First elected in 2012, East Palo Alto City Councilwoman Lisa Gauthier is seeking a third term this fall.
Over the past eight years, she served as mayor in 2015 and 2019, vice mayor in 2018. Like her veteran colleagues also seeking reelection, she believes that the solutions to the city's intersectional issues take time and another four years on the council is necessary to see some development projects through to completion.
"We're not a one-issue city," she said. "There are a lot of things that we're doing and a lot of the resources and answers we need takes money. If we don't have the money to do it right away, we can't get it done."
For Gauthier, the future of East Palo Alto is one that can accommodate all residents regardless of their income.
The city is an affordable housing community, she said. But she also suggested that current tenant protections in the city such as rent stabilization, which allows for incremental rent increases each year, don't do enough to maintain that community.
"We can have affordable units, but once a tenant who is in an affordable unit moves out, that unit then goes to market rate, so it's affordable to whom at that point," she asked. "Ideally, we need to figure out: How do we keep that rate from being raised to market rate?"
With income levels of affordable housing residents at a plateau, and as rents continue to soar, Gauthier said she wants a portion of the city's housing to remain affordable, though she couldn't speak on a specific percentage.
Market-rate housing, on the other hand, is an issue that takes care of itself, she said. One area Gauthier does feel the city needs to address more, however, is housing for "the middle" — the individuals who get their degree and a job that pays just above the "low-income rate," she said.
Gauthier sees mixed-use projects with retail and housing as the key to increasing the city's commercial development. She also wants to make more space for small businesses that once thrived decades earlier when the city was unincorporated and wasn't home to large corporations.
"If we're not saying, 'Look, we're going to make sure that there's space for you to develop your business' ... I think we're also doing our city a disservice," she said.
One of the more immediate threats to the city is the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affects East Palo Alto with some of the highest case rates compared to the rest of San Mateo County. Part of the problem in Gauthier's perspective is effective messaging.
The city needs to think beyond social media platforms, which many residents may not use, she said, and suggested the city use its police cars, bullhorns and even ice cream trucks to remind people to socially distance and wear a mask.
She acknowledged that many residents can't pay rent during this time and that the city is looking toward nonprofits such as Live in Peace, where Gauthier sits on the board, for rental assistance. But at the top of her mind is stopping the spread of the disease.
"The most important thing we can do right now: stop the spread of COVID-19; open up the economy; and allow people to get back to work," she said. "If we don't open up this economy, it's not going to just be the renters who are going to be in trouble."
In addition, Gauthier would focus her third term on the city's youth by building "leadership development resources," according to her campaign statement. Gauthier said the city should hear more from younger people of the community by creating a youth commission, something she noticed other cities have established when she attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
"If you don't engage our youth, we're losing them and we don't want to lose them," she said. "We want them to know their voices are valued."
The East Palo Alto Police Department can also play a role in empowering the city's youth. Gauthier, who participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in the city on June 3, doesn't believe it's realistic to fulfill some of the younger, progressive community members' calls for a complete defunding of the Police Department.
Instead, she sees an opportunity for a more collaborative relationship between residents and the Police Department, particularly with the youth community through programs like the Fitness Improvement Training zones, which gave locals and officers a chance to interact with each other through exercise.
Gauthier's pursuit for a third council term is also personal.
"I am a product of this community," she said.
Gauthier was 2 years old when she moved to East Palo Alto in 1967 and later enrolled in the Ravenswood City School District, attending Runnymede Elementary School (which has since closed), Brentwood Academy and Costaño Elementary School.
The councilwoman and government affairs manager for Study.com, an education tech company, is a single mother of three. She's not raising a family in the same East Palo Alto she grew up in, but she hopes they'll live in one that's better.
"Pretty soon I'll have a grandchild who will also be in this community," she said. "So the decisions that I make will impact my family and this community moving forward."
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