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Opportunity to Purchase Act is voted down

Photo courtesy of the City of East Palo Alto

The East Palo Alto City Council voted against the Opportunity to Purchase Act (OPA) at the end of the final public hearing to discuss the second draft of the ordinance.

The vote took place at the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, December 5, 2023. At least 20 community members weighed in on the ordinance during the public comment session. Just as many pleaded with the council not to approve the ordinance, others just as passionately recommended that the council pass it.

In the end, the opponents of the ordinance won, with Councilmember Antonio López’ casting the crucial no vote.

If the OPA ordinance had passed, then non-East Palo Alto homeowners looking to sell their rental properties in EPA would need to provide a Notice of Intent to Sell. The draft ordinance that the council voted no on described a prioritization system or “Right of First Offer,” which gave priority to East Palo Alto tenants. The ordinance would allow tenants renting single-family residences from non-EPA homeowners to have the first opportunity to show a statement of interest and offer to purchase the property in which they lived.

Tenants, qualified nonprofits, and the City of East Palo Alto were considered “rightsholders” under the OPA. Tenants' statements of interest were given first priority over any other rightsholder. If no tenant living in the house submitted a statement of interest, then qualified nonprofits were next in line. If no qualified nonprofit provided a statement of interest, then a statement of interest from the City of East Palo Alto would have been considered.

Several exceptions to the policy were adopted throughout the development of the ordinance. The Opportunity to Purchase Act did not apply to homeowners who had resided in their property as the property’s principal resident for at least one year. Additionally, the OPA did not apply to any residential properties owned by East Palo Alto residents who lived in the city in their principal residence for at least one year.

Additionally, the “Right of First Refusal” had been removed for single-family homes when East Palo Alto homeowners expressed concern. That right would have granted rightsholders the right to match any offer made by a qualifying third-party interested buyer. This right only applied to multi-family properties.

The final vote lined up against the OPA, with three councilmembers against and two in support. During the previous city council meeting, Vice-Mayor Antonio López had considered voting yes on passing the ordinance, but voted against the OPA during the final vote.  López cited future unknowns regarding this ordinance as the reason for his final decision.

East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier suggested that the ordinance could possibly be put before the city's residents so they could vote on it. There is no set agenda item determined yet for any public vote.

Jui Sarwate, the author of the above article, is an East Palo Alto Today writer/contributor.

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