News

EPA tenants rally against proposed apartment sale

Wells Fargo has identified Equity Residential as finalist in sale of former Page Mill Properties apartments

East Palo Alto residents and tenant advocates will take it to the streets this afternoon to protest Wells Fargo Bank's potential sale of about 1,800 units in the Woodland Park neighborhood to the investment fund Equity Residential.

Wells Fargo officials have confirmed in an email that Equity has been selected as a finalist in the sale of the apartments, which were previously owned by Palo Alto-based Page Mill Properties. Page Mill had antagonized tenants and East Palo Alto officials by steeply raising rents and filing at least a dozen lawsuits against the city, most of them challenging the city's rent-control laws.

Page Mill lost control of the portfolio after it defaulted on a $50 million loan from Wells Fargo in August 2009. The bank had since replaced property management, refurbished dozens of buildings and, in May, began searching for a buyer for the apartment buildings.

Wells Fargo said in a statement that bank officials last week met with Equity Residential officials and with tenant's rights organizations to update them on the sales process and to hear their feedback.

"We will continue to maintain an open dialogue with the community," the bank said in a statement.

But some tenants feel their feedback has been ignored and are calling on the bank to halt its negotiations with Equity Residential, a company they characterize as a "vulture investor." Equity is chaired by Sam Zell, a real-estate magnate who made national headlines in 2007 when he purchased the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune from the Tribune Company.

Critics of the potential sale point to Equity's record of contesting local rent-control laws. William Webster, who sits on East Palo Alto's Rent Stabilization Board, called Zell a "nemesis of renters across the nation" and said the sale of these properties could lead to displacement of residents from the Woodland Park buildings.

Members of the group Youth United Community Action are also protesting the potential sale.

"The era of Page Mill Properties was a disaster for low-income tenants," Gaby Gonzales, a Woodland Park tenant and a member of YUCA, said in a statement. "Now one wants to repeat that fiasco with Zell's investment group."

But Wells Fargo is maintaining that Equity is well suited to taking over the properties in the west side of East Palo Alto. In a statement, the bank called the company a "very experienced owner of apartments both nationwide and the Bay Area" and one that has a "long-time ownership perspective."

"They are an exceptionally well-capitalized firm with an extensive track record of handling large, complicated transactions and have demonstrated expertise in owning and managing rent controlled and rent-restricted properties," the bank said.

The rally will begin at 3:30 today (Monday, Aug. 22) in front of 5 Newell Court in East Palo Alto. Participants will then march at 4 p.m. to the Wells Fargo branch at 400 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Why is it a problem for any property management group from wanting to upgrade and draw greater profits from their investment?


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Because, Noesi, that's not that they want to do. The current regime is no good (Wells Faro and the inept Laramar, who are the property managers) and can't be trusted to do right by the community.

"We will continue to maintain an open dialogue with the community," the bank said in a statement. That's a bitter laugh. Wells Fargo has been excessively underhanded after promising the community more involvement in the selection of an owner, then they ceased their inclusion and cut the community off. In the interim, they ignore complaints from residents and spin their PR machines so that the public at large thinks that things are fine.

Additionally, this portfolio of nearly 1900 units was never supposed to be one portfolio.

Another problem is that Zell's company has abysmal ratings as apartment owners - it was very eye-opening to read apartment reviews.

If you want to read about the current lame ducks who are the managers, check out the Yelp reviews for Woodland Park Apartments.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 7:21 pm

If the living conditions are that dismal, then the property management group should reserve the right to further develop the property and charge higher rents. They should have no obligation to provide low-rent housing. Many of the current problems taking place at these properties are undoubtedly caused by the people who live there. Why should the owners continually have to maintain property that is just going to be vandalized and trashed.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm

If you are going to post your opinions, you"ll be better served to educate yourself so that your opinions are actually informed and aren't a waste of the readers' time due your lack of knowledge.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Hey, the truth hurts. And you're very much in denial.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm

You type no truth at all; you hold uninformed opinions which I am refuting and you don't like that. I am not remotely in denial; I'm very much aware of the issues and I'm armed with information, apprised of the laws and know of this proposed buyer's terrible track record. Moreover, I am familiar with our tenant/landlord laws, certainly moreso than Woodland Park/Laramar/Wells Fargo, the current incompetents that are in charge.

