Some East Palo Altans are criticizing the assertions of City Council candidate Mark Dinan, claiming that he has been spreading inaccurate information about numerous issues in the city.
Dinan, an energetic and outspoken candidate who is running against six other contenders for one of two open seats on the council, is a member of the East Palo Alto Public Works and Transportation Commission. He hosts the Facebook page East Palo Alto Neighbors and the Facebook blog East Palo Alto Sun.
Multiple residents and some groups have expressed concern for months about Dinan's claims, which they said are either incorrect or greatly exaggerated.
On the issue of new housing, Dinan wrote in an online post, "It has been over 20 years since a workforce friendly market rate apartment building has opened its doors in our city. Light Tree is the first new affordable housing apartment built in the city in over 18 years. We actually have less apartment housing in EPA now than 30 years ago, when redevelopment knocked down apartment buildings on the current sites of Ikea, the Four Seasons, Amazon and Home Depot."
But affordable housing advocates dispute his assertions.
Duane Bay, executive director of EPACANDO, a local nonprofit organization that has co-developed 440 permanently affordable apartments in East Palo Alto, said that affordable housing has been built within the past 18 years, or since 2004. The nonprofit co-owned and built 32 apartments at Nugent Square in 2006 and 41 apartments at Serenity Senior in 2016, just six years ago, he noted.
In addition, Bay said, when it comes to replacement apartments built since the city's demolition 30 years ago of the Gateway 101 project, which includes Ikea and the Ravenswood Shopping Center, EPACANDO built Bay Oaks with 38 units of affordable housing in 1996 and Peninsula Park with 64 market rate and 65 permanently affordable units in 2001. Those apartments exceed the number demolished through the Gateway 101 project alone.
The Four Seasons or University Circle development mentioned by Dinan started in 1999, which was 23 years ago — not 30. Located on the west side of the U.S. Highway 101, the redevelopment did demolish 100-plus affordable residential units, according to the East Palo Alto city website.
"The facts I provided are a matter of public record, and as such, are available to Mr. Dinan," Bay said in an email on Thursday. "I prefer not to comment further because to offer generalities about Mr. Dinan's apparent tendency to exaggerate and make factual-sounding statements in order to bolster the credibility of his political assertions about what he thinks would be best for our town would risk committing a similarly intentional infraction."
East Palo Alto City Council member Carlos Romero has also spoken out about Dinan's claims about housing, which he's said have been misleading.
"Since 2010, the city has approved 362 units through Design Review permits. This excludes Woodland Park’s recently approved 605 market rate units. Of the 362 units, 41 have been built, 91 are under construction, 168 are fully entitled and 32 are planned. I would describe those numbers, submitted to California’s Housing and Community Development Department, as not insignificant," Romero said in a written statement.
"Despite being admonished in public for these inaccuracies and made up facts, he has persisted in propagating them during his campaign," Romero said.
Dinan has also come under scrutiny for comments he has made regarding the city's Measure L, a business tax that is before voters in the Nov. 8 election that would raise a tax on landlords of residential properties from 1.5% to 2.5% of gross receipts.
In an Oct. 21 post on his Facebook campaign page, Dinan questioned how the city would spend the Measure L funds. The measure allows the city to use the funds for any purpose the City Council deems necessary and appropriate to benefit the people of East Palo Alto, "including increasing the supply of affordable housing and protecting residents from displacement and homelessness," the interim city attorney's impartial analysis states.
Dinan said he is concerned about how the city would spend this funding and stated that Romero had proposed to use $900,000 of Measure O funding "not on paying off past due rents or building new housing but on rewarding groups who support and do political work for him. Giving groups $900k in taxpayer money to pay salaries without any real accountability is political patronage, not fighting displacement."
Romero called that allegation "patently false."
"To date we have used these funds to support our Safe Parking Program (for homeless persons living in RVs), assist tenants with their applications to the state's rental relief program, fund legal assistance for tenants at risk of eviction, among other housing-related programs," he said in a written statement on Oct. 25.
Dinan has also asserted that the tax increase on landlords would be passed on to tenants, despite language in the ordinance to the contrary.
"Ten years from now, 95% of the tax raised by Measure L will be paid by EPA renters, who will have higher rents due to this tax. Measure L states that this cost can not be passed on renters, (but) this will only be true if the renter stays in their current residence. This tax will be passed on to the renter in any new rental agreement," he wrote. "Landlords already build all sorts of fees and expenses into the rent, and this will be no different."
Interim City Attorney Valerie Armento, who wrote Measure L's impartial analysis, said the measure's provisions do not allow for the tax to be passed on to tenants unless a pass-through is constitutionally required.
"The findings and declarations section of the bill also states: 'Any increase in this tax cannot be passed on to tenants protected by the City's rent ordinances and regulations and likely will not be passed on to other renters since landlords already typically charge rents to the maximum the market will bear,'" Armento noted.
"Any violation of passing the tax to tenants could be considered an unlawful detainer," which a tenant would be able to legally challenge, she said.
Dinan has also used hyperbole when discussing other issues, which other residents have called out. In a post about the city's stray animal population and the need for more animal services, he claimed there were 50,000 cats and 10,000 dogs in East Palo Alto. Asked about the veracity of that statement, he said in an email:
"Those numbers are probably high — a more realistic 5,000 dogs (1 for every six residents) and 15k cats. I really have no idea how many cats there are, there are colonies all around, and many, many more cats than dogs."
Ofelia Bello, executive director of Youth United for Community Action, said such misinformation has a negative effect on community discourse and misleads the public.
Dinan responded to the accusations in an email on Friday night.
"These accusations have no merit. My positions reflect a fact-based analysis of the issues that East Palo Alto faces today, and I stand by my positions and analysis.
"My campaign is about bringing positive change to East Palo Alto and providing practical solutions for tough issues like parking, housing, parks, safe streets, fireworks, and development," he said.