible with development. Also, I would like to be a part of a San Mateo, Santa Clara counties' adoption of a $15 minimum wage, which would assist many of our residents who serve in those communities."
Romero: "Design, fund, and initiate the construction of a pedestrian bridge at the University Avenue overpass; study and adopt a city-wide parking/mobility plan that will address on-street residential parking and bike/pedestrian issues; update, revise, and adopt our existing First Source Hiring Ordinance; study and adopt a local minimum-wage ordinance; complete the revision of our Tenant Protection Ordinance to bring it into line with recent California Supreme Court decisions and continue to maintain its tenant protections; find, in aggregate, a 1.5 million-gallon-per-day permanent water source for the city; develop and adopt an affordable-housing subsidy and prioritization policy to guide the city and the community in developing affordable housing; develop a second unit/garage conversion code-enforcement policy that avoids displacement of tenants and provides homeowners with assistance to bring these dwellings up to code; commence and complete an affordable housing development at 965 Weeks St. once the affordable-housing prioritization policy is adopted; in conjunction with the County of San Mateo and San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Board, build a new library facility in East Palo Alto."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: "I have decided to seek another term in an effort to continue the work that I began. The council is currently working to resolve the water-allocation issue, affordable housing, parking and many other issues. I would like to see us resolve these critical issues."
Most important issue facing the city?
Goff: "Affordable housing. The city ought to be sitting down with the folks who started this problem: the tech industry. The tech industry has been very helpful in other areas of society. It's reasonable to expect to be able to discuss how tech companies have been counterproductive to our community."
Moody: "Creating additional tax revenue for the General Fund. Our present revenue levels hinder our ability to provide supportive services for our residents, such as the housing division, parks and recreation. I am also concerned about our ability to retain (city) personnel by providing livable wage increases. Competitive wages for our staff and employees is important to me. We have to implement our economic-development strategy once we have the water, which I'm confident we will obtain."
Romero: "In order for the city to progress, water-allocation procurement is arguably the most urgent issue if one views future development and equitable growth as a priority. Coupled with this need and the need to develop, we must also attempt to address the displacement and gentrification issues brought about by development. Balancing new development and growth with the provision of meaningful and substantive community benefits is our most pressing issue."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: "The water-allocation issue, along with affordable housing. We need to solve this unfortunate issue regarding water allocation in order to build additional affordable housing and to address the jobs/housing imbalance by approving future development projects that could generate additional revenue for city services."
Goff: "As I said previously, the city ought to be sitting down with the folks who started the problem -- the tech industry. Also, many people aren't familiar with East Palo Alto's history and sense of emotion about the city. We are very proud of our community. The tech industry doesn't appreciate that history. People see themselves as East Palo Alto residents, not residents of another place. Even if they were given money to go somewhere else, they would still want to live in East Palo Alto."
Moody: "I have voted in favor of establishment of a housing fund, which now has about $6.2 million. I have voted in favor of the creation of a Capital Improvement Strategy to address the infrastructure-demands issues of the city. I have assisted in identifying county funding to support the Glory Way Well project. I have approved of the housing recommendation of the Strategic 4 Corners plan. I am prepared through my role on the League of Cities Executive Committee to raise the issue of more regional involvement in providing affordable housing in the county. I recently completed a one-year assignment on the San Mateo County Jobs & Housing Task Force led by Supervisors (Warren) Slocomb and (Don) Horsley and discovered some creative approaches toward creating affordable housing. For example, the workforce housing plan of San Mateo County Community College District or ways to assist churches to develop the land for housing."
Romero: "Indisputably, affordable housing is a major issue in the city. I believe I am the staunchest supporter of affordable-housing preservation and development on the City Council. I have introduced most of the legislation and programs in the last 20 months that have tried to address displacement and affordable housing issues. Unfortunately, we will not be able to build our way out of this crisis in four short years. However ... I hope to move on a 100-unit development on the 965 Weeks St. site on city-owned property as soon as an additional water supply is procured. In addition to new development, preservation of existing units and protection of tenants from evictions is equally as important. The current Measure O, the Business License Tax on Large Rental Properties, if passed, will provide some funds for these activities. Second units and garage conversions serve as essential affordable housing that we must prioritize as well as determine how we can bring these sometimes-substandard units into conformance with current planning and building code standards. ... We must develop a program to help homeowners bring these units up to standard lest we risk losing many of them."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: "I have voted in support of affordable housing while on council. We need to address the Costa Hawkins Act (state law that prohibits municipal rent increase limitations on certain kinds of exempted residential units), continue to strengthen our Rent Stabilization Ordinance and develop affordable-housing projects."