Landlords can make a profit if they follow the law, not inspite of BREAKING the law, as so many prefer to do. We will work towards holding them accountable for what they do wrong as well as acknowledge what they do right. That is our responsibility as residents, voters and tenants. To do less is bad for us individually and collectively. As tenants, we are customers and we are entitled to good customer service as well as landlords that obey the law.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm

That remainder of the west side of East Palo Alto needs to go through the same urban renewal that led to the development of the Whiskey Gulch area. They need to tear down all of those old apartment buildings and replace them with town homes to sell or higher rent properties. There are plenty of young professionals who would love to have a new place to live so close to Palo Alto and Stanford. It would be a huge upgrade for the region.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Who are the "they" to whom you refer?

Who are YOU to tell EPA what EPA should do? You don't live here, you don't vote here, you don't participate in the community. Therefore, your opinion is useless.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2011 at 8:51 am

The "they" are obviously those who wish to either demolish their own property and develop it, or, sell it to someone interested in doing the same. And I do respectfully disagree with you on my right to voice an opinion. Unlike yourself, I look at our two communities as a whole. We are too close together to be drawing lines, and by virtue of our geography have much common ground. A little tolerance and understanding on your part perhaps? A wholesale redevelopment of this area would be better for everyone involved. All I'm suggesting is that it makes sense to develop a prime real estate location and upgrade the region. More jobs are created with the engineering and construction, young families and professionals would have another prime real estate option near Palo Alto and Stanford, and EPA benefits from the image upgrade and boost in local economy. I don't see a downside here in the big scheme.


Like this comment
Posted by bullets
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Aug 23, 2011 at 9:25 am

Except the newly developed EPA residents are gonna take the bullets.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Yes, take the bullets, be driven out of their homes - and the money derived isn't local. Zell isn't a local company.

Please, stop with your spin that we are one community. We aren't. We're different cities, different counties, different demographics, soon to be different congressional regions and, perhaps most importantly - different income levels. If you truly believe, Noesi, that we are one community, you would be concerned about current residents and their futures. Many have lived here 10+ years, work locally and of course, pay taxes locally and spend locally, just as wealthy newbies would.

EPA wants affordable housing, for its good and bad, and voted it in yet again - that's what I mean about your opinion being irrelevant. Once again, you don't live here, don't vote here, you don't pay taxes here. You likely don't work here or have educated your children here, so why is your opinion relevant?

You really have no voice here, but if you were willing to open your mind and educate yourself on this issue, you might have some real wisdom to share. I'm sorry that you don't.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Sorry to realize that you are so narrow-minded and exclusionary. I do believe that we share much common ground, and I am thinking of the greater good. It's time for a change in EPA and hopefully one that would benefit the entire region.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Once again, Noesi, we aren't the same community. It has to do with facts, not being narrow-minded or exclusionary, because I'm not. Your uniformed opinion is trumped by what the *residents* of this city have voted for, what they want, what they stand for and what they work toward. Your opinion has no bearing on that - that's not exclusionary, that's fact. Of course, please feel free to move here and exercise your right to vote, participate in the community as a resident, etc., just as I did when I lived in Palo Alto. What we want and work toward in our city trumps what you want.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Enough said observer, have it the EPA way. We can all see how well that's worked out.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Yes, Noesi, of course you stoop to judging EPA as if you knew what went on here. You rely on ridiculous headlines, your opinions and no real data - just as I thought.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2011 at 9:28 am

EPA needs to change. That much is made clear by the crime rates, the gangs, the schools, and so on. However, the method of effecting change is a little more open for debate.

