Attorneys challenge report on Buena Vista conversion

Residents of mobile-home park should get more money if displaced, letter from tenants' attorneys contends

Residents who would be displaced by the conversion of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park into a complex of high-end apartments should receive a far greater compensation than what is being proposed by the project's developer, attorneys for the tenants allege in a letter to the city.

The San Jose-based Public Interest Law Firm, which is representing the residents, submitted a letter to Palo Alto's Office of the City Attorney arguing that the Relocation Impact Report, a document analyzing the impacts of Buena Vista's closure, is incomplete and contains "gross underestimations of the relocations benefits to which the Park's residents are entitled." The report, which the Jisser family (the owners of the park) submitted to the city on May 2, is required by the city's municipal code.

Palo Alto has 30 days to review the document and consider whether it's complete and consistent with the city's ordinance. After that, the report will be the subject of a hearing to determine whether the proposed mitigations are sufficient to compensate Buena Vista residents.

In the May 24 letter, the attorney argued that the report is flawed and incomplete and that the proposed compensation is insufficient. The letter on behalf of Buena Vista tenants is co-signed by three attorneys from the Public Interest Law Firm and Fair Housing Law Project (a project of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley) and attorneys from Western Center on Law and Poverty. The attorneys call on the city to reject the report.

The relocation report estimated that the mobile homes at Buena Vista have an average value of $18,816. The Jissers have offered to pay at least $20,000 for the 59 percent of the homes worth less than that. The most expensive home in the park is worth $45,000, according to the report. The homeowner has offered to pay $56,000 for this unit.

Among the major problems with the relocation report, the attorney's contend, are its failures to "perform any analysis of the cost to purchase condominiums in Palo Alto or similar communities" and to put forth any evidence about "the reasonable cost of relocation." While the estimates in the report consider the value of each mobile home, it does not take into account their location in Palo Alto, which has one of the highest property values in the nation.

"The in-place value of a mobile home at the Park is not just the value of the physical building, but includes the benefits of living in Palo Alto, such as access to excellent schools and proximity to transportation," the attorneys contend.

The attorneys claim that the relocation report "downplays the benefits" of Buena Vista's location in Palo Alto by claiming that other communities are "equivalent to Palo Alto." This claim, the letter states, "is absurd." The letter notes that Palo Alto's median home price of $1.47 million is far above Mountain View's ($775,000) and Sunnyvale's ($712,000).

"The appraised in-place value must consider the current market and the neighborhood characteristics in the location where the home is sited -- not in neighboring cities," the letter states.

The letter also alleges that the report is incomplete because the property manager has failed to survey every residence at Buena Vista (71 of the 98 eligible residents completed the questionnaire used in the report) and because it does not disclose the purchase price of the mobile park.

Under the proposal that the city is evaluating, the mobile-home park at 3980 El Camino Real would make way for 180 apartments, which would be developed by Prometheus Real Estate Group. More recently, the developer has been considering including 65 apartments for low-income residents as part of the proposal.


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Posted by Greed Knows No Bounds
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2013 at 10:38 am

Let me try to understand this twisted logic. The residents of Buena Vista dont own the land on which their mobile homes sit. For decades they have paid rents far below market value for the land on which to place their mobile homes. And now they claim that they need to be paid more because Palo Alto is one of the most expensive cities in the nation!
If they owned the land and the land was being taken from them, then I suppose that would be a reasonable argument. The price of land in Palo Alto is irrelevant to their argument since the land is not theirs to begin with. And above all, no one is entitled to live in Palo Alto. The rest of us live where we can afford to live and how we can afford to live - so what's different about these residents?

Its commonplace in third world countries for squatters to demand money from the legitimate owners of the land to move. Its quite amazing to see that sort of extortionist behavior from this group of residents asking for something that is not theirs to begin with.

This is a matter of property rights and any legitimate owner of property has to be concerned about the path that this process is taking.

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Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on May 29, 2013 at 10:43 am

I find it ironic that residents in Palo Alto who do not own the land receive a lot more protection than the rightful homeowners whose lives will be impacted by the Maybell high-density housing project.

Either our city countil members are so idealistic that they have lost touch with the reality of their constituents, or they will just push whatever agenda PAHC and the developers put in front of them

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Posted by Sally
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2013 at 11:40 am

Greed knows no bounds,
I agree with you; these folks will be remunerated handsomely to move. The current market value of homes has nothing to do with it.

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Posted by Citizen
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 29, 2013 at 11:43 am

I agree that this is difficult to understand. If you look here Web Link you will see that tenants of mobile home parks have legal rights and protections that may seem unfair to those who have worked hard to earn the privilege of living in a particular place. Whether you agree with these rules or not, the process that is unfolding is a negotiation between the property owner the city and the residents which will ultimately benefit both sides to some degree. The people looking on from the sidelines, and who do not receive any help as they lose a home to foreclosure, or make sacrifices to pay for their home and high property taxes in the area are the ones in dismay. We see so many people leave Palo Alto because there is no help for hard working people who are not perceived as especially entitled for one reason or another.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Good points @Citizen. But recognize the help we do get -- deductibility of property taxes and mortgage interest, and Prop 13 guarantee that somebody paying an extra million for the house next door doesn't price us out. We must guard those legal rights or we will certainly lose them.

