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East Palo Alto

City of East Palo Alto
Mountain View, California

Nickname(s): E.P.A.

Coordinates: 37°28′1″N 122°8′23″W / 37.46694°N 122.13972°W / 37.46694; -122.13972Coordinates: 37°28′1″N 122°8′23″W / 37.46694°N 122.13972°W / 37.46694; -122.13972

Country  United States
State  California
County San Mateo
 • Mayor Ruben Abrica
 • Vice Mayor David Woods
 • Councilmember Laura Martinez
 • Councilmember Larry Moody
 • Councilmember Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier
 • Total 2.612 sq mi (6.766 km2)
 • Land 2.505 sq mi (6.488 km2)
 • Water 0.107 sq mi (0.278 km2)  4.11%
Elevation 20 ft (6 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 28,155
 • Density 11,000/sq mi (4,200/km2)
Time zone PST (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP code 94303
Area code(s) 650
FIPS code 06-20956
GNIS feature ID 1658461

East Palo Alto (abbreviated E.P.A.) is a city in San Mateo County, California, United States.


As of the 2010 census, the population of East Palo Alto was 28,155. It is situated on the San Francisco Peninsula, roughly halfway between the cities of San Francisco and San Jose. To the north and east is the San Francisco Bay, to the west is the city of Menlo Park, and to the south the city of Palo Alto. Despite being called "East" Palo Alto, this is a misnomer, as the city is precisely due north of Palo Alto. While widely assumed to be part of the city of Palo Alto,[2][3] East Palo Alto has always been a separate entity, being located in a different county since its founding as an unincorporated community (Palo Alto is in Santa Clara County) and until recently having an entirely different demographic makeup. The two cities are separated only by San Francisquito Creek and, largely, the Bayshore Freeway (the vast majority of East Palo Alto is northeast of the freeway, while all of the residential part of Palo Alto is southwest of the freeway). The revitalization projects in 2000, and the surge of high income high-tech professionals moving into the new developments (including employees from Google and Facebook), have begun to eliminate the cultural and economic differences between the two cities.[4] East Palo Alto and Palo Alto share both telephone area codes and postal ZIP codes.

About half of East Palo Alto's residents were African Americans in 1990, which was the result of redlining practices and racial deed restrictions in Palo Alto.[5] Latinos now constitute about 65% of the total population, while the proportion of African Americans has decreased to about 15%. A small minority of Pacific Islanders also reside in East Palo Alto. Most of Tongan, Samoan and Indo-Fijian origin.. East Palo Alto has the largest concentration of Pacific Islanders of any American city or town outside of Hawaii.

In the past, East Palo Alto experienced profound crime and poverty, especially during the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1992, it had the highest homicide rate in the country with 24,322 people, and 42 murders, equaling a rate of 172.7 homicides per 100,000 residents.[6] Since then the city's crime problems have subsided, and the murder rate in particular has declined to a typical urban level. In 2006, East Palo Alto experienced a comparatively low 6 murders. There were 7 murders in 2007, and only 5 in 2008. According to a 2008 report provided by Chief of Police Ron Davis, violence is on the decline. Davis reports an overall 42% reduction in homicides and a 20% reduction in overall crime between 2006–2008, compared to the previous three years.

The prosperity that benefited the Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s largely bypassed East Palo Alto. The Ravenswood City School District, which serves East Palo Alto and part of adjoining Menlo Park, has struggled with low academic performance. Eventually, however, the Peninsula's shortage of land and soaring property prices meant that even East Palo Alto became an option for urban regeneration. Until recently, gentrification has been rare in East Palo Alto.

East Palo Alto also includes a small piece of land across the Bayshore Freeway (US 101) from the shopping center, a roughly triangular area between US 101 and San Francisquito Creek, which includes a former two-block-long retail business district known as Whiskey Gulch (the name dates back to the time that Stanford University, in Palo Alto to the west, was dry and prohibited alcohol sales within a radius of one mile (1.6 km) from the campus: Whiskey Gulch was just outside the limits, and was home to a number of liquor stores and bars). The city has torn down Whiskey Gulch and replaced it with the University Circle office complex.[7] A 200-room Four Seasons hotel opened in University Circle in 2006.

Over 25% of East Palo Alto (400+ acres) has been bulldozed and replaced with brand new housing and brand-name retail establishments over the last 10–15 years,[8] including IKEA, Sports Authority, Home Depot, Nordstrom, Togo's, Starbucks, Office Depot, Mi Pueblo Grocery, and Best Buy, 6 to 9 Dental, Jamba Juice, and Firehouse Grill attracting an entirely new demographic.[9] University Square community has become particularly appealing to young high-tech professionals and high-income couples, including many employees from Google, Facebook, Sun Microsystems, and various other software and startup companies.[10][11]


The Ohlone tribe of Native Americans inhabited this area at least by 1500 to 1000 BCE. One tumulus was discovered in 1951 during development of the University Village subdivision near today's Costaño School. After a year-long excavation of 60 graves and 3,000 artifacts, researchers concluded Native Americans had utilized the area as a cemetery and camp, rather than as a permanent settlement. In later years another mound was found near Willow Road and the railroad right-of-way.[12]

From the 1850s through the 1940s, East Palo Alto went through many changes. In 1849, Isaiah Woods attempted to make East Palo Alto a major shipping town and named the city Ravenswood. In 1868, after Woods' investments failed he sold the wharf to Lester Cooley, who built a brick factory. When the brick factory closed down, it reverted to a farming community.

