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    By Giselle Garcia                                         Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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    February 3, 2021                                    EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon


    Courtesy of the City of East Palo Alto


    As COVID-19 continues to follow us into the new year, the East Palo Alto City Council and members of the city staff held a special meeting on Saturday, January 23, 2021. The meeting was the council’s strategic planning retreat and it was held via Zoom in an online format.

    After roll call, opening remarks from Carlos Romero, the city’s mayor, and Jaime Fontes, East Palo Alto’s city manager, the meeting started with Greg Larson, the retreat’s facilitator,  summarizing the results of the interviews that he had with each city council member about what each thought were the city’s acommplishments during 2020.

    There were four key accomplishments highlighted from the interviews in regards to COVID-19. The first accomplishment was “COVID testing outreach and accessibility,” thanks to programs that provided the East Palo Alto community with local COVID-19 testing sites that were easy to access. The second accomplishment was “COVID tenant protection, resources and leadership,” which helped with making sure that tenants are protected from eviction during the pandemic. The next accomplishment was “COVID response in general with operations and services,” as the city prioritized the health of community residents. The final COVID-related accomplishment was “COVID small business support,” which was a topic the council discussed later in the meeting.

    For this year, the city has four key priorities for dealing with COVID-19. They are “vaccine distribution and education,” “tenant debt mediation and support,” “enhanced small business support,” and “consider impacts on seniors.”

    City Manager Jaime M. Fontes stressed the importance of educating the East Palo Alto community about COVID-19, because there is a lot of fear regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. He said that he hopes to use the city’s website to spread awareness about the facts concerning the virus and the importance of the vaccine, in addition to using the website to help the community understand when vaccines will be available.

    At the time of the retreat, San Mateo County was in Phase 1 with the distribution of vaccines, but the vaccine strain has changed. Fontes admitted that the city is awaiting answers from state officials.

    In addressing the council’s second priority for this year, tenant support, Fontes cited a January 19, 2021 meeting that summarized the council’s efforts and resources regarding tenants. He said that there is funding available to help tenant debt that has accumulated due to the pandemic, and the city should use the money aggressively to help out the community.

    During the special meeting, Fontes said, “Small businesses are the bread and butter of East Palo Alto.” This phrase highlights the importance of small businesses as a council priority for 2021. The city plans to connect directly with small businesses, through advertisements, enhancing technology, grants and tax assistance.

    The final priority addressed by the council involved the consideration of the impact that the pandemic has had on seniors. Fontes spoke about how the city has been very supportive to seniors through meal programs and COVID testing. He said that it intends to do the same with vaccine programs, which the city looks to expand as the pandemic continues.

    Council member Regina Wallace-Jones brought attention to the impact of COVID-19 on students and the education systems in the East Palo Alto community. She mentioned how the city has tight communication with the Ravenswood city school district. Approximately 35% of children in East Palo Alto attend Ravenswood schools, so Wallace-Jones points out how a priority for this year should include students; consequently, the city should prioritize the impact that COVID  is having on students.


    Giselle Garcia contributes articles focused on critical issues facing the East Palo Alto community. She can be reached by email at ggarcia@epatoday.org