Council may expand local hiring policy

Protesters on March 30, 2017, gathered outside of what is now the Amazon building at Donohoe Street and University Avenue in East Palo Alto to protest City Council's decision to let the company bypass the city's local hiring law. Post file photo by Emily Mibach.

Daily Post Staff Writer

East Palo Alto City Council is taking a look at expanding a policy that requires some new businesses in town to hire 30% of employees from East Palo Alto.

The policy, called the first source hiring program, came under scrutiny in 2017 when the council made the controversial vote to let Amazon and Sobrato bypass the rule. As a concession, Amazon agreed to open a 1,500-square-foot hiring center and to help residents find jobs elsewhere.

When the Post reported that the council had allowed Amazon to bypass the policy, residents with pickets protested the Amazon building in East Palo Alto.

The hiring center in the building at the corner of Donohoe and University is currently run by local nonprofit Job Train, which helps residents learn skills in IT support, carpentry and the culinary arts, among other industries.

All council members told Assistant City Manager Patrick Heisinger and Bazaj that they want to increase programs that help residents get jobs in some of the buildings that are proposing to have office or research and development space.
In years past, the hiring ordinance has been successful for jobs in retail. However, a 2016 review of the program revealed that Nordstrom Rack had not hired any residents, despite the workforces at Home Depot, Mi Pueblo and Office Depot all having 56% or more from East Palo Alto, according to a report from Bazaj.

The policy has long applied to buildings constructed on land owned by the city’s former redevelopment agency, which is why many of the jobs obtained through the program have historically been at stores in the Ravenswood Shopping Center.

Councilwoman Regina Wallace-Jones suggested the new policy look at ways to train residents to not fill the hourly-support sort of jobs at the proposed buildings, but to have managerial or supervisorial roles, or be science assistants, among other job titles.

Councilwoman Lisa Gauthier agreed with Wallace-Jones’ suggestions, saying the positions won’t require a four-year degree, but perhaps a certificate the city’s program can help the resident obtain.

Gauthier added that the program could not just help residents seeking jobs in town, but make them contenders across Silicon Valley.

Business tax money available

In the revamping of the policy, the city plans to use money from Measure HH, a business tax approved in 2018, to fund programs that increase residents job opportunities in STEM sectors, building trades and other sectors.

Councilman Antonio Lopez asked to look at having a certain number of reserved job openings to make sure residents get hired.

Councilman Ruben Abrica added the new program should look at assisting people getting jobs in the building trades sector. According to Bazaj’s report, residents were hired for 23% of construction jobs in the same 2016 audit of the program.

Mayor Carlos Romero said he wants to be sure the revised rule applies globally to all businesses, retail, construction, office and STEM jobs. He also requested that Heisinger and Bazaj look into ways the council can deal with buildings that will be leased out.

Over the next few months, Heisinger’s team will be working on revising the ordinance and hearing from residents and groups in town to weigh in on what ought to be in the new rules. The council is expected to discuss the revised ordinance in the fall.


  1. Pre-pandemic, East Palo Alto had an unemployment rate of around 2.5%. How is a first source hiring program needed anymore? Companies are desperate to hire qualified people, and with about 98% of EPA getting up and going to work every day, it is hardly necessary for EPA council to be wasting energy proposing programs that will not stand up to legal scrutiny. EPA is in the heart of the most jobs rich region in the world – the high cost of housing, not a lack of available jobs, is the main challenge facing EPA.

    • Yeah, 98% if you include low pay jobs like burger flipper. EPA residents want higher quality, better paying jobs.

      • Last time I checked, burger flippers at In N Out make $17 an hour. Not bad, for a burger flipper. There are of course other, higher quality, better paying jobs. The job market has a shortage right now, so just go out looking.

  2. Amazon didn’t care whether the hiring requirement was legal. They simply bribed the council with a jobs center that would give council members jobs to hand out to friends/relatives/supporters, etc. It’s the old patronage system at work.

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