Economic and social disparities in our community undermine the balanced and healthy community we aspire to be.
In recent years, Palo Alto and our region have experienced a huge boom in high-income tech jobs that has largely driven our economy, but median incomes have fallen well behind drastic rent increases, resulting in greater gentrification. Many lower-income members of our communities, especially people of color, have been severely impacted. This has compounded longstanding housing inequities, pushing out valued members of our community.
Many residents may not realize that historic discriminatory housing policies, such as redlining, created injustices that have shaped ours and neighboring communities. While these policies were disbanded many decades ago, legacies of those policies continued while increased economic disparities today create barriers to the diversity we desire.
To proactively address these issues, we should:
Increase funding and zoning for affordable and moderate-income housing so that more of the people who are the backbone of what makes up a socially and economically balanced community can live here.
Adopt as city policy the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) program to prevent housing discrimination that was recently eliminated by the Trump administration.
Assure that renters are adequately protected from onerous rent gouging and wrongful evictions.
Identify and help address the exceptional needs of renters and essential workers especially during the COVID emergency.
Prioritize the needs of the disadvantaged members of our community.
Proactively work to diversify city commissions and community relations staff.
Expand community education programs on historic discrimination locally, and how its legacy affects our community today.
801 Alma: Affordable Housing
As we work to address the inequities in our community, we must also help neighboring communities. Today, a high percentage of the workers in Palo Alto who provide essential services for our community are East Palo Alto (EPA) residents. That’s why, during my Council tenure, I worked to:
- Establish fire and emergency mutual aid agreements and joint emergency planning.
- Prioritize flood protection for the high-risk areas of Palo Alto and EPA.
- Facilitate a transfer of surplus PA Hetch Hetchy water allocations to help correct the large disparity with EPA.
- Include EPA in the current joint advanced water recycling task force.
Public Safety Reforms for Social Justice
Our city is considering reforms to policing and public safety to address justice and equity issues. But we must go beyond police reforms and address other barriers in our community to provide opportunities, equal justice and respect for all.
“In June, when City Manager Ed Shikada imposed a 10-day curfew in Palo Alto, ... Burt took the lead in challenging what was likely an illegal order when other council members were afraid to speak up.” Palo Alto Daily Post (September 21, 2020)
When I served on the Council from 2008-2016, we worked to improve our policing and public safety. After learning of a pattern of racial profiling, we replaced the police chief and enacted a series of initiatives to improve our police department. We had one of the strongest Independent Police Auditor functions in the state, and we increased diversity training and other practices that were innovative for the time. Some of these initiatives have lost ground in recent years and need to be restored, and there is more we should do:
- Adopt the #8CantWait, reforms as a foundation for improving public safety by reducing the use of force, enhancing transparency, and increasing accountability.
- Renegotiate the police union (POA) contract so that the police Policy Manual is not subject to binding arbitration which has historically limited officer accountability and transparency.
- Adopt a holistic public safety program prioritizing mental health and social service professionals as default city responders to nonviolent mental health, homelessness, and domestic emergency calls.
- Restore the scope of the Independent Police Auditor (IPA) that was reduced in December 2019 so serious internal police misconduct will again be reviewed by the outside IPA rather than the City HR department.
- Enhance transparency including by assuring that the city attorney and city manager abide by state law requirements regarding the release of body camera footage.
- Proactively work to diversify hiring of police staff, including leadership, and increase our diversity training. In recent years, our staff has become less diverse.
Today, we need to move forward with tangible, well thought out progress toward greater justice, while avoiding divisive rhetoric and polarization. These actions will help us live up to our values and ideals as a community, and they will make a safer, more just, more balanced, and healthier community for all.