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.