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Questions About the Acquisition of the Buena Vista Site

Uploaded: Jun 25, 2016

In discussions with friends, several questions arose and I am interested in learning the answers.

1) in the proposal announced last week, who would own the site?

2) upon acquisition of the site, what rules would apply as to who can live there now that public money is involved?

3) My understanding is that currently the residents own their mobile homes but rent space on the site. How if at all will this change when the site is owned and operated by a public housing agency? Will the mobile homes remain, need to be upgraded, converted eventually to apartment type units?

4) What are the rules related to succession? If a current resident leaves, how is succession determined? By working off the agency wait list?

5) My memory from early meetings with Supervisor Simitian is that all 117 units will not be allowed even if the site remains a mobile home park. Is this correct and if so how will those who must leave be determined?

6) Will those who are allowed to stay be required to be qualified under rules for receiving public assistance for housing? How many current residents qualify?

7) I understood that besides acquisition costs, there are renovation costs and operating costs. What is the magnitude of these costs?

8) What procedures will the Housing Authority follow in determining whether to invoke eminent domain?

9) Are there options that allow existing residents to remain AND provide housing for additional eligible low income families?

I hear a lot of discussion about whether the acquisition is a good idea or not but very little information on what will actually happened if the site is acquired for housing for low income residents.

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Posted by elephant, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 25, 2016 at 3:25 pm

The unstated "elephant in the room" wrt questions 3, 6 and 9 is that a number of the current BV residents may not be documented US citizens and, hence, ineligible for public housing. However, if they own their mobile homes, this isn't truely public housing.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 25, 2016 at 4:46 pm

The absolutely critical issues are numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

The local authorities are in a full stampede mode to buy BV. If they have any concrete ideas about what to do with it afterward they are holding them very closely. Or, maybe the first words after the requisite papers have been signed, and the requisite highs have been fived, will be "Now What?"

Posted by Answer the questions, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 12:39 pm

A number of people have raised many of these questions on TSF.. Obviously simitian, Holman et al, dellanbach and FOBV do not want to address these questions. As curmudgeon points out all of the aforementioned are in full stampede mode. In most cities the local newspaper would do a story about it, but the weekly has only provided one-sided, FOBV- directed stories and editorials on this matter, so we will not get an answer from them.
Personally, I would like to see those questions answered before the city goes through with this potential boondoggle.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 1:23 pm


Mary, let's stick with my questions.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Steve, I should have guessed you'd object to humor poking fun at establishment figures. In case you missed my point, it was that Simitian has little interest in addressing your questions: he's got his own self interest in this and that's what he's protecting. .....

I guess you can delete this too...but I did want to make my point.

SL: Mary, I hope Joe and other people on both sides give us all answers to these questions. You take the position he has little interest. I am worried that no one actually knows the answers for this important decision.

Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Steve -

If we look at the long term utility of the site, 9) is the elephant in the room.

A mobile home park is terrible land use, particularly if you're looking for affordable housing. Something denser that goes up, ideally with a mix of BMR and market rate housing, would make an awful lot more sense.

A gradual conversion to more sensible use, with a path forward for existing residents, would be a win all around.

This would also solve 4), by having succession be covered by "one we clear off a few spaces, something more sensible goes up" - e.g. have there be no succession to the existing arrangement, but make sure we're net gaining housing instead of losing it.

Of course, your other questions are all valid, and mostly will need to be sorted out first before anything that forward-looking can happen.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is just one of the many constraints that will impact a public entity that acquires the BV property:

(b) No person shall be required to move from his or her dwelling
because of its acquisition by a public entity, unless comparable
replacement housing is available to the person."

Having been an elected Director of a public agency that acquired occupied property to build a new fire station I can assure you that complying with 7264.5 is neither easy or inexpensive.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 6:21 pm

"Obviously simitian, Holman et al, dellanbach and FOBV do not want to address these questions. As curmudgeon points out all of the aforementioned are in full stampede mode."

For the record, I did not specifically name anyone in my post. Had I done so I would have spelled and capped their names correctly.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 6:43 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Curmudgeon is correct. I should have deleted that attribution.

Any more mention of specific people who are not mentioned in my blog or are posting here will be deleted.

I am asking questions and hopeful of getting answers or acknowledgements that the answers are unknown currently.ov

Posted by Mary, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 6:54 pm

Why should the people who are pushing the BV plan and those facilitating this plan be off limits for comments on BV? It seems to me that these people, their plans for BV, their statements and their ideas for BV are intimately related to ANY discussion of BV.

Seems to me as this is a way of protecting these public figures from criticism.

