News

Buena Vista owner offers eleventh-hour changes to relocation benefits

Hearings conclude, but judge's decision on compensation for mobile-home-park residents is months away

The owner of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto upped his offer Wednesday night to the park's nearly 400 residents, promising to reassess the value of their mobile homes within six months of their relocation and to pay a higher rental subsidy for a year after they move.

Attorneys for the Jisser family, who are seeking to close the park and sell the property, submitted the amended plan five minutes prior to the end of a three-day hearing to determine the compensation terms offered to residents. Residents, experts and neighborhood supporters had argued for two days before Administrative Judge Craig Labadie that the sums proposed in a Relocation Impact Report (RIR), which has been deemed "complete" by Palo Alto staff, were grossly inadequate.

What, if any, impact the eleventh-hour changes to the report would have on Labadie's decision is unclear. Melissa Morris, senior attorney for the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, representing the residents, told Labadie Monday that the report should be rejected outright.

"It's impossible to respond to these amendments now, but we will respond in writing," she said Wednesday after the Jissers' attorney, Margaret Nanda, announced the amended plan.

Speaker after speaker at the hearing hammered home two main points: one, that housing costs Bay Area-wide are so high that the benefits proposed by the Jissers would not come close to compensating the residents for their losses; and two, that the plan does not provide comparable compensation, which stretches beyond financial reimbursement. If the park closes, residents said, they would have to move so far away to find affordable housing that they would lose jobs, homes, access to comparable local schools and their community.

The Jissers offered residents sums ranging from $12,000 to $16,300 for persons moving into one-bedroom apartments and $20,000 to $30,600 for those moving into three-bedroom apartments. They were to partially subsidize rent increases, at 40 percent, at new locations for 12 months. The amendment pledged a 100 percent subsidy.

But supporters told Labadie the relocation plan does not take the area's hyperinflation into consideration. A low compensation estimate per family might start at $200,000 and should include an inflationary index, some said.

Supporter Cybele LoVuolo-Bhushan said Wednesday the relocation plan appraiser low-balled the value of the residents' mobile homes, citing two examples. In one case, the appraiser valued a home at about $19,000, but an outside appraiser valued it at $50,000. A second home was valued at about $28,000 by the report appraiser, but the second appraiser said it is worth $60,000.

Nanda said the revisions came in response to testimony park residents gave over the previous two days. A reappraisal within six months of relocation is a fairly common provision in conversion ordinances, but it was not written into Palo Alto's, she said.

But Friends of Buena Vista founder Winter Dellenbach said the changes throw confusion into the situation. The revisions are not part of what was considered by Labadie during the three-day hearing, and residents and attorneys did not have the opportunity to address their adequacy.

The changes' impact on the City Council's February ruling on the RIR is also a question, she said. The city only found the report complete after four iterations, but the council did not vote on the latest revisions, she said.

"There's no way of quantifying what is being offered," she said.

Any ruling on the compensation is months away, Labadie said. Attorneys for both sides will now submit opposing briefs and additional expert reports for and against closing the 60-plus-year-old El Camino Real park. Labadie set a June 16 deadline for the Jissers' attorneys and a July 16 deadline for the residents' attorneys' briefs. The Jissers would then have a week to respond.

Labadie said he will review the materials and issue a preliminary ruling about a month later, in late August. Lawyers from both sides will then offer rebuttal arguments in writing, after which Labadie will issue a final decision. After that process, either side could appeal to the Palo Alto City Council, he said.

WATCH IT ONLINE

The Palo Alto Weekly video-recorded the three Buena Vista hearings, which are posted at www.ustream.tv/recorded/47498513.

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