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By Elizabeth Real and               Follow East Palo Alto Today on
Henrietta J. Burroughs             Facebook    Twitter         Blog              

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May 21, 2017


City of East Palo Alto agenda item
item on the May 2, 2017 agenda of the City of East Palo Alto

A controversial employment program will soon be opening in East Palo Alto. While many activists in the community are not happy with the way the program is currently designed, interested community residents might be able to access its services as soon as this summer.

In preparation for a larger community meeting that will be held in East Palo Alto on May 23 to gather community input prior to the program’s opening, some community members have been holding group meetings to decide on the type of training they think the program should provide.

The new Employment Development Program, also called EDP, is part of the modified Good Faith Effort agreement between the City of East Palo Alto and Amazon. The agreement, which was approved by the East Palo Alto City Council at its meeting on February 21, 2017, later generated protests in the city on March 30, by concerned community members, who believed the agreement shortchanged city residents.

When the Amazon/Sobrato agreement came back to the council for discussion on May 2, East Palo Alto City Council members unanimously appointed JobTrain, a Menlo Park nonprofit organization, as the administrator of the program. The program will comprise the Employment Development Center in the Sobrato Corporation’s new office building at 2100 University Avenue in East Palo Alto.

Carlos Martinez, East Palo Alto’s city manager, issued a letter on March 28 explaining why the controversial Amazon/Sobrato deal was a good thing for residents. In his letter, he explained that the city dropped its requirement to have Amazon submit the usual quarterly reports mandated under the city’s First Source Hiring law and accepted, instead, the tech giant’s proposal  to invest in the Employment Development Program that would provide residents with the assistance they needed to prepare for available jobs.

As it’s currently designed, the program would provide such services as resume and interview preparation, communication and personal skills, as well as job training in partnership with JobTrain.

Under the Amazon/Sobrato agreement with the city, the EDP must begin offering its services to city residents 8 weeks prior to Amazon’s occupation of the new building.  So, it is expected that the program will start operating in July or August of this year.

Steven E. Schmidbauer, the chief operating officer at JobTrain, who made a presentation to the city council at its May 2 meeting said, “We want to hear from the community [to find out ] what services are needed.”

Schmidbauer, who was accompanied by JobTrain’s President and CEO, Nora Sobolov, who also spoke at the council meeting, said that JobTrain would hold a community meeting on May 23 -- open to anyone who wanted to attend -- to gather input on what residents want and need in the new job development center.

At the end of his presentation to the council, Schmidbauer ageed that JobTrain would gather community feedback from the May 23 meeting and would speak before the council with an outline of the program on June 20.After hearing JobTrain’s presentation, council members raised questions, since they said they did not have a clear idea as to what JobTrain’s program would consist of.

Council member Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier asked, “How this position will differ from what [Job Train is] currently doing?” She also asked, “How do we define success within this program? Does it mean 20 people were hired?”

Council member Carlos Romero shared similar concerns and added that the timeline for the development of the program might be too rushed. Speaking directly to City Assistant Manager Sean Charpentier, Romero said, “If this comes back to us in a way that looks rushed and not inclusive of issues we’re hearing from the community, issues we’re hearing the council has presented to you, I personally will lead the charge to reject it.”

Olatunde Sobomehin, founder of StreetCode, a nonprofit tech training program in East Palo Alto, was one of two speakers at the meeting. In his remarks to the council, he said that moving at this speed is indeed too fast.  He also added, “The notion that we need to be at the front door of technology is only one side of the coin. Technology needs to be at the doorstep of East Palo Alto.”

The second speaker, Elizabeth Jackson, talked about the First Source Hiring policy and said, “I think we probably need to make some changes to it.” She emphasized how much jobs are needed in East Palo Alto, pointing out that the unemployment rate in the city is high.

Speaking of the EDP, Council member Romero said, “We’re trying to make a tool, potentially, far more useful to the citizens of East Palo Alto than what we presently have right now with our First Source Hiring Policy.”

“I think we’re very fortunate to have JobTrain as a partner who’s willing to come in and to be a part of this community in this manner,” said Mayor Larry Moody.

Ultimately, the city council agreed that JobTrain was a good fit for the role, since it was pointed out that  Job Train has 52 years of experience and has offered services, consistent with the EDP goals, to the residents of East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, and North Fair Oaks/Redwood City. In a unanimous decision, the city council appointed the non-profit as administrator of the EDP.

City council members also agreed that they would each appoint a community member to serve on the Technical Advisory Committee that was proposed.

Community residents are continuing their group meetings in preparation for the May 23 meeting that JobTrain will hold at 6:30 p.m. at the Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto Family YMCA located at 550 Bell Street in East Palo Alto.