Nonprofit joins effort to preserve Buena Vista

The Caritas Corporation is putting together plan to buy Palo Alto's sole mobile-home park

The Caritas Corporation, a nonprofit organization that manages 20 mobile-home parks throughout California, has joined the last-ditch effort by Santa Clara County and Palo Alto officials to avert the closure of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park.

Caritas, a company based in Irvine, has entered into a contract with Santa Clara County that, in its first phase, requires the company to put together a purchase and sale agreement with the Jisser family, which owns the 4.5-acre mobile park.

The Jissers have been moving ahead with a closure application for Buena Vista since the fall of 2012, a process that could conclude on May 26, when the City Council is expected to formally approve the application. After the vote, the Jisser family will be able to launch the six-month process of evicting the park's roughly 400 residents.

While the future of Buena Vista remains uncertain, the entry of Caritas into the preservation process has offered another shred of hope to the residents of the predominantly Hispanic and low-income community in Barron Park.

Erika Escalante, president of the Buena Vista Residents Association, said the last few months have been difficult for the park community, with residents bracing for the prospect of imminent displacement. Now, with Caritas joining the effort, the focus has turned to putting a plan together that would allow families to keep their homes.

"We've met with Caritas a couple of times and we're very excited and encouraged about the potential of this plan," Escalante said Wednesday.

The company was formally introduced to the community on Wednesday afternoon by county Supervisor Joe Simitian, a former Palo Alto mayor who is now leading the drive to avert Buena Vista's closure.

In January, Simitian led the Board of Supervisors in allocating $8 million for the park's preservation. He also noted that an additional $3 million is available in affordable-housing funds for the potential purchase. Shortly after he announced the allocation, Palo Alto City Manager James Keene designated $8 million from the city's affordable-housing funds for Buena Vista's preservation, an allocation that is subject to the council's approval.

At the same time, Simitian has been reaching out to the philanthropic community about possible contributions that would help pay for the park's run-down infrastructure. While he told the Weekly he is encouraged by the response he has received so far, potential donors are waiting to see the extent of the assistance that would be necessary to preserve the park.

The effort still faces steep hurdles. The Jisser family has been reluctant to discuss any possible sale of the site while its closure application remains open. The public entities are still trying to figure out what the price could be and whether there will be enough resources to cover it.

Yet the county's agreement with Caritas is significant given the council's and the supervisors' reluctance to get into the mobile-home-management business. In late April, the Board of Supervisors authorized county staff to negotiate with nonprofits that could potentially own and operate Buena Vista. On April 28, the county entered into its agreement with Caritas.

Caritas' 20-year track record of successful "rescue operations" have prompted the county to select it over other nonprofits that expressed interest, Simitian said. If enough resources are found to acquire Buena Vista, Caritas is prepared to "acquire, own and operate the site in perpetuity as an affordable mobile-home park community," he said.

"The two things we need are resources and partners," Simitian said. "Caritas Corporation is now under contract with Santa Clara County to be that partner. My hope and expectation is that Caritas, working with the county, will be able to negotiate a market-rate purchase of the park from current owners."

In addition to the roughly $19 million already available in public funds, officials from the city, the county and Caritas can also look to a tax-exempt revenue bond, predicated on the cash flow of the property. For Caritas, issuing bonds has been a standard practice. The company's information brochure notes that Caritas' purchase of mobile-home parks is financed "by conduit, non-recourse tax-exempt bonds issued by a public entity, including counties, cities or a joint-powers authority."

"If a public entity is willing to pledge housing funds or provide credit enhancement, the bond issue for the entire purchase price can be sold at a lower interest rate," the Caritas brochure states. "Because the seller receives all cash, the purchase price is often lower. If structured properly, these savings generally result in increased rent relief for residents and enhancements to the park communities."

John Woolley, the company's chief operating officer, said his company has long been aware of the myriad of challenges facing Buena Vista residents. Caritas, he said, believes there is a "workable solution" to these problems. He stressed that the company is a "mission-based" organization, rather than a profit-based one, that self-imposes rent control on its properties.

"It's going to be a very challenging process but it is very achievable," Woolley said. "We believe our unique experience and skill set position us well to turn Buena Vista into a spirited and caring mobile-home community."

