Uploaded: Thu, Jan 3, 2008, 11:53 pm
East Palo Alto fails to pass rent freeze
Four votes needed to pass, but Councilman Evans abstains
The East Palo Alto City Council came up one vote short of imposing a six-month moratorium on apartment rent increases Thursday night.
Four votes were needed for the urgency measure, which was supported by Mayor Pat Foster, Vice Mayor Donna Rutherford and Councilman Ruben Abrica.
Councilman Peter Evans abstained from the vote because he feared litigation sparked by the moratorium would require the city to mount a costly defense. The fifth council member, David Woods, was absent.
The council considered the urgency measure because Page Mill Properties, which owns more than 1,400 apartments in the city, has issued rent increases for Feb. 1 in excess of the city's current allowed 3.2 percent rent increase, as established by the city's Rent Stabilization Board. Many of the rent hikes are 15 percent or greater.
The City Council meeting was packed with more than 200 tenants, many angry.
But Lance Ignon, a consultant for Page Mill Properties, said after the vote that the company will now discuss the proposed rent increases with the city.
"We want to sit down, talk and negotiate in good faith and avoid litigation," Ignon said.
Page Mill officials did talk about a voluntary "cooling off" period to sort through the differences the company has with the city in interpreting the city's rent stabilization regulations.
But there is no assurance that the talks will prevent the scheduled rent increases.
Page Mill is basing its proposed rent increases on the city's "certificates of maximum rent" for each apartment and has added up past rent increases that would have been allowed by the city but were not imposed by Page Mill Properties or previous apartment owners in recent years.
City officials contend Page Mill Properties' interpretation of allowable increases is incorrect. They were also clear, however, that the company was prepared to sue if the city council had passed a moratorium. Two court reporters recorded every word spoken at the meeting, one hired by the company and one hired by the city.
The proposed six-month moratorium would still have allowed rent increases within 3.2 percent.
Posted by Jack Robbins
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2008 at 2:03 pm
Ok, now that I've cooled off, at least a little bit, I wanted to address some points that were made during the meeting.
It was repeatedly stated by Page Mill Properties that "If you have a problem, contact us." That's a great statement, if it meant anything.
Phone calls do not get returned. Period. If you manage to talk to someone, you talk to an office worker, who has little authority to do anything. I don't blame the office workers on having no authority. I blame Page Mill Properties for making this a point of contact and saying "We'll help you!" with a forked tongue.
They mentioned during the meeting that they've hired security guards to patrol each property every 4 hours. As if that's a benefit to us. It's a benefit to Page Mill Properties because they want to protect THEIR investment. Stop telling us lies that it's for our benefit, when it's just for yours. In fact, you should probably check on those hired guards, because I usually see them sitting parked talking with each other.
EPA is probably the last bastions of low rent in the Bay Area, and even here, it's high. I make a decent amount of money, I'm white and priviledged, I'm somewhat educated. I have a hard time keeping up as it is.
I've been in rough spots a few times before, so I know what it's like to constantly worry where your next meal is going to come from. Technically, I can afford the increase, and I'll be staying. On a personal level, I can afford to see and even welcome some gentrification. I'll admit that. When I got my letter, I considered moving. And I got a great offer in San Jose, but that would mean a lower quality of life for myself at a much lower price. I'd rather pay more and have a higher quality of life.
But where the hell am I going to come up with $2000 extra per year? I can do a lot of better things with my money than throw it away on rent and never see it again. I sure as hell can't afford to buy property in the Bay Area.
On a human empathetic level, I know that a large majority cannot afford this. Where are THEY going to get $2000 when a lot are barely scraping by, or worse, not making it as it is? Can they as for a $2000 per year raise? $2000 after taxes. Yes, rents are below market. That's why they live there!
Someone mentioned moving to Stockton. And yes, there are less expensive places to live on the outskirts of the bay area. There's just one problem with that. Jobs. There's no work to be had in those places. Why go somewhere more affordable, if you can't generate income to afford it?
I don't think the people who are involved with this quite understand what it's like when you have $5 a day to feed your family after bills are paid. I don't think they see it. I know what it's like to have that mentality. "Well, they should get better jobs, it's only a $6 a day increase. You can't afford $6 a day?" No! It adds up. And to live in the Bay Area, it's hard to apply for welfare and assitance when you're alreay getting assistance or you make too much to fall below that line.
