Antonio Lopez

Antonio Lopez

In just a few weeks, the Board of Supervisors will vote on its new redistricting lines. And since both the country and county where I spent my entire life has had a troubled history of putting people of color on maps, I want to make clear what is at stake.

We are here to reverse decades of redlining and racially restrictive covenants, of discriminatory policies from housing to voting that systematically marginalized cities up and down this county — from East Palo Alto to South San Francisco. 

We are here because hundreds of thousands of working-class residents are too tired and overworked to make public comment on a school night.

I am here because in 2021, procedural concessions of an advisory committee aside, an all-white board will ultimately decide the terms and conditions through which our community, predominately of color and low-income, vie for its seat at the table.

As a freshman councilmember for East Palo Alto, I’ve been politically reared in a once-in-a-century pandemic, which means I have seen inequality in its most naked form. I door-knocked on apartment units only to find them hollowed out of their families. I saw lines blockslong of pedestrians of all ages hauling strollers and shopping carts to receive a bounty of block cheese.

But it also means that every day I saw the best of humanity. Throughout these 12 months, I’ve seen people dressed in all colors of Patagonia jackets — folks who likely never questioned when their next meal was — volunteer their Friday nights to hand my constituents a carton of milk. From food banks, to outreach for vaccines and housing assistance, I saw the white and well-to-do invest their time and resources for my city.

Despite a lifetime of seeing a city slighted and snubbed, I do not doubt the capacity for us to be better than our forefathers. I do not doubt our collective ability to bridge resources so that no longer will a ZIP code limit a child’s future.

But individual investment is not enough. If communities like mine are to prosper in an ever-gentrifying county, we need cities to step up, to understand that while they’ve enjoyed centuries of political representation, we are just beginning to make our voices heard.

As iterated in Supervisorial District Lines Advisory Commission’s meetings, it is inevitable that some cities will be divided in the new map, which has caused a bit of a dilemma among commissioners. Mindful of being as inclusive as possible, the commissioners are reluctant to decide which cities to divide. That is why I propose that the wealthy cities in the county volunteer to have their areas cut in half by the new proposed boundaries. The reasoning is very simple: They have less to lose.  

In San Mateo County, the fourth-wealthiest in the nation, the politics of incorporation has left a racialized divide, so that in the year 2021, issues like unpaved roads and clean water exist side by side with multibillion-dollar corporations. Those cities that were incorporated early in the 20th century have benefited from a stability that together with small populations, single-family zoning, streamlined permits and changing buyer demographics, catapulted them to the appearance of astonishing wealth. 

For many such a proposal might still seem ridiculous, perhaps cause ire. Who is this young man to tell us what to do, to in effect dictate another city’s political future?

The reality is that historically, and like many of my Black, minority and unincorporated neighbors, my city’s political future was dictated for decades. The reality is my city was divided decades before it was even a city, when the Bayshore Freeway Expansion went ahead without our approval, a freeway that for the convenience of outside commuters, displaced 50-plus East Palo Alto businesses in a time where we were just getting our economic footing.

We do not lack the knowledge of what we must do, but rather the political courage to act upon its natural consequences. Whether you live in Hillsborough or the coast, Atherton or North Fair Oaks, we as residents of this county must set aside our personal hesitations and understand our role in history. To redraw maps with fault lines on affluent acres will not alter a quality of life cemented by centuries of intergenerational power. On the contrary, to reorient the redistricting process in favor of people of color and low-income communities is not reverse prejudice, but redemption of an unjust past. 

Only through this strategic division, we will be united.

Antonio López is a member of the East Palo Alto City Council.

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(4) comments

Dirk van Ulden

"On the contrary, to reorient the redistricting process in favor of people of color and low-income communities is not reverse prejudice, but redemption of an unjust past." Is this going to be gerrymandering on steroids? The lunacy of Lopez' position is the presumption that folks cannot move on and up of the areas in which they now live. If a group of minorities decides to move, would we need to change the district boundaries again? And with respect to our Forefathers, can you, Mr. Lopez point to one non-White forefather who delivered a better society than the one struggled for by our Founding Fathers? I don't see anyone flocking to Venezuela, China or South Africa.


Thank you, Councilmember Lopez, for your clear-eyed and honest accounting of our situation. Formal resolutions are wonderful AND we must change the underlying systems if San Mateo County is to achieve true equity.


Works for me!


Great article

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