Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 30, 2010

News Digest

East Palo Alto settles 'predatory' rent lawsuits

East Palo Alto's long legal war against the city's largest landlord concluded this month when the City Council reached an agreement with Wells Fargo after months of negotiations.

As part of the agreement, Wells Fargo would drop about a dozen lawsuits that Page Mill Properties launched against the city over the past two years, most of which pertain to the city's rent-control laws. Wells Fargo took ownership of the roughly 1,800 units last fall after Page Mill defaulted on a $50 million loan to the bank.

Councilman Ruben Abrica, who took part in negotiations along with Mayor David Woods, called the settlement a major milestone for the city, which has been fighting off lawsuits from Page Mill since 2008, when the company took ownership of the properties in the city's Woodland Park neighborhood. The agreement still needs to get approved by the San Mateo County Superior Court.

The two sides have been negotiating with Wells Fargo and Wald Realty, a court-appointed receiver, since January. Abrica, himself a Page Mill tenant, said the tone of negotiations improved in May when Wells Fargo decided to reduce rent at 437 apartments, in some cases by nearly $200. The bank's willingness to work things out with the city made a huge difference, he said.

"It's definitely the end of a very difficult chapter in the existence of our city," Abrica said. "It's also a case that demonstrates how a very powerful entity like Wells Fargo and the City Council were able to resolve all the outstanding issues."

As part of the settlement, the city will inspect some of the apartments owned by Wells Fargo for health- and fire-code violations. The courts appointed a receiver to oversee these properties last fall after local inspectors uncovered numerous violations, including malfunctioning fire-alarm systems and swimming pools that were so dirty they had to be shut down.

Palo Alto to appoint task force for rail outreach

Five neighborhood leaders, four business representatives, an environmentalist, a member of Canopy, a bicyclist, a Caltrain rider, a social-service specialist and representatives from Stanford University and the local school district will soon be charged with developing Palo Alto's official vision for the Caltrain Corridor.

The City Council decided Monday night to appoint a new task force that would help the city conduct a new multi-year analysis of the Caltrain Corridor, which runs through the middle of the city and which is eyed by state officials as the preferred route for the proposed high-speed-rail system.

The new group would also assist city officials with public outreach relating to high-speed rail. The new 15-member task force will hold public meetings and will regularly report to the city's Planning and Transportation Commission. It will also serve as "a conduit to and from other stakeholders and should work with staff to set up networks and techniques at the outset of the process to ensure engagement of the broader community throughout the study."

The Corridor Study will be conducted in three phases and will cost $200,000. The first phase, which focuses on articulating the community's values and vision for the Caltrain Corridor, is expected to take four to six months and cost $50,000.

Palo Alto police release sketch in burglaries

Palo Alto police have provided more details and released a sketch in a search for a young boy and adults engaged in a residential-burglary spree in Palo Alto in the past month.

Detective Brian Philip said a boy who looks about 10 years old was confronted inside one home and seen jumping from the window of another, and adults have been in the area.

"These particular burglaries are unique due to the fact that in two cases, a young juvenile enters the residence while an adult waits outside," Philip said.

He said the juvenile is described as a Hispanic male with long brown hair and approximately 10 years old. The boy is approximately 5 feet tall and about 100 pounds, witnesses reported.

The adult is described as 5 feet 4 inches tall and about 120 pounds (see sketch, courtesy of the Palo Alto Police Department).

He said citizens should report suspicious persons or activity to police immediately, either by calling 911 in the case of an emergency or calling the non-emergency number, 650-329-2413.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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