Longtime East Palo Alto leaders face five challengers in council election

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

Two of East Palo Alto’s most familiar faces — Donna Rutherford and Ruben Abrica — are seeking re-election to city council after a combined 32 years of service, but are facing five challengers who want to change how the city conducts business.

Abrica and Rutherford are running to regain their seats against former longtime Planning Commissioner Court Skinner, eBay executive Regina Wallace-Jones, Public Works and Transportation Committee Bernardo Huerta, community advocate and council watchdog Patricia Lopez and newcomer Randal Fields. Fields did not return the Post’s repeated attempts to get in touch with him.

Incumbents’ priorities

Rutherford has been on council for 13 years — from 2000 to 2008, and he was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2013, and has been on council since. Prior to her first stint on council, Rutherford was on the Ravenswood School District board for 12 years. Rutherford said she is running because she wants to continue serving the residents of the city.

Four years ago, Rutherford’s priorities were increasing tax revenues, improving public safety, youth and senior services, water and affordable housing. Much of what Rutherford set out to do four years ago has been accomplished, she said, with tax revenues up, one murder in two years, youth and senior programs are supported by money from the hotel tax and that the city now gets water from Mountain View and Palo Alto.

If re-elected, Rutherford said her No. 1 priority would be housing, especially low-income housing.

“East Palo Alto was once a community of color. Now the city is changing. Many families are being forced out by the high price of homes. I want to ensure this displacement stops,” Rutherford said.

Abrica, a professor at DeAnza College, was part of the committee to make East Palo Alto a city in 1983. He served on the first council from 1983-1988, was on the Ravenswood school board and returned to council in 2004. In 2006 he was the city’s first Latino mayor. He said he is running again to continue to improve the city, saying that public service is his vocation.

Abrica’s fingerprints are on many of the city’s policies, including the city’s rent control ordinance and the increase of community policing and as a result, decrease of violent crime in the city.

Abrica said if he is re-elected, he will focus on making sure there is balanced development in the Ravenswood/Four Corners area to bring more jobs to the city. Abrica said he also wants to see the council enact some measures that will help decrease traffic, at least in the short term, as soon as possible. Another goal of Abrica’s is to get the city’s back-up water supply, in the form of two wells, up and running.

The challengers

Court Skinner is an active community member, having been on the city’s planning commission from 2004 to 2018, a board member for Community Legal Services and used to work for National Semiconductor Corp. He also ran for council in 2008.
Skinner said he is seeking a seat on council to take on all of the change the city is facing because of the economic growth in and out of the city and solve the issues that come from them — traffic, lack of affordable housing.

Skinner said he wants the city to do a comprehensive transportation plan that includes multiple options for residents to get around — from walking to access to trains. Skinner said he would also like to bring in restaurants, a full-scale supermarket and more retail to the city.

‘A new bench of leaders’

Regina Wallace-Jones is chief of staff and head of product operations at eBay, having previously held positions at Yahoo and Facebook. She is also active in expanding access to technology in East Palo Alto.

Wallace-Jones is a board member of Women Who Code, a founding board member of StreetCode Academy, which is based in East Palo Alto, and is working with the city’s Technical Advisory Committee to help Ravenswood City School District employees who have been laid off due to the district’s budget issues.

Wallace-Jones said she is running because she believes it is time for “a new bench of leaders in the city.” Wallace-Jones believes she ought to be on the city’s “new bench” because of her knowledge of both tech and public policy work.

Wallace-Jones said since residents want housing and traffic relief, those two topics will be her top and immediate priorities if elected to council. But she will also work with the Ravenswood School Board to “improve schools and enrich our children with technology skills, which is a personal passion and a clear path to economic growth.”

RV parking

Patricia Lopez was a force behind the city council to work on finding a place on Bay Road for the city’s RV dwellers to park, and is a regular council meeting attendee.

Lopez said she jumped into the race in order to be part of “creating policies that will benefit the people now and in the future.” One of her main goals if elected would be to create a policy for the city to use its money that is reserved for building or buying low-income housing.

Lopez said that she thinks the council could do better for the RV dwellers, since the city’s overnight parking program will be impossible for families to transition out of living in their RVs if they have to worry about moving their vehicles out of the city-owned lot every day. Lopez said she’d like to work on coming up with a better program for RV dwellers.

Bernardo Huerta has been on the city’s Public Works and Transportation Committee, serves as a board member on many East Palo Alto nonprofits and has served on a number of city organizations throughout the years. He also ran for council in 2012.

Solving problems

Huerta said residents invited him to run. Huerta said that he is often called by residents to help them solve issues they are facing in the city, and he teaches them to understand the city’s planning process and codes in order to get what they need, which is something he intends on continuing if elected.

Huerta said a main goal of his would be to get grants for the city in order to pay for different projects. Another goal of his would be to amend the city’s recently passed zoning code to add a new fee to make developers pay for more street improvements.

2 Comments

  1. I am Bernardo Huerta. In your reporting of Oct.4th on E.P.A. City Council, you write that I want amend the City’s zoning code to add a new fee to make developers pay for street improvements. This is absolutely false. In my written answers to your questions and fallowing interview I never mentioned any such insane thing. It would be illegal. I have called and emailed twice for a correction. Please apologize to the public and make a correction known in your newspaper.

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