The contract that the company signed runs until the end of 2015 and does not include any spending from the county. Woolley said Caritas will commit to working with the Jisser family to "understand their development goals and develop a proposal that appeals to them."

The company will also work with its partners in the city, county and philanthropic communities to identify the needed resources; continue to meet with Buena Vista residents to make sure any plan would meet their needs; encourage city officials to expedite the approval process for the needed upgrades to Buena Vista; and reach out to local philanthropic groups for potential contributions.

"Caritas is genuinely excited about the prospect of redeveloping the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and we look forward to transforming it into an exciting, lively community of which the city, the county and the community can be very proud," Woolley said.

Related content:

Santa Clara County supervisor to propose plan to save Buena Vista | May 6, 2015

Santa Clara County in a 'race against the clock' to save Buena Vista | April 22, 2015

Attorneys debate the value of a Palo Alto education | April 17, 2015

Lawyer: Buena Vista evictions could start next month | April 16, 2015

Buena Vista's closure hangs on new appraisal | April 14, 2015

Buena Vista residents make final plea to save their homes | April 13, 2015

Videos from the two Buena Vista hearings

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24 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2015 at 10:19 pm

What is there to preserve? Whose money are you talking about? Yeah...I get it...$19 mil of public funds.

17 people like this
Posted by I Wish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2015 at 10:29 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2015 at 10:51 am

The city invests in all sorts of affordable housing projects - has 40 year history in doing so and continues to do so. It is good to have the housing fund that developers pay into that can go toward BV. And the Stanford development fund from the country. But mainly it is nice to have some good news about Buena Vista's future. This seems very hopeful though it is not a done deal. The city should do all it can to support the effort of Caritas to succeed, and the residents stay. A real win for Palo Alto and the County.

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 7, 2015 at 11:10 am

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by WillTheySell?
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 7, 2015 at 11:26 am

I *really hope* that someone in this "buy the park" coalition has actually approached the Jissers and determined that they will *seriously consider selling* the property. Otherwise this is all just posturing and such a waste of time.
And please, don't just reply that they will certainly consider a reasonable offer. No report has ever said that they would. And what is 'reasonable' to those who want to keep the park may not be close enough to what it would sell for on the open market once the park is closed.

3 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 7, 2015 at 11:55 am

The press conference last night that generated this article can be seen at Web Link. Seeing it is helpful to understanding the nuances of what is being proposed. There, Spvsr Simitian says that he met face-to-face with Mr. Jisser for 90 minutes last week.

If you aren't familiar with Simitian's style, he's a deal-maker, with a well-earned reputation for looking after the interests of everyone at the table.

21 people like this
Posted by let it die
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2015 at 1:25 pm

The Caritas Corporation website makes it look like the organization actually holds their parks to reasonable standards. Most of their sites have recreation rooms, clubhouses, pools, double wide trailers ect…

Will Buena Vista be held to a similar standard? Will they continue to let 7 people live in 1 trailer? Will they bring the park back to its appropriate density? (there were 169 people living there in 2001 vs 400 now) Will the people with their plywood-enclosed-RV’s be allowed to stay? Are they going to buy Mr. Tree-through-the-roof a new house? If they are using public funds, does that mean we’re buying Mr. Tree-though-the-roof a new house?

The Caritas website says they prefer "3 1/2 to 5 star" parks with common facilities including Clubhouse, pool, laundry and other improvements” --- do they know what a mess Buena Vista is?
Or do they just not care because we're shoveling millions of dollars at them?

The worst part is that the site is worth more as empty land than it is worth as a trailer park. But they'll have to pay the owner at minimum the potential profit from selling the empty land. So if they buy it they’re going to be paying (we’re going to be paying) significantly more than the site is actually worth.

5 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2015 at 4:53 pm

How much affordable housing does Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Woodside, etc. have. This is all again one more effort to steal city residents money to support people. The City Council reminds me of the Berkeley City Council with its entire left wing agenda. I get the feeling that Palo Alto wants its residents to support some kind of bond issue to give even more money to these people. Who came up with the idea and proposed giving the trailer park 8 million dollars - our useless city manager. That money should be used for more police downtown and programs to decrease burglaries and street crime in Palo Alto. [Portion removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2015 at 5:09 pm

The Police department has the money for a new police station. They already have a sufficient police building. Our excellent city should use the money set aside for the cop shop to purchase Buena Vista so our neighbors can maintain the diversity in this wonderful community.

