Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Thursday, August 18, 2011

PageMill, Wells Fargo and Sam Zell

Dear Friends, 

Normal.dotm 0 0 1 888 5066 Northern California Urban Development 42 10 6221 12.0 0 false 18 pt 18 pt 0 0 false false false

As many of you know we've been in discussion recently with Wells Fargo and Equity Residential, the proposed buyers of the former Pagemill Properties on the west side of East Palo Alto.  As an East Palo Alto resident and leader I view this issue, and how Wells Fargo handles this important portfolio as a milestone event for our community and it’s residents.

First, a little background (from my perspective): 

A few years ago over 80% of East Palo Alto's multi family housing stock was purchased piece by piece by a predator equity group, Pagemill Properties. After the purchase Pagemill began systematically dismantling our rent control ordinances and aggressively evicting working class families. The community was in shock.

However, the Pagemill group went bankrupt in 2009 and lost the property to Wachovia, soon to be acquired by Wells Fargo. Inmy opinion Wells initially, for the most part,  acted in good faith. They secured the properties, stabilized the rental rates and began a process to include the community in a discussion about how to best deal with the portfolio of over 1600 units. The community has a lot of input, but the most common was 1) Don't sell to one investor. A monopoly of all our rental housing is a bad thing, and 2) Find a group that will affirm our rent control policies and support affordable housing for working families. 

After months of discussion, Wells suddenly went silent. Repeated requests for an update went unheard. About three weeks ago Wells floated the names of three potential buyers, Apollo, Prime and Equity. Some of our elected officials met with the three groups. Last week Wells indicated their intention to sell to Equity. They would not consider breaking up the parcel. The community was sucker-punched. 

The selection of Equity Residential is particularly unacceptable.   The founder and chairman of Equity Residential, Sam Zell, was described in a 1995 New York Times article as “a classic vulture investor.”  Mr. Zell is a well known opponent of rent control.  His company, Equity LifeStyle has sued multiple California cities to invalidate local rent control laws, while funding a deceptive statewide ballot measure to end rent control in California.  

Current Conversation:

Over the past week there have been many discussion about a plausible reaction from community groups. On Tuesday we met with David Ash from Wells Fargo and representatives from Equity Residential. In the meeting we submitted the following requests:

1.     Refrain from selling the Page Mill portfolio to Equity Residential; 

2.     Immediately implement a process which engages public involvement in the vetting of potential buyers;

3.     Break up the portfolio and transition the portfolio to multiple buyers to avoid another Page Mill fiasco; and

4.     Complete the registration process of rents and comply with all other requirements of local law while Wells Fargo remains the owner of these rental units.


The meeting with Equity and Wells was both contentious and cordial. They even brought cookies. We presented our requests to Wells, they promptly refused. Wells positioned the meeting as a courtesy call and that the deal was essentially done, with a 45 day period for Equity to perform due diligence.  In the meeting David Ash had the guts to say with a straight face that Wells believes this is absolutely the best deal for East Palo Alto. An official from Equity was surprisingly honest. Their play is to hold certain properties and raze others. The razed buildings pulls the units out of rent control and allows them to charge market rate rents.

Why are we upset?

Some may ask, “What’s the big deal?” Others may be opponents to rent control or affordable housing in general. There are a number of reasons this issue has garnished my attention:

Issue One: I don’t think it’s ever a good deal for any one investor to have a monopoly on housing stock. As aforementioned, this is over 80% of our apartment housing as well as 50% of our below market rate stock and 15% of the County’s affordable housing stock. Clearly Equity Residental will have a market control While I’m a proponent of the free market, clearly this is a quality of life issue for our community and a situation where the market being monopolized the the playing field unleveled.

Issue Two: Affordable housing is critical for working class families and the stability of the region. East Palo Alto remains a place of available housing for lower income Silicon Valley families. In spite of the challenges and reputation, East Palo Alto is a place where good families can create a home. Having a community / region where folks from diverse economic backgrounds can thrive is part of the fabric of our nation.

Issue Three: Given the current economic challenges we must protect opportunities for middle and working  and low income families. With the economic pressures on East Palo Alto due to foreclosures, unemployment and rising energy costs many families are being pushed out. Additionally, we are watching the possible impact on housing prices brought on by Facebook’s entry into the community and their possible addition of 3000 employees. The Wells property is a 10 minute bike ride to the new Facebook offices.

How Can You Help?

There are a couple of ways you can immediately help the cause. We're looking to raise awareness of this issue and put as much pressure on Wells Fargo as possible. Wells is espcially sensitive to their public profile, so please do all you can. 

