After almost a year of litigation, most of which the city has lost, the East Palo Alto City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night that was critical of Page Mill Properties use of a public employee pension fund to finance the purchases of apartment buildings in the city.
The resolution cited the "predatory real estate practices which result in pain and hardship to our residents."
The city called on CalPERS, the pension fund, as well as county, state and federal authorities to "use their political, economic and ethical influence" to stop Page Mill Properties' "predatory practices."
The resolution was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman A. Peter Evans dissenting.
Starting two years ago, Page Mill Properties, which is also known as Woodland Park Management in some of its court filings, began buying apartment buildings west of U.S. Highway 101 and now owns 1,789 apartments in the city.
Difficulties between the city and Page Mill started late last year when the company announced rent increases for its tenants that were greater than allowed by the city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance.
The city's rent board was allowing 3.2 percent rent increases at the time, while Page Mill's rent increases averaged 9 percent, with some individual rent increases reportedly much higher.
The City Council in January unanimously approved a moratorium on rent increases greater than those allowed by the city's Rent Stabilization Board, and Page Mill then sued the city, and won.
The city and Page Mill have been in continuous litigation since then on a variety of issues, mostly related to the city's rent ordinance. There are still seven lawsuits pending between the two entities, but two of them have been combined and should reach a mutually agreeable settlement soon, Interim City Attorney Valerie Armento said.
The city, after losing several times in court, dropped its attempt in November to seek a permanent injunction against Page Mill's rent increases, which the company claimed was an admission by the city that its rent increases were legal, a characterization strongly disputed by city officials.
"While they claim to want to work cooperatively with the city, they clearly have not tried to do so," Armento said.
Mayor Ruben Abrica called Page Mill's actions "unconscionable and underhanded tactics."
"What we're seeing is a frontal attack on rent control in the city," Juliet Brodie, director of the Stanford Community Clinic, said. She represents 136 Page Mill tenants who have filed a class action lawsuit against Page Mill.
"I can't respond to open-ended press release allegations," Jim Shore, Page Mill's general counsel, said. "We have offered to sit down and try and work out our differences outside of court, but the city's only interested in legal aid society press releases."
"I'm sorry that the first act of the new mayor is (to) join in another legal assault on Page Mill," Shore continued. "As the courts have ruled, we are just trying to follow the city's own rent control ordinance."