Palo Alto Weekly
News - May 9, 2014
Hearing on Buena Vista closure plan begins May 12
Decision would determine if evictions of mobile-home park residents could proceed
by Sue Dremann
The fate of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park will get a public airing next week in a hearing to determine if the terms for compensating the park's residents are acceptable.
Property owner Toufic Jisser has applied to close the 60-plus-year-old residential park located at 3980 El Camino Real. Nearly 400 low-income individuals would be evicted to make way for a 184-unit apartment complex.
The report outlines how much money each tenant would receive for their mobile homes and to cover relocation costs. The city found Jisser's Relocation Impact Report, which outlines the terms, to be "complete" on Feb. 20.
The Jisser family would buy the mobile homes for their appraised value and pay for first- and last-month's rent, a security deposit and 12 months in rent subsidies for the difference between the rent at Buena Vista and the rent at residents' new locations. Persons moving into one-bedroom apartments would receive between $12,000 to $16,300 for relocation; those moving into three-bedroom apartments would receive $20,000 to $30,600, according to the report.
The hearing is scheduled for May 12 through 14, when attorneys for the 400 residents and the Jissers will square off before independent Administrative Law Judge Craig Labadie. The hearing will be held at Avenidas Senior Center, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Labadie is expected to make a tentative ruling at the hearing, with a final decision in writing. The public will have a chance to speak at the hearing after legal arguments are made.
Buena Vista residents can appeal Labadie's ruling to the Palo Alto City Council if he accepts the report. The council cannot stop Buena Vista's closure; an appeal would be limited to the compensation terms, city officials have said.
The residents are being represented by attorneys from The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and Sidley Austin LLP.
"The closure of Buena Vista means the loss of over 100 units of affordable housing. ... Buena Vista's families, predominantly Latino and low income, will lose invaluable educational and job opportunities if forced to move outside of the city," the law firms said in a statement.
Having residents purchase the mobile-home park is a viable alternative to its closure, they added.
Nadia Aziz, senior attorney for the Law Foundation's Fair Housing Project, called the relocation plan "grossly inadequate" and said it does not comply with Palo Alto's Mobile Home Conversion Ordinance.
Residents said they are determined to fight the eviction so that their children will be able to finish their educations in the Palo Alto Unified School District. They have twice offered the Jissers $14.5 million to purchase the park, which would be funded through government grants and loans, said Erika Escalante, president of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association.
The residents have spent the last two weeks voicing their feelings at City Council meetings, and they have demonstrated nearly every afternoon at the corner of Los Robles Avenue and El Camino Real near Buena Vista.
The residents and advocates from the Barron Park neighborhood, known as Friends of Buena Vista, also plan a rally at Elinor Cogswell Plaza, located next to Avenidas, on May 12 starting at 5:45 p.m. just prior to the hearing, Escalante said.
The Jissers have only commented that they are tied to an agreement with San Mateo developer Prometheus to sell the land for the apartments. But the city must also allow a zoning change for the new development to proceed, city officials have said.
State law does not allow the City Council to stop the closure of a mobile home park. But Palo Alto can make funding available as an incentive for its preservation or for the creation of affordable housing in the city, City Manager James Keene has said.
"While we may want to comment on the personal, human aspect of the Buena Vista situation, we also do not want to jeopardize the outcome of what is essentially a legal hearing to determine if the relocation benefits for residents are adequate, which is the purpose of the hearing. The hearing officer's decision can be appealed to the City Council, and we don't want to make any statements that could be interpreted to influence the results," he said in a statement.
"Also, we anticipate that whatever decision the council makes will likely be adjudicated in Superior Court, and out of an abundance of caution, want to be careful not to comment on aspects that could impact the outcome of the judicial process.
"We all know that affordable housing is needed in Palo Alto, and the city has been and will continue to be proactive in its efforts to identify funding and opportunities to provide for more affordable housing," Keene stated.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at email@example.com.
Posted by Greenacres,
a resident of Green Acres
on May 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm
Greenacres is a registered user.
I can understand your perspective. I'm the same as you, no one is going to help me when I can't afford to live here, which now involves significant sacrifice, and like you, I will probably move, too.
But the situation with Buena Vista is unique and more complex than that, it's not all just welfare-state thinking.. There are good reasons to save the park that don't involve any "welfare state" actions and align with the interests of residents who want to save the park for reasons that run the political spectrum.
(I'm sorry for the length of this post, but this needs to be said, and once the comments are locked anyway, hardly anyone posts.)
First of all, zoning.
Our City Council has been giving away zoning violations on this side of town left and right. The expectation that the purchaser would easily get zoning violations had everything to do with why the property was purchased and for that amount of money in the first place. Both that developer and the potential developer of the lot next to the Zen Hotel have put in applications for developments that substantially exceed zoning laws. So City actions already had everything to do with the situation as it is in the first place.
If City Council simply makes a public statement that it heard the will of the people this year and will no longer be granting zoning violations on this side of town or anywhere in town unless there was a compelling reason in each case and the public shows strong support for it that would make a difference. Prometheus could no longer expect to build a large complex there that the zoning laws already don't allow (something that amounted to developer giveaways/welfare), and they shouldn't by rights have been able to expect anyway.
Do you realize the Buena Vista property is zoned RM-15, the same zoning as at the Maybell Orchard?
Our infrastructure, that the public pays for, is not a black box. Some developers have made enormous sums by getting their zoning violations at the expense of our infrastructure and quality of life, and as they don't even come close to offsetting that impact, this amounts to developer welfare. The cumulative impacts of every added development will only be greater and greater as we haven't even seen all of them already in the pipeline.