1)          Contact Wells Fargo and insist they address our requests, listed above. You can contact:       


David Ash

West Coast Regional Manager-Special Situations Group-ORE

600 California St.

19th Floor

San Francisco, CA 94108


2)          Join us on a protest march on Monday, 8/22 at 3:30. We’ll meet at the Westpark Apartments at 5 Newell Ct., East Palo Alto. We will march to the Palo Alto Wells Fargo branch and present our requests to the group.


Granted, this is symbolic gesture, but we are hoping to get media attention and to show solidarity for the cause.


3)          Pray for justice and the cause of families in East Palo Alto


While I may have a definite opinion about the way this transaction is being handled, I’m somewhat torn. Wells Fargo has been a faithful funder and partner for our organization over the years. They provided seed funding for our land trust project as well as supporting our foreclosure intervention program. Wells Fargo volunteers recently donated time to work on our Daphne house project and have taught homeownership classes for our students. Despite of being on the other side of Wells on this issue – we also appreciate their partnership. Sometimes the world is alot more grey than black and white.


Thanks you for standing with us on this important endeavor.  I encourage you to write a letter, come to the Monday protest and please pray for East Palo Alto.

- John Liotti


Posted via email from Insecurely Radical

Friday, December 17, 2010

Somebody help me out with this one! A severe injustice at the wrong time.

John Stewart hosted a panel of 9/11 first responders who were speaking out about the Republicans threatened filibuster of the bill. (See the link below.) He was outraged, and brilliant. For blocking the passage of this bill, the Republicans are, in my humble opinion, are deeply wrong. Conversely, the Democrats, including our President, have failed to aggressively promote and pass the bill choosing to focus on extreme left wing proposals that in many ways have divided our nation. Both sides are at fault. 

What am I missing folks? This bill, to me, seems to be a colossal 'no brainer'. The Republicans should fall in line and pass it without exception. The Democrats, forever the party of fumblers and bumblers should have made it a priority months ago. 

There are many issues I stand for, including the Dream Act, that while I may feel passionate about, despite my opinion I understand the other side's perspective. Even the in the case of the Tea Party, of which I am a vocal critic, I can likewise understand their outrage at ineffective, bloated government. However, for this issue I am dumbfounded. 

I'm honored to serve as a Police Chaplain. Chaplains, like my colleagues who serve the East Palo Alto PD,  are considered first responders. Who can forget the photo of Father Judge's, a fire Chaplain, being carried out from the Twin Towers by firemen. He is an inspiration to me. If I was in NYC, or if there is, God forbid, a natural or other tragedy in the Bay Area you won't be able to keep me away from helping. If I get sick, I pray there is help for me - and for the police and firemen I serve. This one is getting 'close to home' for me. 

To my 'conservative' brothers and sisters, can you call you Senators and express your outrage and encourage them to pass this bill before the holiday break? Can you contact your friends and like minded acquaintances and ask them to make contact. Not passing this bill would be another tragedy impacting a group of folks who daily put their lives on the line, some of whom have been dying a slow death since crawling on the pile at the hallowed site at Ground Zero. l

Check out the John Stewart interview here:

See a good ABC news piece here:



Posted via email from Insecurely Radical


Monday, December 13, 2010

Power, Success, Happiness vs. Peace Love and Joy

I'm reading 'Secrets in the Dark' by Fredrick Buechner. Here's a great quote that I've been meditating on:

"Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love , joy are only from God. And, God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another all of us with fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives-our selves, our wills and treasure" 

Seems like these days I'm always in the eternal struggle of the self, between surrender to a Holy God and fighting for my rights, my reputation and my plans. The 'beloved enemy' so aptly describes my approach to God sometimes. I love him, but struggle to know him and to be loved by him - struggle to allow his Grace to conquer my heart an will. In my head I ascent to the fact that in God there is only freedom through surrender, my will feels very much to the contrary. 

This week, I will endeavor to surrender to a Loving God. To allow my heart to be 'pinned' as Jacob was pinned, crippled and blessed by the Stranger. 

Posted via email from Insecurely Radical

Monday, June 07, 2010

Going to Jackson, and This is Not a Johnny Cash Song

This Thursday I'm headed to Jackson, MS to celebrate the life and legacy of Drs. John and Vera Mae Perkins. John is turning 80 and they are celebrating his 50th year in ministry. For those of you who don't know about Dr. Perkins and his life here is his bio: We were asked to jot down a few thoughts to share with John and Vera Mae. I posted them below.

As I wrote this and reflected on our journey from youth to now entering middle age (betrayed by the gray in my sideburns and beard), I became overwhlmed with thankfulness for all God has done in our lives and the friends he allowed us to journey alongside.