Procuring an additional water supply
Goff: "Somebody fell asleep while the barn was burning down. It's been coming for years and years. I would talk to other water boards around here to share the water they don't use."
Moody: "Great strides have been made on the water issue. I was recently appointed to represent the council on the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) board. We recently presented before the board of directors of the SFPUC (San Francisco Public Utilities Commission) to address our position. ... We have as a council been successful in raising the social-justice implication of a lack of water to support the development of our community. Our approach of working the networks of water is proven to bear fruit. We are discussing water transfer with Mountain View. The Gloria Way Well is coming on line soon. Pad D is identified as a usable well. I recently joined the WATER NOW organization and continue to work with Gary Kremen of the Santa Clara Valley Water District on water issues."
Romero: "The council has been working on water issues since my first term in 2008. This is one of the reasons the Gloria well is funded and is so far along in design and development. In addition, the Pad D well, identified in 2012, is also fairly far along in the entitlement phase. Nevertheless, groundwater alone cannot resolve the city's need for water. Additional allocations of water are necessary. At present the city has three options it is working on simultaneously: an SFPUC additional water allocation through the adoption of a 2018 Water Map; negotiations with Mountain View to permanently transfer portions of their water contract with the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency to East Palo Alto; similar but somewhat more incipient discussions with Palo Alto."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: "I believe the city has been working to address the water issue for some time, but the issue is getting more attention now. I have been assigned to the water committee and have spoken at an SFPUC meeting regarding our water needs."
Recent red-tagging for code violations and evictions (Read "Illegal-housing crackdown leads to dozens of evictions")
Goff: "I understand what the city is saying regarding enforcing its codes. But what they have done to a city that is very poor by enforcing these evictions is that now you are causing two families to potentially be homeless: the people living in the garage who are evicted and the people in the (main house) who could be homeless in two months (without the income revenue). These ill-thought-out attempts to protect people from substandard housing are speeding up the gentrification of East Palo Alto. ... Numerous organizations in the Bay Area -- nonprofit and some quasi-government -- exist to address the problem of housing and make the second-dwelling units more livable."
Moody: "The recent red tagging is a result of code enforcement identifying unsafe units, which are in violation of the municipal codes. Code enforcers have come under attack from those who have been identified in violation because the violators have refused to come in and work with the Code Enforcement Division. Avoidance and cancellation of inspections have influenced the relationship. If we can assist in getting these units in compliance I would support such an effort. I have always supported second-dwelling units as a part of the city's housing strategy. ... I am undecided on the (proposed) eviction moratorium to date because ... allowing these unsafe units to continue is not the will of many in the community and creates a tremendous liability burden for the city."
Romero: "We must develop a code-enforcement policy and program to help homeowners bring these units into compliance. ... I think this can be accomplished by pooling city housing funds, County of San Mateo's Housing Innovation funds and philanthropic foundation funds, and collaborating with groups like Building Together and the local academic architecture programs to put together a low-cost program to help homeowners. A well-developed and regulated residential parking program will need to be created to address the concerns of neighboring homeowners affected by the additional cars on the street.
"As for a moratorium on evictions in structures deemed unfit for habitation, I doubt the city can institute one given the California statute that governs this area of the law. However ... we could extend the 10-day eviction period to the more generous 30-day state eviction requirement and possibly allow for additional 30-day extensions if the homeowner is making reasonable progress toward correcting and legalizing the unit."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: "Evictions on any level are tough to handle and with the need for affordable housing being so great, we must handle this matter. I will not go into a great deal regarding this matter because it is on our agenda for Oct. 18, but affordable housing and safe living conditions are important."
Gentrification -- a foregone conclusion for the city?
Goff: "Everybody tells me the best we can do is slow it down and not stop it. The city can take steps. The city is not being proactive. If I was on the council I would constantly be raising and urging us to take steps to meet on an equal footing with surrounding communities to solve the housing problem. I firmly believe the communities surrounding East Palo Alto are ready and willing to assist us."