The owner's own appraisal apparently already says that the value of the property would be the same if the development were made under existing zoning, so by the seller's own admission, telling future developer that they can't violate the zoning laws isn't going to hurt the value of the property.
Our City proactively telling developers that they have to follow the existing laws and won't be allowed to violate zoning laws (how about we say, by more than 10%?) in the future is long overdue anyway.
Secondly, property rights
Mobile homes occupy a unique place in the law because the people living in them are property owners AND renters, and the law already recognizes that the homes, once in place, are effectively not mobile anymore.
Mobile home parks are not the only situation where this is the case. Look at Stanford University. Their neighborhoods have large, expensive homes on them that would cost many millions if put on the open market. But Stanford benefits from being able to attract talent here by making better housing available for less money. Stanford owns the land, and Stanford homebuyers own the homes. The homeowners are protected both by the contract, the needs of Stanford, and laws that apply to the unique situation.
Unfortunately, mobile home owners are viewed with a more negative prejudice than Stanford faculty, and thus there need to be and are laws to help protect their property rights. A poor person may sacrifice as much or more to live in a mobile home than a doctor at Stanford does to live in giant house, and arguably needs the asset they accumulate even more.
What if Stanford suddenly said they wanted to make money selling all those lands to developers? The people who own homes on those properties have rights. We can all see that when it comes to wealthier people. Mobile Home owners have equivalent rights, even though their properties are not as illustrious.
The hearings are not about giving them welfare or unreasonable expectations under the law. The unique situation is that they actually are entitled to certain compensation, such as the ability to move into equivalent housing here, because someone wants to sell the homes they own out from under them. Mobile home park owners take on that legal responsibility when they decide to buy the land, for which they have been handsomely compensated both in rent over the years and appreciation of the property.
But the cost of this area that the owner is benefiting from in the sale means everyone is balking at the sticker price of what the mobile home owners are really entitled to under the law.
If the wealthy developer knows they cannot get special zoning violations, and the owner finds it too expensive or odious to discharge their actual legal duty to the property owners at BV, market forces would make a potential sale to a buyer without such entanglements or expenses more attractive (i.e., the current residents). I am not suggesting that it makes a $14million dollar offer enough, I just want you to realize that selling the park to the residents could be reasonable, advantageous to the seller, neighborhood, and the City, and market-based, without any "welfare-state" involvement.
A well-functioning and fair market-place doesn't just only ever favor the wealthy, especially not through special privileges only they get.
Thirdly, city funds
This is where it's hard for me to stay off a soap-box about the folly of the erstwhile Maybell development. The City Council is who told PAHC to go after that property, aided the sale, and then committed all the City funds and more dedicated to affordable housing to help purchase that property, even while they knew what was coming up with Buena Vista.
If the money had instead been made available at BV - AT THAT TIME , the residents would actually have had a pretty competitive offer: nearly $23 million (their existing funds plus the $7.2 committed at Maybell). If the owner took the $23million and wrote off $7 million as a donation to the residents' nonprofit, that's effectively a $25-26 million amount to the seller, and the difference to $30 million is more than made up by not having to go through the eviction process, which takes time and costs millions in legal fees and legally due compensation. It is a legitimate market-based factor to weigh in a decision.
Unfortunately, the people trying to help at BV for ideological reasons were totally co-opted at Maybell, even to the point that they never said a peep about 100 established trees getting bulldozed when that's the perfect place to make into a park (which, by the way, we are overdue for on this side of town as our code promises us compensating public open space along with new development), and didn't realize it.
I want you to realize that there is money that is earmarked for affordable housing at the City level, and that money was used to purchase the property at Maybell, even though that development never even had a market-study to back up the need versus the sacrifices being asked of the neighborhood. Our City has inclusionary housing rules, and some of the money from developer impact fees goes into the affordable housing fund.
At BV, we have existing long-time Palo Alto residents who live in affordable housing. Applying those funds there makes far more sense, as we would actually be saving far more known, existing residents in low-income housing rather than building an expensive gilded cage for a few people who would just as likely move in from elsewhere, at maximum impact to the area. The BV residents are already there and we already know the impact of the residents living here.
If the City even just purchased and HELD the property, it would be an investment that would make the City money down the line, and is in no way welfare. The City co-owns multi-million-dollar properties in ritzy parts of town with people like our former city manager, who isn't even a current city employee anymore. I'm guessing it has more invested that way than would save the whole park at BV.
The hundreds of people living at BV work in our local businesses and the children are an integral part of our local schools. There are major advantages to retaining the park as viable low-income property into the future TO OUR CITY and the rest of the residents who live in our City. I'm guessing the City could even arrange for volunteer hours or barter work from the residents' nonprofit that would hugely benefit our City and more than pay for the purchase (which would pay back handsomely in the future anyway if the City decided to invest/co-own as they do with some of our more highly-paid City employees).
BV can be saved without ANY welfare action, in a way that is advantageous to the City, and this would have far fewer development impacts than a giant new high-density high-rise. I hope you realize that bonus density rules (ostensibly to encourage building of affordable housing) will be used to put up a densified high-rise there anyway even if the zoning is enforced. The developer will take advantage of laws that are supposed to encourage affordable housing to evict those hundreds of low-income residents, and put in a development that strains our City services and infrastructure in exchange for a handful of BMR units that none of the previous residents could afford anyway.
That's just wrong. But i want you to realize, doing the right thing here can be done in a way that doesn't involve any "welfare-state" actions, and also makes the most sense.
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