I think about many of you, many I've reconnected with recently on Facebook. Some from Deland, from elementary school and church, St. Peters Catholic. Others from Berea Assembly of God, New Testamant Fellowship where I strengthened my relationship with Christ. Then to my YWAM family with whom were in the trenches in Texas, NYC, New Orleans, LA and finally Mexico. Our 'family' in Modesto who helped us settle, heal and rediscover ministry. And finally to the place where we've called home more than any other in our adult life, the wonderful community of East Palo Alto - the folks at Highway Community, St. Samuel COGIC and others friends and partners. Many of you, from each life phase, played a formative and inportant role in my life.
Since I'm waxing poetic... reminds me of my favorite Beatles song
There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed

This weekend I'm thrilled to be traveling to Jackson, where it's 'hotter than a pepper sprout' to celebrate not only the lives of John and Vera Mae, but to reflect and honor God for all He has done for me, Melissa and Sam.
Dear Dad and Mom Perkins,

There are not enough words to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude for the impact your lives have had my life. I wanted to share a little of my journey and how your lives has changed mine.

Born in New Jersey into an Italian family my parents abruptly moved to Florida to save their marriage and refocus their lives. Shortly after arriving in Florida they encountered Christ in what was called the 'Jesus Movement'. In 1970's Florida there was a palpable tension over race. The civil rights movement was not looked upon well and many whites were fighting for every remaining vestige of Jim Crow. My high school experience was marked by frequent fights and riots between African American and White students. When I accepted Christ I moved from the Catholic church where I was reared into a southern Pentecostal church. Racial jokes, comments and outright bigotry was common along with an apparent fervor for the Gospel. When I left Florida at age 18 I was deeply considering the intersection of race and faith and questioning if the Gospel had power to reconcile.

After high school God immediately called me into ministry with an international missions organization, Youth With A Mission (YWAM). In Los Angeles with YWAM I met this stunning young Mexican girl who became my wife. At the time we were working with teenage prostitutes in Hollywood. Shortly thereafter YWAM sent us to Mexico for four years to pioneer a new ministry location in Tijuana on the US / Mexican border. I am greatly indebted to YWAM. It taught me about stepping out in faith, seeking the voice of God and expposed me to a world of joy, pain, hurt and ministry.

During our time in Mexico we encountered a deep level of abject poverty, deeper than anything I had seen in the States. However as such a young age we didn't have the paradigm to process or address the dire situation in which we found the city and nation. We found refugees living in shanties, working to cross the border by any means, struggling for food and shelter. Our Pentecostal evangelical paradigm and methods simply could not address the deep physical needs of the border. I became frustrated and dissatisfied with merely 'leading people to Christ' or simply giving them a ham sandwich. After four years in Mexico, experiencing all we had through the streets of Hollywood to the hills of Tijuana I was tired, discouraged and burned out on evangelical ministry and began to question its theology.

Melissa became pregnant with our son Samuel and we eventually landed in the Central Valley of California. We needed a place to raise Sam, heal and process all we had learned from the streets of the US and Mexico. I thought I was finished in ministry. However God had his hand on us. Through a connection to Larry Acosta and Urban Youthworker's Institute I came across CCDA and your life and ministry. Your book, "With Justice For All" impacted me greatly and 'turned the lights on' again. It truly was a breath of fresh air. No one had been able to connect my deep commitment to Biblical Christianity with the need to address issues of poverty, racism and injustice. Your example, and the example of the leaders of CCDA, provided me with a new approach, a new paradigm and a new way of thinking about community ministry and the poor. I can truly say that I owe my life's work to your example and, perhaps given the situation I was in, you helped save my faith. I am eternally grateful.

In 2000 God moved our family to East Palo Alto. I greatly appreciate the times you've come to encourage our work. As you're aware, you helped us raise our profile with the credit union project (which opened in 2007). Using that as a platform we have developed the FutureProfits youth program teaching over 400 urban students each week life skills and about financial concepts. Additionally we have thrown ourselves headlong into the current housing crisis and are working to save homeowners from foreclosure and homelessness. Melissa serves young unwed mothers in a residential program, New Creation Home. She 'mothers' the moms and their kids and provides them shelter, training and direction in life. Our life and work are a direct result of your Apostolic ministry to us. All we have done and are doing is a part of your legacy.

Today we stand committed to sharing the Gospel, serving the poor, the widows and the orphans, extending the Kingdom of God and combating injustice as we wait for His return.

Melissa and I and our team at Northern California Urban Development in East Palo Alto wish Dad a happy birthday and congratulate you both on 50 years of ministry. We love you deeply. May God grant you peace as you continue to serve him.

In His service,

Rev. John and Melissa Liotti