Steve Levy himself mentions Simitian in his question 7. How is one to comment intelligently or fully if we can't flesh out all of what Simitian said in his press conference or in other forums on this issue? Is Steve Levy the only person who gets to mention public figures?

Posted by Steve Levy, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

Mary, there are several blogs on BV you can post on if you want to critucize people or discuss whether you think acquiring the site is a good idea. This blog raised what I thought were good questions.

I mentioned Simitian in relation to one of my questions.

If you have quotes from other named people on either side of the issue that answer these questions, please share.

But stick with the questions on this blog please.

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jun 26, 2016 at 7:03 pm

So a role reversal, Steve? I like it. Not about having all the answers but just asking a lot of very good questions. I asked many of them myself before.

Curmudgeon has it right I think. The easy part, or at least the easiest part is almost over, the funding part. Now the nitty gritty stuff comes into play. And I think he's right, and I don't say that very often, that the "Now What?" questions are still ahead and I suspect all the parties involved so far don't have a clue or answers to those questions. And the court ruling yesterday isn't the last of legal procedures available. The Jissers blew a lot of money with that law firm that thought they could just jump it ahead to a federal court level. Fire them! Or better yet...sue them for bad advice and ineptitude/incompetence. Lawyers suing lawyers. I love it, like gladiators in the arena, killing each other or letting the lions do it. I'm just kidding of course, about the lions.

I really don't think I'll live long enough to see this resolved. It's many years away unless the Jissers are quick to settle after eminent domain is successfully invoked, and there are no guarantees of that happening.
However it goes, there will be many unhappy people at BV. They will not all get to stay. The winnowing process is one of the most difficult issues ahead.

I hear all the arguments that our money can be better spent by ripping out the park as it is and rezoning it to provide high density affordable housing for more people. I'll make a counter argument. Those people love their units, separated from neighbors. That is important to consider. I haven't been in the park for many years so I forget what all the units look like. I'm guessing it's a combination of RV's and mobile homes that can be easily wheeled away, but maybe some are modular or manufactured homes that can't be easily moved. And they range in ages from very old and rusting/decaying units to newer much nicer and modern ones. I just don't know.

Joe Simitian mentioned on his TV interview that there is federal money available for those people who own units like those in BV. He didn't elaborate. My thought...kick in another $6-$8 million to buy or provide very low interest rate loans to all of them who qualify so they can have brand spanking new units, whether they be park models, RV's, modular, or manufactured homes, movable or not. Yes, you heard it here from me, a very conservative person. It's our last hope for providing affordable housing and still letting people have their space, although small, and not living in units with long hallways and common walls separating them and their neighbors. Us homeowners enjoy our space, they have enjoyed theirs for many years, so let's help them keep enjoying it.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on Jun 27, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"8) What procedures will the Housing Authority follow in determining whether to invoke eminent domain?"

If the Jisser's refuse a new offer then the eminent domain laws require a new and independent appraisal of the current value of the property and then and only then can the court compel the sale. In no case can a sale be compelled at less than the full fair market value.

"Just compensation is the fair market value of the property being acquired by the agency. California Law defines fair market value as "the highest price on the date of valuation that would be agreed to by a seller, being willing to sell but under no particular or urgent necessity for so doing, nor obliged to sell, and a buyer, being ready, willing, and able to buy but under no particular necessity for so doing, each dealing with the other with full knowledge of all the uses and purposes for which the property is reasonably adaptable and available."

"Contesting The Condemning Agency's Acquisition Of The Property
Provided there has been no withdrawal of the amount deposited, anyone with an interest in the property can challenge in court the agency's right to acquire or condemn the property. However the right to challenge the acquisition must have been preserved at the hearing on the Resolution of Necessity.
The agency's right to acquire the property by eminent domain will be decided by the judge, not a jury."

"The Eminent Domain Trial
Typically, the purpose of an eminent domain trial is to determine the fair market value of the property, including compensable interests such as lost business goodwill caused by the taking or severance damages. The trial is usually conducted before a judge and jury. Anyone with an interest in the property and the agency will have the opportunity to present evidence of value, and the jury will determine the property's fair market value. In cases where the parties choose not to have a jury, the judge will decide the property's fair market value. Value testimony is almost universally presented by expert testimony. Generally, each party to the litigation must disclose its respective appraisals to the other parties prior to trial.
If the owner challenges the agency's right to acquire the property, the eminent domain trial will also determine whether or not the agency has the legal right to acquire the property. In such cases, the judge (not the jury) will make this determination before any evidence is presented concerning the property's fair market value."

