Rev. Jesse Jackson to East Palo Alto: Fight gentrification


East Palo Alto residents must fight to keep their city, said the Rev. Jesse Jackson during events on Monday in the city and at Stanford. Otherwise, residents will be pushed out by gentrification, a process that hasn't changed in communities of color since Jackson, 73, began fighting it in the 1960s, he said.

Jackson, a civil rights activist and Baptist minister, took to the podium on Monday (Jan. 26) to address self-determination in East Palo Alto versus gentrification during a luncheon in the city and a panel discussion at Stanford University's Tresidder Union.

Residents must fight to keep from being displaced even if that means marching by the thousands to Silicon Valley company headquarters to be heard, Jackson said. The valley, with its vast wealth, is putting housing pressures on the region, and should take some responsibility for coming up with a plan for saving, and funds for preserving, East Palo Alto's heritage and affordable housing, he said.

Jackson met with Silicon Valley leaders after the Tresidder event to discuss ways they can help move East Palo Alto residents forward. Among his ideas: fund a tech-training center in the city to help raise residents' incomes so they can afford to stay in the valley and help create a development bank to build affordable housing and fund minority entrepreneurs.

Silicon Valley companies have yet to prove if they will be "friends or foes" to East Palo Alto, Jackson told the standing room-only crowd.

"Caring matters -- it carries the day," he said.

But does Silicon Valley care?

"If it does, we have a strong ally; if not, we have a strong foe," Jackson said.

Since the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 -- 50 years ago this year -- little has changed in terms of economic parity for African Americans, Jackson said. In 1964, he was beating the same drum in Chicago, trying to convince the establishment to invest in communities of color. But segregation by economic inequality made that difficult, and the setup that existed then still remains, he said.

African Americans and persons of color continue to be affected adversely by a historical and exclusionary system that has kept them in isolated communities, and in communities such as East Palo Alto, and even that is now threatened with being taken away, Jackson said.

East Palo Alto is "an island separate" from Silicon Valley, where "poverty is a weapon of mass destruction," he said.

Jackson joined a panel with eminent members of the East Palo Alto community, legal representatives and Stanford University scholars to discuss East Palo Alto's history, the threats that could undermine the community and potential solutions.

Carol McKibben, a professor in the Stanford Department of History, said the problems of unequal housing began decades ago in East Palo Alto, and that "these racial beachheads ... are not that way by accident."

Federal mortgage loans in the 1950s and 1960s were "one of the biggest welfare programs that moved a whole generation of white males to the middle class and home ownership," McKibben said, but those loans did not extend to African Americans. People of color were excluded from receiving loans, and through "redlining" (the practice of denying or charging more for services, or denying jobs to residents in particular areas) were kept from dwelling in white neighborhoods, she said.

California had an enormous wave of migrants up through World War II, including African Americans, who worked in technology and associated industries, but they were shunted into the least desirable places, including East Palo Alto, she said.

"It was a complicated but complicit relationship between federal, state and local agencies" that contributed to the systemic exclusion of communities of color from good jobs and housing. In the 1970s and '80s, those segregated communities were designated as areas of blight and became targeted for urban renewal.

In the early 1980s, then-unincorporated East Palo Alto faced dissection of its community. San Mateo County officials proposed annexing its west side to Menlo Park and bringing in two task forces to "clean up" the east side, city Councilman Ruben Abrica, who was involved in the city's incorporation, said.

"When we heard that, we could see the writing on the wall. The sheriffs would come in and clean up the city and develop the economy, but for whom? For what? To depopulate East Palo Alto? ... Self-determination was really the battle cry. It was the right of the community to determine our own destiny," he said.

With 70 percent of the city's low-income rental housing currently in the hands of one corporate landlord and surrounded by tech companies Facebook on the Menlo Park side and Google in Mountain View, the city is facing a very intense battle in the next couple of years, Abrica said.

"Now we will be talking gentrification," he said, noting that the dilemma will come to a head in the next two years when the City Council holds a new election.

But East Palo Alto is in better shape to determine its future than other unincorporated communities of color because it chose incorporation, Michelle Wilde Anderson, a Stanford Law School professor, said. Unincorporated areas have a very difficult time convincing county governments to support their survival, Anderson said.

