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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Latino Forum Returns to East Palo Alto

Officials from East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park resumed the Latino Forum, after it was suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this space authorities and residents of the counties dialogue about the most important issues for the community.
Pictured (left to right): Carlos Romero, Drew Combs and Tom Dubios.
Photo by: Manuel Ortiz

By Manuel Ortiz and Pamela Cruz. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].
Mayors and former mayors of East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park, resumed the Latino Forum, a face-to-face meeting with members of the community to listen to their concerns and demands, as well as to expose the activities carried out by the mayors during 2021, in each of these cities. 

The Latino Forum, which this time was held at St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto, is a bilingual program that has been held in this city since 2005, but had been suspended because of the pandemic. 

Ruben Abrica, who was vice mayor of East Palo Alto and just took office as mayor of East Palo Alto on December 14, talks about it. 

"It is a forum whose purpose is to exchange views on various issues between authorities from different sectors with the participation of the community. We make it bilingual so that everyone can express themselves," he said.

Let's take a look at what each of the participants had to say, starting with Carlos Romero, who ended his term as mayor of East Palo Alto just Dec. 14. 

"One of the most important things we've been doing, is trying to vaccinate our community that, for many economic, political, and social reasons, it's been a little difficult to get them vaccinated, but it's been a priority. We are currently at a level of 80 percent overall vaccinated in the city."

However, he said, nearby cities are up to 98 percent. "There's a long way to go, but we're going to keep working on that task because it's important to protect East Palo Alto."

He added that work has also been done to protect citizens who rent housing, who "have been incredibly affected by the economy because of COVID. We are seeing a gigantic level of potential displacement. In some places, we have some buildings that are 70 or 80 percent occupied, but 20 percent are gone.

Before them, he said he has been working with community groups to bring them state and federal aid to prevent evictions. "If we don't keep that community of low-income people, that working class community, East Palo Alto is going to totally change."

He also recalled that there are currently three infrastructure projects: the first was the completion of the Bay Road street repair, where there will finally be a town center; number two, a contract was generated for the purchase of land on which a new library will be developed in the city; and three, funds were secured to begin construction in 2022 on a new pedestrian bridge on University Avenue. 

For his part, Drew Combs, who also stepped down as mayor of Menlo Park in mid-December, said the city is currently grappling with three major issues.

The first, he noted, is the response and engagement in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic; the second has to do with the issue of homelessness and involvement in housing development; while the third is what role of the city in terms of climate change. 

He recalled that, while it is true that the city has lost economic revenue due to the pandemic and closures of services due to it, it has sought to obtain other revenue, using hotel taxes.

"There was no promise that federal funds would come and certainly at the beginning of the pandemic, then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it very clear that there would be no city and state bailout. And so we, as a community, had to attack, we had to respond and we pulled it out."

Tom Dubios, the current mayor of Palo Alto, noted that, in terms of social response, over the course of this year, they've tried to do a lot of work on racial equity issues. "One of the most interesting things we did was a program called 'One Hundred Conversations,' where 100 people invited 10 of their friends to come and have a frank discussion about systemic racism, and it was really interesting; I think that's a program we want to continue to do next year."

In the case of the Police Department, he stressed, they seek to make all data transparent, so the role of the police auditor, who reviews all uses of force and other matters, has been of great importance.

He also explained that they are strengthening support and assistance for tenants, because gaps were identified in terms of protections for people who rent space, so that, in 2022, they will seek to have local ordinances that protect them.

On the other hand, he mentioned that Palo Alto is looking to follow in East Palo Alto's footsteps in terms of business, "We're one of the few cities that doesn't have a business tax. So we are considering adopting a square footage tax.

The next Latino Forum will be on February 4th in Menlo Park between 12:00 and 13:30. As soon as the location is announced, we will inform you here.

Officials from East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park resumed the Latino Forum, after it was suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this space authorities and residents of the counties dialogue about the most important issues for the community.
Photo by: Manuel Ortiz

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