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 27, 2016 at 1:27 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

The Weekly editorial praising the Housing Authority's effort to acquire the Buena Vista site spoke of preserving 117 units of low income housing.

Can the Weekly or Friends of Buena Vista answer any of my questions, particularly the ones about whether all residents are eligible for public assistance for housing and whether/how all 117 units on the site can be "preserved" and if not, who would be asked to leave.

They still seem to me like fair questions and ones site residents and all of us should have answered.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on Jun 27, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

And her is what the Housing Authority itself would need to do to start the Eminent Domain process:

"A resolution of necessity is the formal decision by a government, via one of its agencies, to use eminent domain in order to acquire a property. The agency must adopt a resolution of necessity prior to bringing an eminent domain action in court.
California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 1245.230

California law lists four specific requirements that a government agency must meet in order to adopt a resolution of necessity. The California Code of Civil Procedure, section 1245.230, states that a resolution of necessity may only be adopted if:

The project for which the property is to be acquired is deemed necessary
The property is considered necessary for the interest of the public
The project is located where it will offer the greatest public benefit with the least private detriment
An offer to purchase the property has been made

Once the agency has met these four requirements, it must also hold a public hearing to discuss the resolution of necessity and the proposed eminent domain action. The agency must give notice of the hearing to the property's current owners and allow them an opportunity to be heard at the hearing.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jun 27, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The Weekly editorial praising the Housing Authority's effort to acquire the Buena Vista site spoke of preserving 117 units of low income housing."

The Editors were wrong - the maximum number of units allowed by current regulations is, I believe, closer to 100. There is no LEGAL way to preserve 117 units.

And it is not at all clear that all of the current residents meet the requirements for occupying low income housing. There is no LEGAL way to using Housing Authority for unqualified tenants.

Posted by Be Positive, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jun 27, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

BTW - there are 202 mobile homes for sale within a 20 mile radius from Palo Alto. They range from 89,000 to 359,000 each. It would be far cheaper to buy each of the 117 BV residents a new mobile home (not RV) then to take the Park by eminent domain.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 27, 2016 at 4:22 pm

Good list of questions. We hope the city counsel consider these questions before they vote and provide specific answers to the questions.

Posted by Skeptical Guy, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jun 28, 2016 at 4:46 pm

I have been following this saga for some time with amazement at how this can be dragged out for so long.

There was a comment/question above which I am curious as to the answer. For government created low cost housing, is there any immigration criteria? Or is eligibility for this type of program immigration status agnostic?

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm

"The Editors were wrong - the maximum number of units allowed by current regulations is, I believe, closer to 100. There is no LEGAL way to preserve 117 units."

Which/whose regulations are those? City zoning? Is land owned by a county government entity, as BV would be, subject to city zoning codes? Does the Housing Authority have any applicable superseding powers granted directly by the state?

The city attorney should have this info. Call her.

Posted by Sigh, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 30, 2016 at 8:27 am

According to the City Zoning Map the Buena Vista property is zoned "RM-15" (15 Units per acre). It shares a property line with RM-1 housing.
Web Link

The BV property is currently occupied at a "mathematical equivalent" density of RM-26 (117 Units on 4.2 acres).

If under City Zoning, then the most recent city zoning application model we have is for an RM-15 development is for the Maybell development. It was summarized as follows:
"RM zoning designations have a range of densities. You keep applying the maximum and have forgotten that this was never the intent of the code or comp plan, or RANGES would not have been specified. RM-15 is supposed to be built on the lower end of the RANGE next to R-1 areas, so 8 units per acre, not 15.".
... this is from the 5th to last post at Web Link

As the previous poster suggests/asks perhaps there are superseding zonings that override City zoning.

The State has rules for Mobile Home Park Layout which specifies the required unit spacing, setbacks, distances from fences, etc.

see section 1330 of Web Link

If these rules are applied, the park density must decrease to provide the required separations. Further if open space or additional shared facilities is required.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 30, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Nuts with this subjective keyboard lawyering stuff. Professional legal advice exists at the city attorney's office, prepaid. Perhaps she will chime in ... .

Posted by Heads in the sand, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Jun 30, 2016 at 12:31 pm

It's obvious those pushing the purchase have their heads in the sand and are either unwilling to reveal their plans or are incredibly stupid.

My unrealistic solution to your questions is to have public funds purchase the property and give it to the current tenants and let them live their rent free. This solution would at least expose the huge subsidy that would be required to help these people.

if public officials think they are going to purchase the property and put subsidized housing on the site, how would this help the current residents? Especially those that would not qualify.

Steve, you raise valid questions , but politicians and special interest groups will not or cannot answer your questions

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