Having such a large portion of the rental properties in EPA owned by the same entity is, to my way of thinking, not a good idea. I have no problem with Equity Residential owning some of the rental properties in EPA, so that they can compete against other landlords for tenants based on rents and living conditions they create. But to have them own such a large percentage is a bad idea. They would be approaching a monopoly in the rental market, and they would have too much power to set their own standards in the direction of higher rents and lower expenses (reduced services.) They want to deal with numbers, but those numbers can be harmful to real people who will not have as much freedom to "vote with their feet" as they should have. The phrase "slum lord" comes to mind. There are people and families in EPA that deserve better than that.

Competition is the key to making a capitalist system work. Break up the monopolies, create (permit) competition, and everyone gets a better deal.

I aim to be a landlord myself soon. I pray that I can live up to what I preach. I'll do my best.


Like this comment
Posted by bite
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 25, 2011 at 10:13 am

good point,just wait til those "slum tenants" bite you.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2011 at 11:59 am

Facts observer: Crime-ridden, street violence, drug dealing, huge gang problem, struggling schools, and low property values. Also a fact; you would live somewhere else in a second if you could. I state the obvious.

It's time for a change in EPA, and the issues I raised very much impact other communities. Besides, if we didn't have common ground, or the issues in EPA don't affect the region, and we are not part of the greater community as you claim, why do EPA activist groups insist on marching through Palo Alto for every imaginable cause? If Palo Alto has absolutely no say, or worthy of weighing in an opinion on EPA issues as you state, then keep your marches within the confines of your city.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Fact: Yes there is crime in EPA, but they do not have a lock on it, there is crime in every community. You are only talking about a percentage increase there over the surrounding communities.

Fact: There are good, honest, hard-working people in EPA who are no better or worse than the residences of the surrounding communities. I believe they make up the majority of the population of EPA. They contribute to society, both inside and outside EPA, and they are living, loving, and raising good families. They need and deserve help with the crime rate problem.

Fact: There are some people in EPA who don't want outside help with the problems, "They are our problems, we will deal with them, or not." They wish to turn EPA into a ghetto, a closed society within society where, as a rule, outsiders don't go in and insiders don't go out. I believe this would suit the criminal element just fine, and I detest the attitude. The children of EPA should not have their horizons limited to the borders of EPA just to suit those who have found a way to exploit them provided no outside help arrives. Drugs and violence not only harm individuals and families, they also deprive the entire world of the contributions the victims might have made if offered a better chance.

But we digress, this topic is about he-who-would-be-slum-lord and whether Wells Fargo should set him on that throne. I say NO!


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I agree with you wholeheartedly JustMe, I fully acknowledge that the majority of EPA residents are hard-working, productive, and law abiding. No child should have their potential limited, that is why I suggested that EPA has to go through some serious changes. I do feel that we are all members of the greater community. When it comes to children, Palo Alto already provides opportunities for children living in EPA to attend our schools, even though they live in a different city, county, and district. Again, I maintain that there is common ground, and one should not be excluded only when there is disagreement or certain facts are hard to accept.

I do take some exception with one thing you said. Yes, there is crime everywhere, but please don't suggest that EPA's crime problem is only a "percentage increase" over surrounding communities, unless that is a very significant percentage increase that you're talking about. Fact is the issues that EPA faces with crime, street violence, gangs, and drug dealing exceed those of surrounding communities. There is disproportionate amount of this activity in EPA no question about it, and it's those problems that impact the region in a negative manner. Again, time for a change in EPA. The area needs urban renewal and a serious upgrade.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm

6% and 600% are both percentage increases. I didn't specify the number of percentage points. The point is that all the problems EPA sees with crime are also seen on other communities.

I believe REAL change must happen in several places all at once. The people must get mad enough at the criminals to take the chance to speak to the police and help the police do their jobs. I suspect there is corruption within the city government that exceeds what other cities experience, and that must be brought under control.

