Stephanie Munoz, one of Palo Alto's staunchest and most passionate advocates for the less fortunate, died on Aug. 1, according to city officials.
Munoz, for years a steadfast presence during City Council meetings and a frequent contributor of letters, was known for championing affordable housing and for adding services to support the city's homeless population. She passionately opposed the council's decision in 2013 to ban car camping at the Cubberley Community Center parking lot, supported the preservation of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and, most recently, has advocated for including teacher housing in the redevelopment of Cubberley.
When the City Council was approving its new Comprehensive Plan, she was among the residents calling for the city to adopt a vision that includes more housing. Munoz, 86, particularly supported having the city build small apartments along El Camino Real, arguing that doing so would be a much more compassionate way for addressing the homelessness crisis.
"I think that's where we got off the track a long time ago, thinking that luxurious and nice and beautiful had to be large, or at least medium," Munoz wrote in a comment on the new Comprehensive Plan. "I'd like to be able to show you that small is beautiful."
More recently, she has argued that some of the new housing should be built at Cubberley, which is jointly owned by the city and Palo Alto Unified School District. In a 2017 letter to the city, Munoz argued that the city's "lack of housing threatens our most revered and cherished institution, the public schools."
"Housing prices continuously outstrip the ability of teachers to pay for housing," Munoz wrote in a 2017 letter to the city. "The average teacher makes over a hundred thousand dollars and still is nowhere near able to buy housing or even rent it."
She made a similar point earlier this year at a January council meeting, advocating for housing at Cubberley well before most council members and residents considered that as an option. Building housing next to the workplace is the only way to reduce traffic congestion, Munoz argued.
"It seems to me natural. You can't buy a place for them and you cannot recruit teachers if they have to go to Stanislaus County," Munoz said. "They just can't do it."
At the same time, she criticized commercial developers for an "insatiable appetite for growth," as she told the council during the Feb. 11 meeting.
"Unfortunately, that growth is often at the expense of residential properties," Munoz said.
The City Council recognized Munoz's passing at its Monday meeting, with Vice Mayor Adrian Fine calling her "a beloved member of the Palo Alto community."
"Stephanie was a longstanding advocate for the less fortunate members of our community," Fine said during the meeting. "She gave her time and energy at countless council meetings, always reminding us of our responsibility to those who might not otherwise have a voice in our deliberations."
Munoz died at home, in her sleep, according to the Palo Alto Daily Post. Her cause of death is believed to be heart failure.