"The advantage that East Palo Alto has that other areas don't is to empower East Palo Alto residents to use political tools. Your independence allows you to write land-use and housing laws. That's incredibly powerful," she said.

East Palo Altans should carefully consider steps that are anti-displacement while being pro-growth, she said. The city could succeed by keeping its core single-family homes while including higher density housing that incorporates a quantity of low-income housing.

Anti-growth policies in surrounding cities such as Palo Alto and Menlo Park have put a lot of pressure on East Palo Alto, she said. And that attitude "is about sentimentality," but East Palo Alto's survival requires being unsentimental about buildings and sentimental about people, Anderson said.

Residents should "really think about how East Palo Alto can take its pound of flesh from Silicon Valley," she added.

To that end, Abrica suggested that the city get together with prominent institutions to buy up buildings to create and preserve low-income housing.

Daniel Saver, a housing attorney with Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, said Silicon Valley has the private capital that could be leveraged, but it must be done with care.

The city could also develop a no net-loss policy that allows for growth and profit by developers but preserves the number of low-income units at affordable rents, he said.

East Palo Alto has enacted tenant protections that are some of the strongest in the state, Saver said. The City Council approved an affordable-housing impact fee for new units in July 2014 and a tenant-protection ordinance in May 2014 that prohibits landlords from using intimidation to keep tenants from organizing or demanding repairs to unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Tenants who are evicted while a unit is being repaired must receive alternative housing and temporary relocation costs, including storage and housing pets and cannot be charged more than they normally pay for rent under the ordinance. Landlords must pay relocation costs if units are demolished or removed.

Planning Commissioner Tameeka Bennett said the ordinance gives residents badly needed protection, especially on the city's west side where 1,800 units are controlled by one corporate landlord. However, she expressed concern that the ordinance could be challenged, since a judge overturned a similar ordinance in San Francisco.

"I'm a little worried about that," she said.

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26 people like this
Posted by Peter Oswald
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:27 am

Some may call it gentrification but it's really a city going through it's natural growth towards a safer and more habitable place to live and work. EPA has a significant number of people who turn a blind eye to gangs, drugs and the crime associated. If it's residents haven't figured out how to mitigate that crime which overflows into neighboring cities, maybe it is time for change.

I loved going to the old BBQ restaurant called Uncle Franks when I was attending college in the early 90's and had many conversations with Frank about the state of his community, he wasn't happy to say the least.

It is a shame because a few people in such communities are ruining it for the rest of their residents by engaging in a criminal based lifestyle. This has kept property values low and investment in EPA low. Now that we've reached critical mass, don't you think it's time to clean EPA up once and for all.

Coming from a family who grew up poor in the Bronx, NY and seeing their neighborhood (Parkchester) turn into an absolute ghetto in the 80's by predominantly black and Puerto Rican drug dealers and criminals, will change your perspective. My 80 year old grandmother refused to move out of her apartment she lived in for 50 years, even after she had been mugged and strangled about a dozen times. The neighborhood has since changed and is now safer, cleaner and more orderly than it was during the heyday of the scumbags who tried to destroy it for the rest of the good people who lived there.

If EPA residents haven't figured out how to grow their community into a respectable, safe and thriving community by now, don't you think it's time for change and improvement?

19 people like this
Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:53 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

Major disconnect.

Those of who live west of 101 have been dealing with an onslaught of development, with two enormous projects planned for El Camino. Redwood City, Stanford, and Palo Alto are also seeing huge new development or expansion of existing development. We are getting squeezed on all sides.

The quality of life in Menlo Park is eroding, fast. And the response from the powers-that-be is that we need to accept it. Our community -- where we have invested our housing dollars, where we are raising our kids -- is vanishing. We're foolish to think we should be able to live in homes with gardens when it's much more efficient to pack us all into high density housing on the train tracks.

Why on earth does East Palo Alto think it should be immune to this "progress?" Those neighborhoods are changing too, perhaps even faster than on the west side because they have been undervalued for so long. Expecting more handouts from tech companies? Really? Facebook has already been exceedingly generous, but EPA's major problem is not the gang fights (unless you join a gang) but the fact that too many EPA/Belle Have residents have gotten dependent on charity instead of pulling up their socks and taking care of themselves.