In America, we offer the controls to the people. But if only a couple people step forward to take those controls, and they do it primarily for their own benefit, and the people do not insist that the power be applied properly, then democracy breaks down and you have a little feifdom.

But again, we digress.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I don't want to digress either, and I agree, there is crime everywhere. It's just that EPA produces a disproportionate amount, at a much higher percentage than other communities. No need to minimize or soften the facts. We all know. I completely agree that true change is in the hands of the people. It must involve those courageous enough to report criminal activity. It must also involve people taking some responsibility and being accountable for their actions.


Like this comment
Posted by EPA-IS-A-HI-CRIME-PLACE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2011 at 9:00 pm

> The point is that all the problems EPA sees with crime are
> also seen on other communities.

EPA has always had higher crime rates than surrounding communities, and much of the crime in surrounding communities can be traced to EPA. If the newspapers did their jobs, that fact would be a lot more obvious than it is.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2011 at 12:58 am

Yeah, EPA has a high crime rate. They also probably have a larger number of convicted felons than the surrounding community. Picture your average prisoner being released from prison, either because he has been parolled or because of court-ordered releases due to overcrowding. What kind of a job is he going to get and where is he going to live? Hint: He is not going to be CEO of any high-tech firm, he is oging to get some kind of entry level job, at best. With the pay from that job he is not going to live in PA or Atherton, he is going to find rents a LOT more attainable in EPA. Maybe he can room with his old cell-mate. The point is that these guys will robably gravitate to low-paying jobs (unless they want to re-enter criminal activity) and low-rent areas. So you get a concentration of them, unfortunately. And who do they prey on if they return to criminal activities? Why, those closest to them, of course. That's why you have a higher crime rate in EPA, because you have a higher concentration of criminal. Mind you, I still believe they make up a minority, but the proportion is higher per capita.

Personally, I think the legal system should do a better job of identifying drug pushers, not lumping in anyone lucky enough to byuy a large personal stash. Then they should lock up all REAL drug pushers for life, especially in the case of meth pushers. Anyone running a meth lab should be removed permenantly, period. No second chances. They just do too much damage to stupid kids who then never get the chance to get smart because they are addicted.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2011 at 11:08 am

EPA also has a lot of crime coming in FROM OUTSIDE, to commit drug crimes and violent crimes.

EPA residents march into Palo Alto to protest when Palo Alto-based organizations are of concern - that's pretty obvious, Noesi. How come you couldn't figure that out sooner? Wells Fargo, Page Mill Properties and Wells Fargo as well as PAPD have been the latest focuses.

Noesi, you're not a resident here, so your opinion has little bearing. What's disturbing though is how you talk about making the west side attractive to outsiders settle here, as if those who call the west side home don't matter. They do matter - and right now, they matter more than you or the currently non-existent outsiders, because these are residents of the town in question. You have some fantasy idea of what should happen here, which you keep reiterating - again - as if your opinion matters.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Let the tenants buy the apartments at market. Do it quick while Obama is still president and you are likely to get a below market loan or something. Then you can, individually, resell your unit at market and make a killing.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2011 at 6:59 pm

I am dsigusted by many of these comments from snide, thoughtless non-residents. JustMe gets it, but Walter & Noesi can take a hike. It's unsurprising but still disturbing that the lower to mid income, mostly working class families of the west side get short shrift in these comments.

Even if folks could afford to buy this portfolio, WF would likely turn that down. This was NEVER meant to be one portfolio & keeping it as such is deeply problematic.

We are entitled - and responsible for - protecting our own interests from greedy speculators who care nothing for this community - or the surrounding area. As a community that values affordable housing, we take the good with the bad that results from that choice. Now, that means protecting the affordable housing from those who have no good intentions. I have read a number of apt ratings on Equity & they're TERRIBLE. I don't wish them on anyone - not even the nasty people commenting here. We need diverse owners of this portfolio to help maintain vibrancy in this community - mom & pop landlords, some RE investors & everything in between.