Save Buena Vista!

2 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on May 7, 2015 at 6:37 pm

[post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

When these guys say they are "mission-based" I am concerned that there primary directive is to avoid paying taxes on their financial machinations. It looks like they buy up these properties mainly to float the bonds. Scanning their documents, it looks like they have at least $170 M of these babies out there. It looks like a pyramid scheme.

I thought the plan was to help the current residents become owners, and that the Friends group had found a backer?

If the public sector, leadership and staff, is merely finding an owner, why not someone we already know and sort of trust, like Palo Alto Housing Corp?

Web Link

I'm wondering if eminent domain is not a better path. Maybe its the only moral choice, in terms of our values and principles that were expressed in the protective language, the covenant, the Comp Plan and the use permit.

Mr. Simitian probably knows better, but this looks like a compromise and maybe a sellout, or bait-and-switch.

I raised a similar set of concerns at a public hearing about the conversion of Stevenson House from a non-profit and self-managed to some complicated shell-game of for-profit and non-profit managers. Valuing the least among us as a moral choice and finding a way to budget that to my mind is different than more recent trends of savvy financial entities, like John Stewart Company (in the case of Stevenson House) and Caritas's (sic) in this case who help others only for the tax writeoff.

Let's go see Joe tomorrow Saturday at the Farmers Market and pinch his tomatoes a bit on this one!!!

4 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on May 11, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Greenacres is a registered user.


The $8million from the City comes from a fund that can only be used for affordable housing, in fact, most of it is the money that was returned to the City after Maybell orchard was sold. Same for the $8million from the county, it was basically the money that had been used to buy the Maybell property and was returned to the county after the sale, in fact, if it's not used to help BV, it will go to another use that is less urgent than saving the last cohesive low-income community in this town. Those funds cannot be used for another purpose, they are already set aside, it would not be legal to use them for another purpose.

Unfortunately, Mark, the PAHC also has to live by the rules out there, and they also get those tax credits by showing a certain amount of for-profit investment.

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 11, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Could someone please explain how the County and the City could be party to any agreement that does not require that the entire property and each unit thereon to be brought up to code and who will pay for that code compliance.

4 people like this
Posted by Ellen Gold
a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Ellen Gold is a registered user.

Peter Carpenter,

I'm a 20 year BV resident and as I've stated on numerous occasions, the county and the city do not enforce ANY codes at BV. BV building codes enforced by the city are for the actual buildings at BV, which are, the single family home, the laundry, the showers, the studio apartments and the workshop ONLY. The mobile homes are overseen by the STATE OF CALIFORNIA. They send out inspectors on a regular basis, about once every 10 years,

BV passed its last state inspection approx. 2 years ago, so all the mobile homes were found to be in compliance at that time. Now, since then, similar to people making loud noise, when the cops leave, they turn the music back up, after the inspection it appears that some residents re-installed what they had removed to pass the inspection. Just sayin', and the jissers don't enforce any regulations.

Also, I read a news report stating there is 12 million in deferred maintenance at BV due to jisser knowing he planned to bulldoze it. Probably true because the first thing he did when he bought BV was to seal the entrance to the office from the single family home so he could rent it out. Hence no more resident managers, and no management at all, just rent collection. The whole idea was to maximize profits, from the gitgo.

5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

Actually the whole idea from the "gitgo" was to close the park.

2 people like this
Posted by Ellen Gold
a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Ellen Gold is a registered user.

Crescent Park Dad,

Right, but its a process. First you have to run the grocery store, All American Market into the ground. Then, after you sub-divide the market's space, voila, more rent! Then you put up a cell tower, more rent!

Now you're ready to redevelop the trailer park since by now, the look you're going for, blight, has fully blossomed based on "deferred maintenance".

At the time the BV residents organized and got the ordinance passed, the owners were told that existing zoning would allow for 67 junior one bedroom units. There you have the owner's calculation. Right now, for him that equals 67 million minus 10 million to pay our relocation olus some pretty cheap building costs, as he "knows a guy".

I would not want to live or pay $ for anything built by the jissers, just my opinion!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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