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.