The estimated number of units involved is somewhere between 1200 and 1600. 1400 units seems to be the number people agreed upon. But let's break that down even more. That's 1400 units. Not people. What is the average number of people who live in 1 unit? 2, 4, 6? That's how many PEOPLE are affected. Not units. Let's say 3 people per unit on average. That's 4200 PEOPLE that you just gave a lower quality of life.
You just made 4200 people miserable, so that you can become even MORE wealthy. Chances are, the people making money off of this have never even worried about things like paying for food. If you can afford to invest in this, you probably have enough money. How much money do you need in life? Are you so insecure that having $2 million dollars to your name is not enough? $5 million? $30 million? When does it end? You don't need any more money. The people that you're taking from are the ones who need it the most.
No, if the city is doing what it's supposed to be doing and helping to protect the people, and make things more productive, and act within the law, you threaten to sue the city! You threaten them with attempting to do the right thing. Your bank account and bottom line means so much to you that you that you are willing to sue the city and make 4200+ people miserable. Man, that is some desperate and pathetic stuff there. A decent human being wouldn't even bring up litigation in the first place.
I won't bring the death of the employee into this, as I feel it's unrelated. It's tragic, recent, but not related to this issue. Personally, I don't find them at fault for that, but I could see how people would argue that.
I do see a solution to this, since I don't think any grinches are going to grow a heart any time soon. You have money. You have our money. You're making a ton already. Don't say that the rent increases are to cover improvement costs. That's a lie. If you do the math, each building is making a very nice profit without increases. A solution that might help things is, since you have all this money, give back to the city in a measurable way that helps people. Not donating a statue or a park. But real things, that people can use. Like food, money, medical, gasoline and a roof over their heads. That's all they want. By raising rents, and especially so sharply, people don't have time to adjust. They can't get that much money so quickly. You could have made these increases incrimentally, so that people can figure out what to do and how to do it.
Someone could easily say "If you don't like it, move." It's easy to say, but do you know how hard that is financially? First, you have to find a place that is affordable and will accept you. Second, in most places, you have to pay First and Last months rent AND deposit in advance. That's usually 2.5 to 3 months worth of rent money, that these people simply don't have laying around.
Stop looking at the way things SHOULD be, and take a look at the way things really are.
Next time Page Mill Properties decides to speak in public, I recommend bringing less lawyers, and more PR staff. Because the things that were being spoken were outright lies, insults and infuriating that they could be said with a straight face. I don't think they were meant to be insults, and that's just how ignorant of the situation you are. These people aren't stupid. They just don't have a lot of money to be handing out.
All the positive points that Page Mill Properties brought up and tried to say were for the benefit of the people, were ALL benefits to Page Mill Properties instead and their investors.
Security - To protect the investments
Energy saving appliances - Saves the building money.
Earthquake retrofitting and replacing rotten wood - AKA, bringing the buildings up to legal code.
New paint, plants and aesthetic improvements - To attract investors.
This is not what the people need. The city of EPA and it's council members are not the boardroom investors you're used to dealing with. You can't sell them like that. We live in different worlds.
But the end reality is, what the people of East Palo Alto need most is LOW COST. That's it. Say it with me. LOW COST. Next time you speak in public, remember that. See, I'm not completely bashing you, I'm helping you. Hire a PR representative that has lived in poverty or near poverty to come up with things for you to say. Just incase you forgot those words again, LOW COST.
This is something you might not understand, so I'll spell out why low cost is so important. No one wants crime. No one wants to live in a filthy neighborhood. No one wants any of these negative things. But, they're willing to put up with these things for: LOW COST OF LIVING. That's something you might not understand. And that's what these people need most, and you took THAT away! Think about it. If you want to sell the people on your goal, show them a low cost solution. Have your marketing people come up with that.
Those "improvements" you spoke about do not improve the lives of the tenants. They sound more like things you tell yourself so that you can sleep better at night. "I'm helping the community!" BS. You're destroying it and replacing it with your own.
A decent human being knows that people come before money. It could have been different. It could have been so very different. But the greed is just so transparent, it overshadows your own human dignity.