News

Law firms protest plan to close mobile park

Palo Alto officials urged to reject proposal to convert Buena Vista Mobile Park into a housing development

A controversial proposal to turn Palo Alto's sole mobile-home park into a dense housing development is facing opposition from two area law firms, which argued in a recent letter to the city that the conversion would clash with state law and with the city's own housing policies.

Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the Western Center on Law and Poverty wrote a March 6 letter protesting a proposal by the Jisser family, which owns the property on 3980 El Camino Real, and Prometheus Real Estate Group to build luxury apartments. The proposal, the letter states, would displace hundreds of the residents and "wreak havoc" on the community of Buena Vista, a 117-unit mobile-home park that has been providing affordable housing since the 1950s.

The proposal would convert the park into a 187-unit housing complex. While local law requires the city to try to identify "comparable" housing for the displaced residents and pay reasonable relocation costs, the letter from the law firm argues that this could be next to impossible without residents having to move to a distant location.

"Being forced to move from the Park will create a considerable hardship for the residents," the letter states. "Most residents will not be able to afford to live anywhere else in Palo Alto, one of the most expensive places in the country to live, without significant housing subsidies or other assistance."

The letter argues that because the city is "significantly involved" in the closure of Buena Vista, it can be considered a "displacing agency" under the California Relocation Assistance Act. The city, the letter notes, has been facilitating community meetings on the project and helping Prometheus find a relocation specialist and appraiser. The city's involvement, the letter states, makes residents eligible for benefits under the CRAA, which applies to projects "undertaken by a public entity." This includes "significant relocation benefits, including the purchase of a comparable home."

The law firms also argue that closing the park would "wreak havoc in the lives of its residents in less tangible ways" by severing the ties that have formed between neighbors and eliminating what has become a "distinct community" in Palo Alto.

The conversion would also exacerbate Palo Alto's already severe shortage of affordable housing, the law firms argue, and would run contrary to the city's housing element, its official vision document for housing. It urges the city to deny efforts to convert the mobile park or, failing that, to only approve the project if it's consistent with the CRAA and the city's ordinance.

"The closure of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park would be nothing short of catastrophe for many of its residents, and it would cause the loss of an important source of affordable housing in one of the country's most expensive cities," the letter co-signed by attorneys from the two firms states.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:33 am

We definitely do NOT need any more dense housing in PA! We do not have enough schools for the potential plethora of kids we would inherit!
Enough housing already!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by James Hall
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:40 am

This action by the two law firms conjures up the image of the lone hero standing in front of the oncoming tanks in China. An admirable attempt to stand in front of the machine of gentrification which Palo Alto seems to have become. There's just got be room for lower income people somewhere. Vulture Capitalism and Vulture Development both fly the flag of undisguised greed, with its' motto "it will have no affect on traffic". I hope their efforts to bring reason and law to this issue succeed in waking us all up.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:51 am

>"Being forced to move from the Park will create a
>considerable hardship for the residents," the letter
>states.

The premise of mobile homes is that the owners can easily move, when they way—unlike people who invest in traditional homes. The claim that everyone of the people in this particular park would seem to belie the underlying claims of those promoting mobile homes.

> "Most residents will not be able to afford to
> live anywhere else in Palo Alto, one of the most
> expensive places in the country to live, without
> significant housing subsidies or other assistance."

This statement is very difficult to believe. In essence, it seems to be saying that no one living in this park is capable to making their own way in American society. These people are not employable, nor are they capable of contributing to the operational costs of the City in which they live in proportion to the public expenditures it takes to provide them access to public services.

Ultimately, we do have to ask—why should the law be crafted to ensure that some people don't have to bear the same responsibilities of modern society as the rest of us?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

No more housing please!! Demolish the Glass Slipper instead; it is an eye sore. Think about renovating the El Camino stretch between Charleston and Page Mill instead.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Heartless
a resident of University South
on Mar 12, 2013 at 11:49 am

To "Wondering?"

