Regina Wallace-Jones ReginaWallace-Jones is both an elected official (East Palo Alto mayor)and a tech executive.

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SANTA CLARA, CA—When Regina Wallace-Jones was a student atStanford University in 1993, East Palo Alto was the murder capitalof the Bay Area. When she returned as a full-time resident in 2002,that nickname had been removed.

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Indeed, since its founding around 1849, East Palo Alto hasexperienced erratic growth and frequent conflict at times but manyaspects of the 2.5-square-mile city have changed since then.Wallace-Jones, East Palo Alto mayor, shared some of that historyand a penchant for change in a keynote speech during the 2020 CREWNetwork Winter Leadership Summit held last week at the Santa ClaraMarriott.

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She pointed out that the city's roots began in farming. In fact,trade alternately focused on ranching, transportation and shipping,brick manufacturing, farming, flower growth, and servicingtravelers of Bayshore Highway and the Dumbarton Bridge. After all,for most of its history, East Palo Alto was part of unincorporatedSan Mateo County.

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Large tracts were annexed by Menlo Park and Palo Alto from thelate 1940s to the early 1960s. While it did not have an officialboundary until it incorporated in 1983, the area historicallyregarded as East Palo Alto was much larger than the city's currentborder of 2.5 square miles.

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The original inhabitants were Ohlone/Costanoan Native Americans.Spanish ranchers took over, followed by Caucasian speculators andsettlers. For a time, Chinese laborers were prevalent. Asian andItalian flower growers preceded the flood of middle-classCaucasians drawn to post-war housing developments. East Palo Altolater became the largest African American community on thePeninsula. Today, the city possesses a multi-ethnic populationwhich includes a large number of Hispanics and PacificIslanders.

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"I understand where we've been and I am excited to repositionEast Palo Alto's destiny," Wallace-Jones told the audience.

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Numerous characteristics have attracted people to the area: theprice of land and housing, a rural-like setting, its centralizedlocation, proximity to transportation and San Francisco Bay, andmild weather. At present, there is a mix of small industrial,agricultural and commercial businesses, but that is growing.

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"We are the gateway to Silicon Valley," Wallace-Jones pointedout. "It is similar to a triangle made up of  Stanford,Facebook and Google, and East Palo Alto is in the middle. We nowhave a number of development projects in the works but with thiscome the challenges of traffic and a shortage of housing."

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However, the city aims to change that, with developments toinclude the property at 965 Weeks St., which East Palo Altopurchased in 2012 for the purposes of building a future affordablehousing development. Several factors, including a challengingeconomic climate, delayed the development of property. Recently,the city improved its financial and staffing capacity to advancethe project. About a year ago, East Palo Alto's city councilselected the team of MidPen Housing Corporation and EPA CAN DO todevelop a future 100% affordable housing community on thecity-owned property, according to the city website.

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In addition, East Palo Alto completed a flood-control projectthat will protect homes from a 100-year flood event, greatlyreduced its violent crime rate, built several commercialdevelopments to establish a more stable revenue base, is nearingcompletion on a bicycle-pedestrian bridge over US Highway 101 tolink the east and west sides of the city, revitalized the CooleyLanding open space and a new interpretive center, and has otherprojects in the pipeline including an arts and cultural center, andnew buildings for The Primary School founded by Facebook CEO MarkZuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

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As of late, East Palo Alto is also updating the 1999 GeneralPlan and Zoning Ordinance. Funded by the Strategic Growth Council,the general plan update targets improving the health of cityresidents and is therefore referred to as a Targeted General Plan.In fall 2012, East Palo Alto selected Raimi + Associates to engagethe community and refine this plan.

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Each city and county adopts and updates a general plan to guidethe growth and land development of individual communities, for boththe current period and the long term. The general plan is thefoundation for establishing goals, purposes, zoning and activitiesallowed on each land parcel to provide compatibility and continuityto the entire region as well as each individual neighborhood.Through land use policies and measures that are chosen by cityresidents, and closely aligned with 26 indicators that areassociated with public health, the plan will be accompanied by acomprehensive revision of the zoning ordinance to implement theresidents' vision.

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After being raised in the city of West Covina, CA, a city nottoo unlike East Palo Alto, Wallace-Jones studied engineering andtechnology policy, with the hopes of using technology for socialadvancement. She holds a bachelor of science in electricalengineering from Stanford University and a master's degree inpublic policy with emphasis in technology policy from UCLA.

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Wallace-Jones is not only a long-time resident of East PaloAlto, she is a community advocate and tech executive. She is thefounding board president of StreetCode Academy, a patron of BlackGirls Code, a board member for Women Who Code, and a partner of theLean In Foundation to advocate for women pursuing professionalambition.

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Wallace-Jones is senior vice president and general manager ofMindBody Inc. Previously, she was chief of staff and head ofproduct operations at eBay Inc. and also served as a tech executiveat Yahoo and Facebook.

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Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown is an editor for the south and west regions of GlobeSt.com. She has 25-plus years of real estate experience, with a regional PR role at Grubb & Ellis and a national communications position at MMI. Brown also spent 10 years as executive director at NAIOP San Francisco Bay Area chapter, where she led the organization to achieving its first national award honors and recognition on Capitol Hill. She has written extensively on commercial real estate topics and edited numerous pieces on the subject.