Melvin Gaines: Public servants advancing the public good

April 24, 2024
Advancing the public good: Steady and true


Melvin Gaines

City manager of East Palo Alto, CA
Years in government: 13

Motivations for public service: As a teenager, I couldn’t help but notice the challenges my community faced— poverty, lower educational attainment, high crime and violence, and environmental injustices. It made me wonder: why is my community the way it is? And why is it struggling when the surrounding wealthy communities in the Bay Area are not? I realized local government is a vehicle for addressing the issues I care about. The Ford School gave me the analytical tools to understand these issues. I knew I could be influential in policy and also be able to communicate with and include the community in decision making.

Data driven programs: As grants manager for the East Palo Alto police department, I was able to both nerd out in analyzing law enforcement data and design new interventions that made strides in advancing public safety without victimizing or villainizing communities of color. As part of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Smart Policing Initiative, I analyzed crime data to design and implement crime reduction strategies. We developed Fitness Improvement Training (FIT) Zones to implement health-related programs in high-crime public spaces that were underused by residents. As police officers joined residents in outdoor physical activities like power walking, volleyball, and Zumba dancing, they not only deterred crime, but also improved their health and built positive relationships while regaining control of public spaces.

Local matters: Government is really about where we live, work, and play. We have an opportunity to change the conditions we live in and shape our environment—from our recreational activities, to public safety, to disaster preparedness, and everything in between. Particularly in local government, you see the effects. You hear directly from residents if a new reading program or traffic management effort is working. I want to see people positively impacted, and local government gives me that opportunity.

Advancing the public good: Steady and true

More in State & Hill

Below, find the full, formatted spring 2024 edition of State & Hill. Click here to return to the spring 2024 S&H homepage.