Incumbents seek stability in East Palo Alto
Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 30, 1996

ELECTION: Incumbents seek stability in East Palo Alto

Eight candidates compete for three seats on City Council

by Don Kazak

The East Palo Alto City Council's track record is on the line when voters go to the polls Nov. 5. Eight candidates, including two incumbents, are on the ballot in the race for three seats. A third incumbent, Bill Vines, has decided not to seek re-election.

Incumbents Rose Jacobs Gibson, who is East Palo Alto's current mayor, and Council member R.B. Jones are seeking new terms after being part of a five-person City Council that has worked closely over the last four years to get the city beyond its most difficult days of the drug-related homicide epidemic of 1992.

Among the candidates, Gibson and Jones are joined by Duane Bay in supporting and seeking to continue what they and others characterize as the progress the current City Council and city have made in such areas as the the long-delayed and still-promised Gateway 101 redevelopment project.

Two of the candidates opposing the current City Council and its policies, Samuel Rasheed and Nelson Santiago, are critical of what they and others characterize as the lack of progress the city has made in the last four years. Rasheed and Santiago are backed by members of the United Homeowners of East Palo Alto, the group that figures centrally in the lawsuit over the city's parcel tax.

Candidate Michael James is not part of the dispute between the United Homeowners and the City Council, although he, too, has said he feels that the current City Council hasn't done enough to pull the community together. A seventh candidate is Robert Reynolds, better known as Ola Wallacee, who says the council has not communicated well with residents.

Another candidate is Julius Van Zandt who declined to be interviewed and has not appeared at any of the candidate forums.

Name: Duane Bay

Age: 45

Residence: Green Street

Occupation: Business manager

Background: Bay is a former member of the city's Planning Commission, former chairman of the city's Economic Development Task Force, and is currently a member of the General Plan Advisory Committee. He ran unsuccessfully for the City Council two years ago, narrowly missing being elected.

Bay is also involved in a group that is defending the city's parcel tax, Citizens for East Palo Alto.

Where he stands: "For the last four years, for the first time in the city's history, the council has been able to work together," Bay said. "I want to be part of that team."

Bay said he would bring a business background to the council and that the city's top priority now is economic development to build a tax base.

Bay also thinks that the city has to work better with the school district, and vowed to do what he could to mediate whatever differences that have kept school and city officials from working more closely.

He also believes that the residents of the city sometimes have difficulty in finding out what's happening at the City Council. To that end, he promises to hold open forum meetings the fourth Thursday of every month where residents can come down to City Hall and speak their minds on whatever concerns them, and to ask Bay questions.

What he would do about future budget problems: In the short run, "pursue grants to deal with next year's budget; consider selling part of the Gateway phase two land once the shopping center is built."

Name: Rose Jacobs Gibson

Age: 49

Residence: Garden Street

Occupation: Business owner

Background: Gibson, who is seeking reelection, has been mayor for the last two years.

She was first elected in 1992, at the height of the city's drug violence, and was part of the historic City Council retreat in early 1993 during which council members agreed to put any personal differences aside to work for the good of the city.

Where she stands: By seeking help from neighboring cities, the Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol, the city's rate of violent crimes has plummeted, she notes. The council has also worked to plan and approve the Gateway 101 Retail Center, which should be built by the end of next year.

"We've worked very hard," Gibson said of the current council. "It's not something that just happened."

Once Gateway is built, Gibson said the city will turn its attention to two other areas targeted for redevelopment: the Ravenswood Industrial Park at the end of Bay Road, and University Circle (known informally as Whiskey Gulch).

Gibson also said she wants to work more closely with the Ravenswood City School District. "It's absolutely critical that relations improve," she said.

Future budget problems: "We will be meeting to look at various options to fill that gap. We've always known we have to look at revenue enhancements."

Name: Michael James

Age: 34

Residence: Wisteria Drive

Occupation: Nursing assistant

Background: James, a member of the city's Public Safety Commission, says he spends a lot of time in the community as a sports coach and through other activities. "I spend more time in the community than in my own house," he said.

Where he stands: James believes a central issue facing the city is cleaning up the image it has among outsiders. "We need to involve residents to improve the city's image," he said. Such an improvement is needed to make the Gateway project work "or else people won't come here" to shop.

His development priority after Gateway would be cleaning up the University Circle area. "If you want to attract people, you have to be attractive," he said.

One theme that James has struck is that "the city is stressed out. It's a hangover from the drug situation." As a result, he said some things are not getting done.

He also believes the city should have not appealed the parcel tax lawsuit. "A lot of people said they didn't see anything done with the money," he said of the $1 million a year in tax revenues.

Budget problems: "People will volunteer to help" perform some city services, such as weed abatement and cleaning up vacant lots. "A lot of people want to fix up Jack Farrell Park."

