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Community members speak out at EPA forum

Violence, Measure C topics of Thursday forum

Community members voiced their frustration in an open community forum held Thursday by East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero and Police Chief Ron Davis.

Romero and Davis explained the timeline of recent events and programs the city has instituted and will institute to combat violence in East Palo Alto. The meeting was held in the wake of the recent homicides in city, where five people have been murdered since the beginning of June. Only four people in East Palo Alto were murdered in 2010.

"The only way we can deal with violence in our community is to be engaged," Romero said. "We are not going to solve it with just police."

Residents responded through the recent period of violence by using the anonymous tip line created by East Palo Alto police, Davis said. Arrests and people of interest have been identified in all five cases through these tips. Two of the people of interest are Fidel Silva Jr., 24, and Jaime Cardenas, 20, who are wanted for questioning about the murders of Hugo Chavez, Kevin Guzman, Catherine Fisher and an additional murder warrant in Grand Junction, Colo.

Silva and Cardenas, who are believed to be associated with a gang, are said to be moving to and from East Palo Alto and that the violence may not be over. To prevent further gang actions, "Operation Ceasefire" will focus on those gang members on probation and parole to go along with "call-ins," which are designed to give gang members alternatives to gang life. While some citizens are in support of Romero and Davis, others do not believe the community is being empowered to help.

A sensitive issue was Measure C, which is supposed to enhance community crime prevention and public safety law enforcement programs and was passed by voters in 2006. Measure C helped to strengthen the East Palo Alto Police Department, which had one of the lowest staffing ratios in the country, according to a University of California at Berkeley study.

"They've been stealing a lot of it," East Palo Alto resident Joseph Holland alleged.

Davis welcomed solutions but became defensive when crowd members questioned his commitment to the community.

"I'm out there at two in the morning saving lives," Davis said. "It's easy to stand up there and ambush. What solutions do we have as a community?"

Other programs include the Police Activity League, which includes a graffiti arts project, golf and soccer activities, and the Summer Violence-Reduction Plan to go along with programming provided by community-based organizations. In all, $200,000 was released to fund the programs in 2011.

But some in the community have not seen some of these programs coming to fruition. According to Holland, there has been "too much hoodwinking" by the city's officials. Community members were animated about the use of funding for community-based programming. Faye McNair-Knox, who runs an East Palo Alto summer youth program that has employed more than 700 youth in its time, has found it difficult to get funding for her program.

"Kids have told me if you don't want us to help (with crime prevention), get us a job," McNair-Knox said.

Holland said he does not believe city board members have the city's best interests in mind.

"This city is not interested in getting fixed," Holland said of the city officials. "The citizens are not happy."

— Bay City News Service

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