I agree. Let's kick out all the poor people in Palo Alto. Enough of this diversity stuff! Palo Alto homes need to be up to a standard.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by too Poor to live here!
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm

@ KP. Yep, no more housing is need in PA. There's just soo much of it! Oh wait, it'a all selling for $1 million plus in CASH. Oh you don't have $4000 to pay for rent? Hmmm. Well, you're not welcome here! Clearly you are an undesirable. You'd just be here like some rabbits with a hoard of kids wanting into our elite schools and suck resources out of our city.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is doing a disservice to the Buena Vista residents by taking this position. But, I guess the residents weighed their options and think this is going to work. If experience with mobile home park closures in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and other California cities is any guide, they will eventually wish that they had not taken this approach.

The City doesn't haven't much choice in working with Prometheus. They can't screen their calls and hide under their desks when Prometheus shows up at the City's offices. The best the city can do is act in good faith and make sure the RIR gives reasonable compensation to those owning trailers in the park. Applying CRAA to the City is wishful thinking. Buena Vista is privately owned and the owner has the legal right to shut the park down with proper notice. The CRAA argument by the Law Foundation is completely specious.

Neither the article or letter give any indication how many residents at Buena Vista own their trailers. Owning is pretty much the key to getting reasonable RIR compensation. For renters, the closure of the mobile home park is pretty much a warm handshake and bus fare.

Given that the City worked with the Buena Vista residents in the past, I'm surprised that residents chose this approach. Prometheus has a good reputation and City has already shown good faith working with the park in the past. The resident's best option was getting the City to purchase the land. That does not seem even a possibility now.

Whoever came up with this plan gave them very bad advice.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rent? Buy??
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Who ever said rents here were only $4,000/month? Try between $6,000 and $10,000/month! My newest neighbor has a $6 000/month mortgage payment for a house he bought in a short sale in 2009..... The banks will not even let him refinance and he is a biomed scientist! A lot of people on my street have mrtgage or rent payments so high they cannot afford to maintain their property. Others spent all their hard-earned cash to buy their house and have nothing left to even repaint the house with, much less reroof, refence, or relandscape .

A friend of my son's works for FB, and is living in a room in someone's garage ( no bathroom, even) for $2900/month! I asked hi. Why he would do such a thing and he replied that it was so much quieter than an apartment and more private. He just showers at the gym. He insists apartments are twice the price and that he can get no late-night work done in one.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm

If we can make a base assumption that given the price of homes and/or rent in this town is so high, that those decision makers who follow through with purchasing or renting a home should know what they're getting into.

Yes, the prices and rents are very high. And it's always been that way - Palo Alto has been a desirable location for more than 50 years plus. This is not something new.

So while it is crazy to see the prices as they are today --- I can't help but say to those who overspent: What were you thinking?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I think private property owners have rights to do what they want with their property including taking a profit, within the zoned and other limits of their particular city (or land jurisdiction).
Most people work a long time to be able to afford to move into Palo Alto. The idea that someone can just "insist" that others subsidize or support them into a unit or home is ridiculous (though I realize some believe in this premise).
For example, most young people are not going to be able to afford to live in Palo Alto (regardless of whether they are in the group wishing to stay in a mobile home or rent an apartment, regardless of social class or ethnic status. Income will make a difference. So the notion that someone with tiny children "requires" to live in Palo Alto or even continue to live there, doesn't make sense. Many of us, when we had small children, did not even try to live in Palo Alto as we knew of the high cost to get in there AND stay there. Even gas costs more around here!
Change just happens from time to time.
I have nothing against the mobile home park per se.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Crescent Park Dad,
Sometimes the inventory of homes is so low and sometimes the economy is in a middle zone where there isn't much real estate activity.
You know there isn't much spare land around here.
I lived once in a rather nice city elsewhere with a lot of land and I had a very nice apartment and pool at a reasonable rent. The availability of land made such a difference in the circumstances...
Some of us coincided with changes in our families (let's give the example of a rapidly growing family and the desire to seek a much better school district) and so we took strong efforts to buy into a place, Palo Alto or equivalent. DId we "overpay?" - hard to say. We didn't have much to choose from. The problem is, when it comes to public schools, there just aren't many good ones when one is geographically restricted. I pay very heavy property taxes though my home is not a mansion, and I am happy my values have gone up a lot. But it is a strain to live here for some.
That doesn't mean I believe everyone is entitled to get some sort of subsidy so they can be installed in a Palo Alto residence.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm

The original article a few months ago cited the need of the current owners to upgrade all the utilities at Buena Vista as a reason for them selling. The cost to upgrade all of the utilities would have to displace the residents and then the owners would be forced to increase the rents accordingly.

