When East Palo Alto resident Vicki Smothers was born in 1954, East Palo Alto was unincorporated land governed by San Mateo County. Residents did not have much of a voice in the decisions made for the area.
"The City Council has more of a voice," Smothers said of the time since East Palo Alto became a city in July 1983. "The people have more of a voice."
Adding to this voice Saturday, June 29, were more than 300 residents, who took part in a 30th anniversary parade down University Avenue, with a marching band, cars adorned with American flags, local leaders and a float with banners that said "God Bless East Palo Alto."
Despite the sweltering heat, community groups and kids joined the parade, alternately shouting "EPA!" and "East Palo Alto in the house!" while passing motorists honked and cheered.
Jose Rojas, a resident since 2001, said there's still a lot of work to be done in East Palo Alto.
"It's much better than it was," Rojas said. "Us as parents, our community starts in the home."
The parade ended at Bell Park, where speeches were made by Margaret Hernandez, a representative of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, and Mayor Ruben Abrica. Hernandez presented Abrica with an American flag that had been flown at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., in honor of East Palo Alto's anniversary. A fireworks display capped off the festivities.
Abrica was joined by Police Chief Ron Davis, Councilwoman Laura Martinez, State Senator Jerry Hill and Assemblyman Richard Gordon.
In 1983, East Palo Alto achieved what many other municipalities already had: the creation of its own city government through incorporation. The vote for incorporation meant that East Palo Alto had the right to manage its own resource utilities and make decisions without San Mateo County's permission, according to Abrica.
After a multi-year debate over incorporation, the two sides were separated by just 15 votes. The new council immediately approved one of its election pledges, a rent stabilization law, and was challenged by area landlords in a referendum.
"The first three years we were really just protecting and trying to survive as a city government," Abrica said. "So we had an election in 1984, and we defeated them (the landlords) very soundly. ... If we had lost that then it might have looked like the people were against the city."
East Palo Alto has faced other challenges during its tenure. Violence spiked in the 1990s, with the city being labeled as the "murder capital of the U.S." in 1992.
But according to statistics, homicides have dropped significantly since the 1990s, although upticks in violence do still occur.
"In public safety we still have issues and we still have problems, but it's nothing like it used to be," Abrica said. "If you look at statistics, there's no just no argument about that."
Abrica, who was on the first council and has become involved again in city government over the last few years, is optimistic about East Palo Alto's future.
"I think there's no question that 30 years of being our own city has improved the community," Abrica said. "We have a larger tax base; there are some large businesses in the community. ... You can see visible improvements in the community."
Fifty-nine years of growing up in East Palo Alto has changed little for Smothers, who sees herself as living in the city for the rest of her life.
"I would love for my grandchildren to grow up here," Smother said. "I love East Palo Alto."