Maybe Jesse Jackson's message resonated in the 1960s, but this is 2015 and change is happening, yes, even on the east side. Fight gentrification? What pathetic advice.

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


"pathetic advice" from Jesse Jackson. What a shock. This is just a set up for this race baiting con artist to shake someone down.

7 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 29, 2015 at 7:38 pm

pogo is a registered user.

The improvements in East Palo Alto have been breathtaking and positive. If I recall correctly, it began with the addition of IKEA and a new sales tax base which was quickly augmented by the shopping center.

While gentrification has been problematic for some neighborhoods, I think it is preferable to witnessing a nice, working class neighborhood devolve into a poorer and unsafe area (this does not apply to EPA!). And besides, its nice to see residents experience the appreciation of their property values.

Of course increased wealth serves none of Revered Jackson's causes.

12 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:29 pm

casey is a registered user.

Sounds like many of you commenting are somewhat ignorant of EPA's history. Most of the families living in the area are hard-working, low-income families. The majority are of color, though the demographics have shifted over the years. For a great read on how the city became what it is now, check out this article. Perhaps you'll develop some more empathy for the situation many there face:

Web Link)

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

casey - what a great article. Thanks.

5 people like this
Posted by Carab1n3r
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:44 am

Carab1n3r is a registered user.

Casey, thank you for the interesting article.

Regarding Palo Alto's annexing of land SE of EPA: there are a couple factors into that move not mentioned in the article:

1) Oregon Expressway in Palo Alto was dealing with the ramifications of increases in traffic (even then!) through what was-and-still-is a single-family-home neighborhood. The neighborhood was up-in-arms about the traffic.

Initial versions of traffic flow to/from the Dumbarton Bridge project initially included having a roadway between Dumbarton and Oregon Expressway. The creation of the airport and golf course was meant to thwart that route; obviously they were successful.

2) The reason EPA wasn't upset about Palo Alto's maneuvers was because the EPA town government at the time WANTED traffic to come through town, under the assumption that people would stop in EPA to shop. Obviously that didn't happen, and now EPA has traffic backups daily through their town.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:23 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"2) The reason EPA wasn't upset about Palo Alto's maneuvers was because the EPA town government at the time WANTED traffic to come through town,"

Wrong - the creek was rerouted and the area which now includes the golf course and airport was annexed by Palo Alto from the unincorporated area of San Mateo County in 1964. East Palo Alto did not incorporate until 20 years later.

8 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Alan is a registered user.

Never know what to think of the whole gentrification issue. My wife - who is Taiwanese - works in early childhood education. She's got a master's degree, but the field doesn't pay well. So - before we got married - she bough a house in Belle Haven (technically, Menlo Park, but it has more in common with EPA than the rest of the city), because it was the only place she could afford.

We dated, we get married, I'm in Belle Haven. I wouldn't sought to live in this neighborhood had it not be for the relationship, given the crime reputation. As a professional, I could afford to live elsewhere, but I didn't. I've grown to like the neighborhood a bit. I certainly don't like the crime, but - particularly in the past year - it seems to be under control. Otherwise, beside the mariachi music being a little louder than I care for, it's a lovely place. My immediate neighbors are good, honest people. It's conveniently located. We have a large enough yard to do stuff. Not bad.

Still, I'm accidental gentrification.

On the one hand - since we own - of course, it's nice to see the value of the place rise like everywhere else around here. On the other hand, people like my wife would've never been able to afford to buy had such affordable neighborhoods like this existed. The working class people who need places like this, who are law-abiding, who rent and do not own - where are they going to go?

7 people like this
Posted by Carab1n3r
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 5:16 pm

Carab1n3r is a registered user.

Small correction to my previous post. Peter was right that the town technically didn't exist at the time of Dumbarton's creation. I'll amend my statement for correctness:

I should have said:
"2) The reason EPA wasn't upset about Palo Alto's maneuvers was because the EPA community leaders at the time WANTED traffic to come through town,"

5 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 30, 2015 at 7:29 pm

pogo is a registered user.

I once saw a video about the history of Ravenswood which was amazing.

I am unable to find it on google or YouTube - perhaps someone will have better luck than I did.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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