The slant towards elitism from many of these comments is disturbing. From my years here, I can say that most of the residents are busy, hardworking people who work in the area - *earning & spending locally*, whether they're tradespeople, post-doctoral researchers, office workers, housecleaners, restaurant staff, tech employees, clerks or gardeners.

I'm thrilled that due to past experience, intelligence, networking & determination, our City Council & tenant activists have risen to this unfortunate occasion. The latter are a group of committed, informed, tenacious people who care deeply about affordable housing & the residents here - & much of their work is selfless & a reflection of their values, not personal gain. Others in adjoining communities could learn a lot from them.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 27, 2011 at 1:29 am

And if you bothered to read my earlier post hmmm, you would see that I fully acknowledged that the majority of EPA residents are indeed hard working, law-abiding people. The problem is that a disproportionate number are not. I have to believe that this condition is not driven by a lack of potential, but by socio-economics and in many cases institutionalized traits and behaviors. One generation of gang and criminal life style passed onto the next. Regardless, low-rent and subsidized housing is not the answer, and often time creates problems for established neighborhoods in the surrounding area. The lack of ownership and caring can usually be seen in these projects and buildings. Not being elitist, but the prime real estate on the west side of EPA would be better suited for urban renewal, a serious upgrade, and ownership and caring of property.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

So the developers want to maximize the return on their investment. Why else invest? If you get the diverse ownership you say you want, will they defer profit? Will they accept less than the best return on their money? Are they nuts?
Owning apartments is an investment, and only a fool will accept less than the best return on investment. Rents going up? Join the club. Rents are a lot lower in Patterson, but the commute's a bitch. Life has lots of tradeoffs.


Like this comment
Posted by Noesi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm

And the truth hurts hmmm, I know. Sometimes change, even change for the better is hard to accept sometimes. The key to long-term success and viability in EPA is urban renewal and owner-occupied housing. Better for EPA. Better for everybody.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Noesi's comments are really a mask for elitist thinking - & don't reflect the truth here in EPA. Since the market downtown, rentals have been up all over the place, home ownership down. Having a mix of owned & rented residences is the way to go. Affordable housing is important to the city, county & state. Having landlords who won't violate the law is also important. WF has already lied & Zell's group are crooked. That, of course, gets ignored by people like Noesi who think they have all the answers.

What Walter loves to ignore are facts & that's clear in Noesi's case as well. EPA has rent control, so owners coming in who want a decent ROI have to play by the rules or they get a fight on their hands. They can't claim, as some of PMP's uber rich but claiming naivete investors, that they didn't know there's rent control. If landlords want a higher ROI than what they can obtain w/rent control, they can look elsewhere -saaaaay...Patterson. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2011 at 4:06 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

If you have rent control, be careful who has the driver's seat. If you did NOT have rent control, individuals would have more to say in the rental market during down times.


Like this comment
Posted by Agree with Noesi
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 2, 2011 at 6:02 am

Hmmmm....Rent control lowers ownership. Who wants to risk buying real estate in an area that they can't let the market decide the rental on? Rent control lowers the ability for anyone to 'get rich'. Thus, makes everyone get poorer. Rent control lowers the standard of upkeep on a building. Who will put money into upgrading a building when the rent is controlled..and they can't recover their costs? Rent control lowers the ability to respond to market conditions BOTH WAYS..when market goes down, the rent should, but it doesn't because of "rent control". Rent control, in general, has long term bad consequences, like so many "controls" by a government.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I gotta say, the ignorance of the people posting who have no understanding of EPA laws is a waste of time. You have no say in the community, so go voice your opinions about something else - you're just wasting oxygen.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:39 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Observer, you do not live in a vacuum. I haven't lived in EPA for 40 years, yet I still know they need Ravenswood reopened before they can stand on their own feet.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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