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Regulatory • October 22, 2009

San Mateo County agency rejects attempt to unincorporate western East Palo Alto

San Mateo County agency rejects attempt to unincorporate western East Palo Alto

By Jessica Bernstein-Wax

Daily News Staff Writer


A San Mateo County agency has put the brakes on an apparent attempt by East Palo Alto's biggest landlord to unincorporate the city's entire western side.

The San Mateo County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCo, board voted 5-0 on Wednesday to maintain East Palo Alto's current "sphere of influence," rather than remove areas west and south of Highway 101 as Woodland Park Management LLC, a subsidiary of Palo Alto-based Page Mill Properties, had requested, said Martha Poyatos, the agency's executive officer.

"They just didn't see that amending the sphere and reducing it in order to create a public agency was really a solution," Poyatos said.

Woodland Park attorney William D. Ross first filed paperwork with the local agency formation commission in June stating East Palo Alto provided insufficient law enforcement and municipal services to the west side, where Page Mill owns about 1,800 rental units. Ross suggested the agency consider extracting "the affected area" so a community services or police protection district could form.

Woodland Park, residents of western East Palo Alto and other property owners would fund that district — presumably through taxes — potentially getting police assistance from Menlo Park and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, according to the documents.

In a letter Ross sent the agency Wednesday, he reiterated that request.

"Maintaining the status quo by reaffirming the (sphere of influence) is not the way to remedy a city that is failing its citizens," Ross wrote. "Woodland Park understands that LAFCo does not have the jurisdiction to affect [sic] the change needed for the city to provide adequate services. The commission's jurisdiction is, [sic] to determine which local entity can provide those services."

East Palo Alto and Page Mill are involved in a bitter legal dispute, with about 10 lawsuits pending between the two parties over rent hikes and other issues. Page Mill recently convinced a judge that city officials didn't comply with state law and blocked a new rent control law from appearing on November ballots. A court-appointed receiver is handling Page Mill's East Palo Alto properties after the company defaulted on a Wells Fargo Bank loan in August.

Receiver David Wald is in talks with city officials about resolving the numerous lawsuits, East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica said Thursday.

Abrica said he was pleased with the agency's decision and described Woodland Park's request as an attempt to create "an independent feudal kingdom with a lord in charge."

Abrica, who was involved in city politics when East Palo Alto formed in 1983, added that he and others spent countless hours in the early 1980s at agency meetings fighting a group of absentee landlords who also wanted the west side to go to Menlo Park or remain unincorporated.

The similarities have given this recent struggle a surreal feel, he said.

"Their arguments really were so far-fetched," Abrica said of Woodland Park's request. "The whole thing for LAFCo is really to try to consolidate districts rather than to create new districts."

Page Mill spokesman Sam Singer said Thursday that the company was disappointed with the decision.

"We believe our proposal to the commission was in the best interest of Woodland Park residents who deserve essential city services," Singer said. "As we have done with prior business decisions, we intend to talk with Wells Fargo and collaborate about next steps."

E-mail Jessica Bernstein-Wax at


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