Name: R.B. Jones

Age: 47

Residence: Mission Drive

Occupation: Paint production

Background: Jones is seeking a second term on the City Council. He formerly served 10 years on the Ravenswood School Board.

Where he stands: Jones said that the City Council has worked well together since its retreat in early 1993. "We all respect each other in our respective areas," Jones said.

The current council has succeeded where the prior City Council has failed--in attracting a major redevelopment project to the city, the Gateway 101 project. "The main issue has been leadership and vision," Jones said. "That's the main difference" between the current and prior councils.

Jones, like Bay and others, wants the city to improve its relationship with the Ravenswood City School District. "We are going to have to be creative," he said. "They can do some things for us, and with us, that would help us." One idea would be for the district to take a leadership role in youth recreational programs, he said.

Jones, who is the council liaison to the Police Department and the Public Safety Commission, wants to increase code enforcement and regulate overnight parking as a means to cleaning up some of the city's neighborhoods.

Budget problems: Continue the current stability of the City Council as a means of attracting developers who would invest in the city. The city's current relationship with the Sheriff's Department will also save the city money until Gateway tax revenue is realized.

Name: Samuel Rasheed

Age: 48

Residence: Weeks Street

Occupation: Pricing analyst

Background: Rasheed got involved in city issues because of problems at a liquor store near his home and his frustration in getting the city to end the problems. He was elected this year to the East Palo Alto Sanitary District board, a position from which he will resign if he is elected to the City Council.

Where he stands: Rasheed is critical of the current council for first passing the parcel tax and then appealing the judge's decision when the city lost in court. "It creates animosity," Rasheed said of the city's actions. "It pits citizen against citizen."

He said the City Council has not reacted well to criticism. "Everyone has a right to differ, but we need to respect the democratic process," he said. "Just because I criticize (the city), don't call me anti-East Palo Alto and isolate me."

Rasheed said he would work to gain more respect for the city and "increase participation by making government more accessible to the people." He said he would also work to increase city-school cooperation.

Budget problems: "Let the sheriff absorb the Police Department. That would have saved $300,000-400,000 a year right there. We should also have aggressive code enforcement."

Name: Nelson Santiago

Age: 46

Residence: Mission Drive

Occupation: Mortgage banker

Background: Santiago ran three years ago in a special election to fill a vacancy on the City Council, losing to current Council member Myrtle Walker.

Where he stands: Santiago believes there should be Latino representation on the City Council, and he also believes the current council has not done a good job.

"We need a new set of competency skills on the council," he said. Citing the delays in the Gateway project and in the effort to produce a new General Plan for the city, Santiago said, "The city government doesn't have its act together, and is not competent."

He added that the city "is in our 14th year (since incorporation) and we haven't been able to get away from the perceptions that people have, both inside and outside the community. Everyone is just very concerned." Santiago said the city "made a poor decision in trying to appeal the parcel tax lawsuit."

If elected, Santiago said his redevelopment priority after Gateway would be the industrial park area. Santiago does acknowledges the progress the city has made in reducing crime and approving Gateway. But he adds, "In the same way that companies change leadership when they get to a new level, so should cities."

Budget problems: "Some financial procedures need to be fixed." The city should "negotiate a settlement with the homeowners association. They are willing to consider a settlement."

Name: Julius Van Zandt

Age: N/A

Residence: Pulgas Avenue

Occupation: Facilities supervisor

Where he stands: Van Zandt did not respond to requests for an interview. In his ballot statement, Van Zandt said he would work to improve the city's streets, expand the police and fire departments, and work to reduce crime.

Name: Robert Reynolds (Ola Wallacee)

Age: 47

Residence: Buchanan Court

Occupation: Minister

Background: Reynolds is a former member of the city's Rent Stabilization Board and has worked to organize neighborhood block clubs in the city. He is also the host of a weekly television show about the community on Channel 6 of the Cable Co-op system at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday. (Reynolds is his birth name, while Wallacee is his adopted cultural name.)

Reynolds credits the City Council for making progress in making council meetings more civil, compared to previous city councils, in getting new housing built on Gloria Way, and in approving the Gateway project.

But he also thinks that the council members "have not communicated effectively with the citizens of the city" about the parcel tax.

After Gateway, Reynolds said he would concentrate on redeveloping Ravenswood Industrial Park "to create new revenues for the city." He would plan new development there to be similar to the nearby Menlo Business Park.

He said he would also work with the state to "attach a surtax to the (Dumbarton) bridge to pay for the hardship the city undergoes" through all the commuter traffic which goes through the city, to and from the bridge.

Budget problems: "Go immediately to the federal government for emergency money for overall expenses. It's a category in the (federal) block grants."

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