There's no easy answer but Buena Vista isn't sustainable for the residents in the current state as it is. How is the lawsuit going to save them from moving if all the utilities need to be upgraded? Are you going to contribute $$$ to help keep these people there or are the current owners just supposed to eat all those costs?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm

If the current owners have let the place fall into disrepair and cannot afford or do. Ot wish to upgrade the basic, does that not make them SLUMLORDS?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Anonymous #2 - From what I read, the utilities are the problem. The owner is not a slumlord just because things underground need to be repaired. (that would make the City of PA a slumlord on some streets...) Like Anonymous #1 said, I understood it that in order to repair/replace the utilities, the homeowners and renters (I believe Buena Vista is a mix) would be forced to move anyway. I don't believe the facility is sustainable as it is, I think that is one of the reasons the City entered into an agreement with him in first place.

It sounds like Buena Vista as it stands will go away one way or another and the lawsuit is simply an effort to get the residents more $$.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2013 at 10:53 pm

So I can't afford to leave in my apartment, who gives me a hand out. This is America, if you can't afford to live here, the market has spoken, go to Stockton.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2013 at 9:47 am

The solution here is three fold: (1) If some affordable housing oriented developer could team-up with either a for profit entity, or individual(s) who have money (and desire) to purchase the land/property at the same price as Prometheus has offered - Palo Alto has 10 billionaires according to Forbes - hint - hint - tax credit benefits could apply; 2)Once purchased, build affordable housing to replace the mobile homes, and develop a more aesthetic and enjoyable space for the entire Palo Alto community; (3) While the property is being re-developed, existing BV residents could be placed in transitional housing, or given priority on all Santa Clara County housing wait lists as being displaced.(This was done across the U.S. during Katrina). Many people currently on most affordable housing wait lists, already have some type of affordable housing. They simply want to change housing, or as I call it, do the musical chair game. This solution would be a win-win for the BV residents, and the city as a whole, in addition, it would keep the city on track with ABAG goals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2013 at 10:44 am

> If some affordable housing oriented developer could
> team-up with either a for profit entity, or individual(s)
> who have money (and desire) to purchase the land/property
> at the same price as Prometheus has offered

And the problem would also be solved if the BV people were, as individuals, move their "mobile homes" to mobile home parks in neighboring cities.

What exempts the BV residents from having to be responsible for themselves?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

To "Wondering" - The BV residents are being responsible for themselves - they apparently have chosen to act in a civil manner, and hired a law firm to analyze their options. In the true American spirit!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm

@Chris Gaither - yay american spirit - sue anytime something doesn't go your way! My son got a an A- on his mid term, can you recommend a lawyer?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Moochie
a resident of Monroe Park
on Mar 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm

There is affordable housing. It's called East Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm

To "Mr. Recycle" - What's wrong with an A-? An, "A" grade is an "A" grade. And, it's only on a midterm exam. There is still room for improvement on the final exam. And, there has been nothing stated to indicate that the Law firm plans to sue anybody. They have merely sent a letter. I believe you have missed the point!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Get Real
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Please don't demolish Buena Vista!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm

"Being forced to move from the Park will create a considerable hardship for the residents," the letter states.

What prevents the lead lawyers in these firms from donating land in their neighborhood, to provide some real and solid housing to these people? Surely, there must be some Palo Alto/other legal firms that are willing to take up the challenge, by allowing these families to live in their back yards. Or do they value their own property rights so much that they are hypoctites?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Did Buena Vista Park ever evict the animal hoarders?