Moody: "It is certainly alive in EPA. We have to come up with a regional strategy to assist family members who desire to remain in the home in which they were raised to identify and qualify for housing loans which would allow for homes that go to market to be purchased by residents and family members and not investors."
Romero: "This is an emotional topic that I struggle with both professionally and as an elected official. Unfortunately there is no single solution; rather the answer may lie in a mix of many policies that can blunt the effects of hyper-inflated housing markets. We have among the widest array of anti-displacement policies of almost any city in the Bay Area. These policies run the gamut from First Source Hiring to commercial linkage fees to possibly a rental gross-receipts tax on this November's ballot. Where we face the greatest challenge is in the possible loss of housing in our rent-controlled housing portfolio to future development. Restrictive land-use rules and increased discretionary approvals for the removal of any housing units is an appropriate mechanism to preserve these affordable units. The Westside Area Plan is attempting to put in place such regulations."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: "Gentrification is still a huge problem. Many people who want to remain in their community have been pushed out due to high rents. The reversal of the Costa Hawkins Acts might allow us to provide some protections for single family homes, but outside of that we encourage residents to follow-up with Community Legal (Services) and the Rent Stabilization departments with questions or concerns."
Goff: "There is always room for improvement. I think the police department of East Palo Alto is the finest, most community-oriented police department I have ever seen in action. We are not showing our police chief enough support. The department needs more staffing -- two or three more officers -- and it needs a public-safety building. It's an embarrassment that our department is operated out of mobile units."
Moody: "I provided a strong voice in the budget sessions to prioritize our Public Safety Division by add funding for police officers' raises; added four new code-enforcement officers; promoted a code-enforcement officer to supervisor; supported the (police) chief's restructuring of the (police) department. We need to create incentives for local recruitment to the police department."
Romero: "I have voted on our public-safety union's collective-bargaining agreement, which we successfully negotiated a year ago. The hiring of Chief Pardini and his open engagement with the public has done much to build a rapport with our residents. Along these lines, we need to continue to improve our community-policing approach to public safety. In addition, the Chief and the council, through its budget authority, have made significant progress in achieving full staffing in the department.
"The area where I would like to focus more attention is on our joint policing efforts in EPA with other jurisdictions. I believe the community has to understand the level of engagement we have with those outside agencies and also understand the oversight provided by chief Pardini. Given that, on its face, we have less control over this latter form of policing because the personnel are not direct city employees, it's vital that as a community we have sufficient understanding of how we are engaging with them."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: "The community policing project has really worked pretty well in our community. Violent crimes have been reduced significantly. We need to continue building positive relationships between the police and community."
How would you vote on city ballot measures
Measure P: Half-cent tax increase for neighborhood safety and city services
Goff: Undecided, but he might support.
Moody: Supports. "I co-authored (it) with Romero."
Romero: Supports. "I was instrumental in getting measures P and O placed on the ballot. It strengthens our current rent-control law; simplifies the ordinance to make it more understandable; saves tenants, city, and landlords time and money; strengthens eviction defenses."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: Supports. "It would provide funding for necessary city services."
Measure O: Business-license tax for large property owners
Goff: Undecided, but he might support.
Moody: Against. "I thought it could have been added to the 2017-18 ballot. We have made great strides in the landlord/tenant/city relationship. Because of new ownership and our city staff doing a great job of implementing the goals of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance. I'm concerned the voters may not be clear that this is a tax to the landlords, not the residents."
Romero: Supports. "It provides $600,000 yearly in new city funds paid by a 1.5 percent tax on large landlords to help prevent displacement, help homeowners avoid foreclosure, support homeless housing efforts, and preserve and develop affordable housing. Rents cannot be increased by landlords to pay for this tax."
Yarbrough-Gauthier: Supports. "It would provide much needed funding for affordable housing."
Measure J: Strengthens the Rent Stabilization Ordinance
Goff: Supports. But "there are gaps in the ordinance, particularly related to substandard housing evictions. Evictions are different for apartment owners than for single-family homeowners."
Romero: Supports. "It maintains and improves public safety, community services and public-works projects by capturing $1.8 million in additional sales taxes of which over $1.3 million will come from non-EPA residents who shop in EPA."