By Julia James
East Palo Alto is moving forward with a long-term strategic planning process that officials hope will bring new money and new life into the city. But it’s not just bureaucrats who are doing the heavy lifting.
Annie Loya, an outspoken 26-year-old native of East Palo Alto, was instrumental in drawing the land-use map that will anchor a specific plan for the city. In a two-year process that paralleled the city’s own, she solicited community input on the map and ultimately advocated for a version that would provide jobs appropriate to community residents; zone for open, civic and mixed-use space; and lay the groundwork for the creation of a new downtown.
Loya, as head of the group Youth United for Community Action, has stepped up in recent years to pester officials on some of the touchiest issues the city faces. She doesn’t shy away from terms like “environmental racism”; nor does she worry about acting the part of the “lobbyist,” which — though it’s not how she’d describe herself — essentially summarizes her job description.
“Happy New Year, everyone!” Loya crooned recently, in a high, sing-songy pitch, hoop earrings swaying as she approached a podium to face East Palo Alto’s planning commissioners. She wore high heels and black stretch pants. “Um, so as you guys know, um, I’m part of a collaboration called Envision, Transform and Build East Palo Alto…”