Hearts & Minds

East Palo Alto Shows Up to Speak Up

by | Nov 18, 2021

drawing of people in a zoom meeting

Artist Vrinda Manglik reimagines parent academy discussions in East Palo Alto over Zoom (renderings do not depict actual people).

East Palo Alto faces a quintessentially Bay Arean constellation of challenges: escalating housing prices and declining affordability; gentrification associated with the displacement of longtime residents by well-paid tech workers; and a rising bay encroaching upon the densely populated, low-lying city near the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge. 

Throw in a proposed new mixed-use development abutting vital marshlands already vulnerable to flooding and the stakes get even higher, says Roxana Franco, programs manager for Nuestra Casa de East Palo Alto. That’s why the nearly 20-year-old nonprofit is now working closely with current and longtime residents, many of them lower-income people of color, to give local context to climate change and sea-level rise, disaster preparedness, and — perhaps most importantly — civic engagement.

Through a 12-week program called the Environmental Justice Parent Academy, Nuestra Casa (“Our House”) is leading in-depth discussions about these and related issues among cohorts of African American, Pacific Islander, Latinx, and youth residents of East Palo Alto. All 85 participants, 75 of whom are parents, receive a stipend for their time and are encouraged to continue their work outside of the group.

“We have facilitators that reflect the community, and they’re also community elders here in East Palo Alto,” Franco says. “We try to make it about building communities and empowering our participants to sit at city council meetings and speak up. … We encourage them to show up to these meetings, and they feel more comfortable to be involved or at least show up.”

Four major development projects have been proposed for the end of Bay Road, just south of the Dumbarton Bridge and hugging the edge of the marshes close to sea level.

Four major development projects have been proposed for the end of Bay Road, just south of the Dumbarton Bridge and hugging the edge of the marshes close to sea level.

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About The Author

Nate Seltenrich

is a freelance science and environmental journalist who contributes to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sonoma and Marin magazines, Estuary News, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and other regional and national websites and publications, on subjects ranging from environmental health and climate change to pharmacology and neuroscience. He lives in Petaluma with his wife, two boys, and seven egg-laying ducks.