With the outbreak of WW I, the north side of East Palo Alto became a military training ground with only the V.A. hospital in Menlo Park still extant. In the 1940s, East Palo Alto was a farming community with many Japanese residents. During the war, the Japanese were forced into internment camps and they lost their land, belongings, and livelihoods. After the war, many African-American families were diverted to EPA, and during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, there was a cultural re-awakening. The city was almost renamed Nairobi in 1968 to reflect its population's African roots.[13][14]

Significant gentrification occurred in East Palo Alto from around 2000, with the construction of a large shopping center named Ravenswood 101 (including a Home Depot, a Best Buy, and an IKEA store) and several upscale housing communities (intended for high-earning Silicon Valley workers). This gentrification has faced opposition from some local residents, who charge that it serves to price locals out of one of the region's only affordable communities while providing only low-paying jobs in the retail developments and consuming a disproportionate quantity of the tiny city's land area (2.2 square miles).

In 2008, after 20 years without a supermarket, East Palo Alto individuals and organizations joined together to establish the East Palo Alto Community Farmers' Market.[15] In November 2009, the Mi Pueblo Food Center grocery store was added to the Ravenswood 101 shopping center in place of the former Circuit City store. The opening of Mi Pueblo store in East Palo Alto was the city's first full-service supermarket in 23 years.[16] Mi Pueblo operates more than a dozen markets in California, including one located in Mountain View. Although there are several local, small grocery stores in East Palo Alto, the establishment of Mi Pueblo Food Center in East Palo Alto marked a milestone in history for the city, as residents no longer have to drive to other cities to buy their groceries from a full-service supermarket.

Starting in 2006, a large real estate investor, Page Mill Properties, purchased almost the entire west side of East Palo Alto and contested most of the city's rent control laws in what many claimed was a predatory equity scheme.[17] Page Mill left East Palo Alto in the fall of 2009 after defaulting on a $240-million bank loan.[18]


East Palo Alto has always had a rich history. While there is plentiful shopping and business outside East Palo Alto, there was relatively little in the city. Most of EPA was unincorporated county land, so it was not eligible for many of the revenue benefits of city status. Until 1983, East Palo Alto existed as an unincorporated "island" in San Mateo County, dependent on county government for services and on the San Mateo County Sheriff for police protection. After several years of pro-incorporation campaigning by local community groups, a 1982 ballot measure that was stopped by a lawsuit, and a subsequent election the next year, East Palo Alto became a city in June 1983, with Barbara A Mouton as its first Mayor. (Because of subsequent legal challenges to the last ballot measure, it wasn't until 1987 that the city was officially recognized as such.) The legal challenges were led by former U.S. Congress member Pete McCloskey, who represented one of the real-estate brokers whose original blockbusting campaign had turned EPA into a mostly-black The final tally was 1,777 for and 1,764 against, a margin of 13 votes; a majority of 50.2%.[19]


East Palo Alto is located in San Mateo County, its geographical coordinates are 37°28′1″N 122°8′23″W / 37.46694°N 122.13972°W / 37.46694; -122.13972 (37.467038, −122.139699)[20]. Despite its name, East Palo Alto lies almost entirely north, and not east, of Palo Alto. (This may be explained by how directions on the Peninsula are traditionally defined by having Caltrain as north-south. Caltrain runs northwest-southeast in Palo Alto, so "east" would mean northeast. In addition, downtown Palo Alto is in the northwest corner of the city, so East Palo Alto is indeed northeast of downtown Palo Alto.)

It is bordered on the west by Menlo Park, to the south by Palo Alto, and to the east by the San Francisco Bay. The San Francisquito Creek defines its southern edge. To the north are Ravenswood Point and the western end of the Dumbarton Bridge in Menlo Park.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.6 square miles (6.7 km2), of which 2.5 square miles (6.5 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) of it (4.11%) is water.



The 2010 United States Census[21] reported that East Palo Alto had a population of 28,155. The population density was 10,777.1 people per square mile (4,161.1/km²). The racial makeup of East Palo Alto was 8,104 (28.8%) White, 4,704 (16.7%) African American, 120 (0.4%) Native American, 1,057 (3.8%) Asian, 2,118 (7.5%) Pacific Islander, 10,694 (38.0%) from other races, and 1,358 (4.8%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 18,147 persons (64.5%). Among the Hispanic population, 15,319 (54.4%) are Mexican, 69 (0.2%) are Puerto Rican, 23 (0.1%) are Cuban, and 2,736 (9.7%) are other Hispanic or Latino.

The Census reported that 28,001 people (99.5% of the population) lived in households, 150 (0.5%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 4 (0%) were institutionalized.

