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.

Other Recent Posts

The Lost Birds, A Review

The loss of avian diversity inspired The Lost Birds, the latest work by composer Christopher Tin, who is best known for scoring video games and movies. Released in September 2022, The Lost Birds is a tribute to extinct animals.

New Flood Protection Standard for the Peninsula

In San Mateo County, new planning guidance may help cities account for rising seas when approving new developments. OneShoreline’s proposals are stricter than current requirements from federal, state, and local agencies, but those are also evolving. “The intent is to go where we already see regulators are going,” says Makena Wong, a project manager.

Shores that Can Shapeshift AND Stay Put?

The region is obsessing over beach-building. Whether it’s a degraded salt marsh in downtown San Rafael or a sliver of wetlands near the old San Francisco shipyards, local practitioners are adding beaches as nature-based buffers against waves and rising seas to adaptation projects around the Bay.

Humanity on the Fence

A new public art installation, called Fencelines, redefines the only barrier separating Richmond’s residential neighborhoods from the Chevron oil refinery: a wire fence.

Growing a Rainbow in the Urban Dirt

Debbie Harris directs Urban Adamah, a Jewish urban farm in Northwest Berkeley. She is a farmer by trade but her role at Urban Adamah requires her to be “a horticulturalist, a plumber, a therapist, a teacher, an organizer.”

Food Forests Green Solano

This spring, Sustainable Solano hosted open gardens that they helped plan and plant, offering visitors a chance to discover these food forests: a garden layered like a natural forest that includes fruit-bearing trees and edible plants.

Hollywood a Black Hole on Climate Change?

A USC study on “climate silence” reported that only 0.6% of all scripted film and television released between 2016 and 2020 mention the term “climate change” and only 2.8% of all scripts included any climate-related terms.

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.