Web Link

Unless the property owners and managers have turned things around, I dare say that closing the facility would create one good result.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2013 at 11:07 am

> The BV residents are being responsible for
> themselves - they apparently have chosen
> to act in a civil manner, and hired a law firm
> to analyze their options. In the true American spirit!

Surely you jest. America was built by people who carved out farms from the forests, and they did so without government subsidies. Americans moved from the shores of the Atlantic to the Shores of the Pacific—many of them walking the whole way, never once threatening to legal action against anyone that some lawyer could find with "deep pockets".

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Wow, I really hope most of the commenters here don't have kids, as they're the ones who are going to be unable to afford a place in Palo Alto, and who the comments about moving to EPA and Stockton are directed to.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2013 at 6:45 am

SteveU is a registered user.

The residents would have to move out to update the utilities?
That is just an (lame) excuse.

Let's see (in Barron Park):

1) CPA Utilities updated the Powerlines (from the old PG&E ones), what, 12 years ago. Did anyone have to move OUT?

2) CPA Utilities replaced old ABS(?) Gas mains about 6 years ago. Did anyone have to move OUT?

3) CPA Utilities replaced the Sewer Lines about 2 years ago. Did anyone have to move OUT?

Were we inconvenienced? Slightly.

1) Power was OFF for a few hours. Crews accessed rear yards in some cases. Street parking was limited.

2) Crews dug small holes near the Gas Meter, removing concrete/brick walks if needed (repaired afterwards). Deep itches in the street to avoid, restricted street parking, Limited access to driveway during work hours. Gas interruption was fairly brief but did require CPA crew access to home to purge and relight pilots.

3) Similar to #2 but depending on clean out location, Driveway access could be impacted .

In all cases residents were notified in advance (and reminded) and it was suggested that they park any vehicle needed during the day be parked outside the work zone. MOVE OUT? No way.

Just another excuse.
The property is zoned to permit a Trailer park. Let them Build a (New) Trailer Park.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by wonderfulworld
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 15, 2013 at 7:57 am

I see lawyers everywhere in PA. At school, park, downtown, City chamber, and now in mobile park.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

SteveU - "Let them build a new trailer park" is a bit naive. I reread some old newspaper articles, if they rebuild, they would need to upgrade many of the trailers since they are not to code. They would also have to change the spacing between them because the current spacing is not to code. I doubt that a new trailer park is a financially viable project in Palo Alto, so the current owner would not want to (or maybe can't) invest the money.

If there is someone out there who wants to match offer the Owner has and rebuild the Park, they should step up and do so. Otherwise, we should focus on finding new homes for the residents and trying to keep the kids in PAUSD. There is new affordable family housing on Alma that is supposed to open this summer. There are numerous development in San Jose and Hayward that are potential spots.

Even if they built a new trailer park - everyone would have to move out.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by historian
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Wondering wrote: "Surely you jest. America was built by people who carved out farms from the forests, and they did so without government subsidies. Americans moved from the shores of the Atlantic to the Shores of the Pacific—many of them walking the whole way, never once threatening to legal action against anyone that some lawyer could find with "deep pockets"."

All those people who carved out farms did so under the Homestead Act which was a government give-away. They were all receiving subsidies from the government. As were the railroads. The American story is the story of state support, handouts, and giveaways. The ideology was of "rugged individualism" but the lived reality was of government grant, subsidy, and special benefits for particular industries, particularly slave-produced cotton. You are ignorant of history but I can see from your next comment that doesn't bother you, as you are also ignorant in general.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Historian - I was thinking of what you wrote, in terms of pioneers. Specifically, I was thinking of Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter being an an enthusiastic early Libertarian, when her parents & grandparents benefitted from the federal government's doctrines for settlement.

It's so easy to point the finger at poor people sticking up for themselves & accusing them of cutting corners & not playing by the rules. Whatever happens un this situation, I'm glad we have laws to guide this complicated intersection of private property & people's homes. I'll continue to hope that these residents end up in a more than decent situation & that the owners get to deal w/their property in a fair manner that also takes care of their needs. For Pete's sake, it's not like it's Downton Abbey & some important legacy.


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