There were 6,940 households, out of which 3,767 (54.3%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 3,144 (45.3%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 1,510 (21.8%) had a female householder with no husband present, 625 (9.0%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 529 (7.6%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 59 (0.9%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 1,196 households (17.2%) were made up of individuals and 316 (4.6%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 4.03. There were 5,279 families (76.1% of all households); the average family size was 4.38.

The population was spread out with 8,976 people (31.9%) under the age of 18, 3,487 people (12.4%) aged 18 to 24, 8,897 people (31.6%) aged 25 to 44, 5,120 people (18.2%) aged 45 to 64, and 1,675 people (5.9%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28.1 years. For every 100 females there were 102.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.5 males.

There were 7,819 housing units at an average density of 2,992.9 per square mile (1,155.6/km²), of which 2,971 (42.8%) were owner-occupied, and 3,969 (57.2%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 2.1%; the rental vacancy rate was 13.3%. 12,628 people (44.9% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 15,373 people (54.6%) lived in rental housing units.

Demographic profile[22] 2010
Total Population 28,155 – 100.0%
One Race 26,797 – 95.2%
Not Hispanic or Latino 10,008 – 35.5%
White alone 1,754 – 6.2%
Black or African American alone 4,458 – 15.8%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone 30 – 0.1%
Asian alone 1,025 – 3.6%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone 2,083 – 7.4%
Some other race alone 49 – 0.2%
Two or more races alone 609 – 2.2%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 18,147 – 64.5%


As of the census[23] of 2009, there were 35,791 people, 7,104 households, and 5,793 families residing in the city. The population density was 14,327.6 inhabitants per square mile (5,531.9 /km2). There were 8,046 housing units at an average density of 4,444.4 per square mile (2,864.0/km²). 21.3% spoke English, 64.8% Spanish, 9.5% Pacific Island languages, 0.4% Chinese or Mandarin, other Indo-European 1.4%, and other language 1.3%, as their first language from estimate census 2009.

There were 7,104 households of which 41.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.4% were married couples living together, 19.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.5% were non-families. 22.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 6.24 and the average family size was 7.65.

In the city the population was spread out with 47.1% under the age of 18, 19.5% from 18 to 24, 31.2% from 25 to 44, 11.1% from 45 to 64, and 3.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21 years. For every 100 females there were 109.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 108.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $44,006, and the median income for a family was $42,342. Males had a median income of $25,631 versus $28,044 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,774. About 22.2% of families and 21.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.1% of those under age 18 and 14.7% of those age 65 or over.


U.S. Route 101 cuts through the southern part of the city, with two on ramps and off ramps in the city (University and Willow). There are frontage roads on either side of the freeway. The Dumbarton Bridge in neighboring Menlo Park connects East Palo Alto to Alameda County, which lies to the east across San Francisco Bay, and carries State Route 84 into East Palo Alto toward U.S. 101.

Free public transportation is provided by the East Palo Alto Community Shuttle,[24] which connects East Palo Alto to the Palo Alto Caltrain station during peak hours; as well as by SamTrans buses.


Primary and secondary schools

The Ravenswood City School District has its headquarters in East Palo Alto.[25]

District K-8 schools include Costaño Elementary School,[26] Belle Haven Community School,[27] and James Flood Magnet School.[28] 5–8 schools include Cesar Chávez Academy and Ronald McNair Academy.[29][30] San Francisco 49ers Academy, a 6–8 district school, is in East Palo Alto.[31] K-4 schools in East Palo Alto include Edison Brentwood Academy (a district charter) and Green Oaks Academy.[32][33] Ravenswood Child Development Center is in East Palo Alto.[34]

Sequoia Union High School District operates the zoned high schools in the area. Some residents are zoned to Carlmont High School in Belmont, some residents are zoned to Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, and some residents are zoned to Woodside High School in Woodside.[35]

Every year, parents of incoming Kindergarten thru 2nd grade can apply to send their kids to neighboring school districts under the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program.

Public libraries

San Mateo County Library operates the East Palo Alto Library, located at 2415 University Avenue.[36]


The local area around the Dumbarton Bridge is an important ecological area, hosting many species of birds, fish and mammals. The endangered species California clapper rail is known to be present in the western bridge terminus area.

The bridge is not a significant source of noise affecting East Palo Alto; however, the city is affected by noise from events at the nearby Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.

Notable Lore

A few notable Bay Area Hip-Hop artists are of East Palo Alto origin, including Sean T, Hefna Gwap, Da Banga, S.I.C, Mac & AK, The Youngen, Chunk, Buff & Law (Block Boys), Bigg Rigg, Dem Hoodstarz, AD Kapone, and Mac-10.

The stories of East Palo Alto youth who attended Carlmont High School in Belmont, California were the basis for the 1990s film Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer.


External links

San Francisco Bay Area portal
  • East Palo Alto Public Library – a branch of the San Mateo County Library
  • A History of East Palo Alto
  • East Palo Alto web portal
  • East Palo Alto News Paper
  • East Palo Alto City Council website
  • East Palo Alto Tenant's Rights Info (concerning rent control)
  • Collective Roots – East Palo Alto organization promoting food system awareness and change
  • East Palo Alto Community Farmers' Market – Community-based Certified Farmers' Market
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