Prometheus Real Estate Group has backed away from its plan to build high-end apartments on the Palo Alto site of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, adding a fresh layer of uncertainty to the park's future.
The San Mateo-based real estate company last month submitted a quitclaim deed with the Santa Clara County Clerk-Recorder, effectively nullifying its 2012 agreement with the Jisser family, which owns the mobile-home park at 3980 El Camino Real. The proposal has been heavily criticized by residents of Buena Vista, a low-income community of about 400 people in Palo Alto's Barron Park neighborhood.
Despite the decision by Prometheus to back out of the deal, the Jisser family is proceeding with the closure process, their attorney, Margaret Nanda, said Monday.
"The application is not withdrawn," Nanda told the Weekly, referring to the plan to close Buena Vista. "We have not withdrawn it."
Nanda said the development application has always been separate from the closure application, which remains "pending." The Jisser family has been negotiating Buena Vista's closure with the city for more than a year and a half an effort that received a big boost in February, when Palo Alto officials approved the family's "relocation impact report" for the mobile-home park. The report, which is required by local law and lays out the terms for compensating the park's displaced residents, was the subject of a three-day public hearing in May. The hearing officer, Craig Labadie, is expected to rule in August on whether the report offers adequate compensation to the low-income community.
Joe Jisser declined to discuss the Prometheus decision and referred inquiries to the company. Prometheus officials did not return phone and email requests for comment.
Grant Kolling, senior attorney at Palo Alto's Office of the City Attorney, said the Prometheus decision is not expected to impact the closure application "directly."
"The closure is proceeding as scheduled," Kolling said.
The quitclaim deed, which Prometheus filed on June 21, was submitted "for the purpose of eliminating any interest the grantor may have in and to the subject property," the document states. The grantor in this case is Prometheus, which in 2012 reached an agreement to purchase the property from the Jisser family.
According to a "memorandum of purchase agreement" the Jisser family filed with the county in August 2012, the family had agreed to sell to Prometheus the Buena Vista property "upon the occurrence of certain events and subject conditions more specifically described in the Purchase Agreement." Because the terms of the purchase agreement remain private, it's not clear which events triggered Prometheus' decision to withdraw their interest in the property.
Though the move might not avert the displacement of Buena Vista residents, it could bring new redevelopment options for the site, which opened as a tourist camp in 1926 and became a mobile-home park in the early 1950s. The park now includes 98 occupied mobile-home spaces, 12 studio apartments and one single-family unit, according to the relocation impact report submitted by the Jisser family in February.
Last year, the residents offered to buy the properties from the Jisser family through a combination of low-interest state and federal loans and the purchase of membership shares by a specially formed resident-owned cooperative. The family rejected this offer. The Palo Alto Housing Corporation, a nonprofit that develops affordable-housing complexes, had also considered last year teaming up with Prometheus to build about 65 low-income apartments on the site.
During the closure hearings in mid-May, dozens of residents testified about the hardships they would have to endure if forced out of the mobile park. These include finding new jobs, placing their children in new schools and finding new homes at comparable rates -- a prospect that everyone agreed is nearly impossible in the Palo Alto area. Blanca Fonseca, one of the residents who testified, said she had recently toured other Peninsula communities and saw most of the mobile homes selling for $70,000 or higher, far above the appraised value of $23,000 that she would receive from the Jisser family for her Buena Vista home.
Fonseca asked the hearing officer to think about the residents as he considers the closure proposal.
"It's very important for us to live in our community," Fonseca said.
Melissa Morris, attorney for the Buena Vista residents, said during the final day of the May hearings that she and her clients have been "trying to figure out a way to work with the owner to preserve the park and I think there's clearly in this room a lot of will to have this happen."
"There's a lot of political will in Palo Alto," Morris said in her concluding remarks. "Quite frankly, there's a lot of dollars out there from people willing to make it happen. Perhaps, as we go forward, we can talk about that as a possible resolution as well."
Winter Dellenbach, founder of community-support group Friends of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, told the Weekly on Monday that it's too early to tell what effect Prometheus' decision will have on Buena Vista's future. It does, however, create an opportunity to plan for other alternatives for the site. During the May 13 hearing, Dellenbach urged the Jisser family to consider an alternative that would protect the residents from losing "everything."
"We need to find a sensible solution where your family is compensated and can make some money and these people end up with a life and a future," Dellenbach said.
Marie Kear, vice president of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Residents Association, told the Weekly that while the residents are generally happy about Prometheus' withdrawal from the partnership, they don't have enough information yet to know what this portends for the park. The goal for many, she said, remains buying the park or finding another way to stay there.
"This is something we own, even if it's a shack," Kear told the Weekly. "We have more freedom being here. It's like you buy a house, you live in it and you have your family -- and now you have nothing."