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Posted by winter dellenbach
a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm

The Buena Vista property owner must pay relocation payments to Buena Vista residents if he wants then to leave - that is the law in Palo Alto and the state of California. The payments will pale in comparison to the enormous profit he will make from selling the property. Payments compensate for losses (homes, improvements, the cost of relocating elsewhere, etc.) and are neither gift nor charity. Payment amounts are determined per qualifying household based on legal requirements. People get various amounts based on a complex of factors pertaining to individual households. It is the law, and to be upheld.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Ms. Dellenbach is correct. I've seen this before w/mobile homes, incl the one (or was it two?) in EPA on the west side, replaced by condos. The mobile home park owners know this, the developers know this so of course they initially lowball & if the tenants are savvy enough to get legal representation, the relevant laws get upheld.

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Posted by Citizen
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Musical,Prop 13 has had the opposite effect. It let businesses off the hook for contributing to the schools, it created a loophole where people can sell a home to their grown children for a dollar, and they can stay and put their kids through local schools while paying very little for those schools in taxes. I certainly can be priced out by people coming in, as they are today, and paying cash for Palo Alto homes, which helps drive up the prices, leaving many without anything they can afford to buy. The low income housing, and the protections of people such as the Buena Vista residents still leaves the middle class in this area out of luck. The tiny tax break for a mortgage is of very little help when you have to pay so much for a home. No, hard working people are struggling around here and resent what looks like free handouts to people who have had an advantage in rent and schools for so many years. Yes, winter, as I pointed out, it is the law. That does not mean it is right or fair. When there are protections for law abiding citizens who fall on hard times, but might not belong in a special category, that will be fair. Also right.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Is it only the mobile home owners who get reimbursed or do the renters get reimbursed as well?

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Lawyers for the Buena Vista residents contend the owner's closure report failed to "perform any analysis of the cost to purchase condominiums in Palo Alto or similar communities". Is that a joke? Are there any condominiums in Palo Alto that could mimic the deplorable conditions at the Buena Vista?

This one can't be serious either: "The in-place value of a mobile home at the Park is not just the value of the physical building, but includes the benefits of living in Palo Alto, such as access to excellent schools and proximity to transportation," Hey, if you don't own the land, and you've paying below market rent for the past 12 years, why do you expect the owner to make it up to you?
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by alex
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2013 at 10:58 pm

As a Socialist/Anarchist, I applaud the Residents of the Buena Vista.

And to most of the rest of you: get ready to pay more taxes and buy cheaper cars, because that is what's going to happen. :)

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Posted by 'Bout Time
a resident of College Terrace
on May 30, 2013 at 7:36 am

I agree with the attorneys. What these people were offered as compensation does not buy or compensate for anything in the Bay Area. The owners need to get real, especially since they are about to get very rich.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on May 30, 2013 at 9:48 am

This is a suicidal argument for the tenants. They argue the value of Palo Alto for a higher reimbursement. But what is the arguement for the low rent? What is keeping the landlord from raising the rents to "Palo Alto Value"?

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Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 31, 2013 at 12:34 am

The residents of Buena Vista have not been on a special program or paying below market rates. They have been paying market rates for living in a trailer park. They have not had any special privileges, they are living in affordable housing by virtue of that being the market rate for where they lived.

The first offer in something like this is never going to be done without leaving room for negotiation.

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Posted by Jon Parsons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2013 at 6:02 am

"Mobile home" owners face a unique situation because they own a big piece of personal property that is not really "mobile" and that becomes virtually worthless without an appropriate piece of dirt upon which to place it. The impact on these people is huge and often economically catastrophic, while the land owners have benefited over the years from income without a significant infrastructure investment. These things are seldom as simple as they first seem to be, and never as black-and-white as we seem to need them to be.

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Posted by jane
a resident of Barron Park
on May 31, 2013 at 7:23 am

in response to anne and Jon Parsons. Your point of view does not apply hear. this really is black and white, when a person rents, either land or building a lease (per law) is in place. At which point when a lease expires the land owner is free of any obligation, and the tenant is expected to leave or negotiate a new lease.

Expecting a landlord to pay somebody to leave is crazy to say the least, unless the lease has not expired.

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on May 31, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Anne of Green Acres, no that's not correct. The rent paid by the Buena Visa is limited by PAMC 9.76.120 (Web Link). The Palo Alto ordinance limits rent increases to CPI +6%. This law was passed in 2001 after the residents complained to the City over a rent increase the owner tried to implement in 2000. At the time, the others purchasing the property with Jisser in the late 1980's wanted Jisser to buy them out. Jisser claimed that the increase was due this additional expense as well the taxes incurred on the transaction. After Palo Alto's ordinance was passed, Jisser never got the original rent increase and raised rents only based on the CPI, not the additional 6% on top of it. The rents for all of the spaces from 2001 to 2013 are listed here: Web Link

The RIR (Web Link) describes some history about the ordinance and rents on page 6.

Although you can make an emotional argument about the impact the park's closure will have Buena Vista's residents, the latest demands are obviously excessive. The RIR has a list of recent condominium prices in the area (Web Link) as required by the closure law. Multiply those by hundred to get an idea of what the Buena Vista residents are asking for as condition of closing the park.

People seem to think this is a wonderul exercise in posturing for a better deal. But, I think encouraging the Buena Vista residents to take a hard line is not without great risk. I my opinion, Palo Alto's ordinance is poorly written and problematic. If the owner balks and files suit against the City because they insist on a strict interpretation of the ordinance, the City may lose. Since the Buena Vista residents have already threatened to sue the City, I'd question how willing City would be to fight for them in a legal battle over the ordinance. On top of that, the ordinance has no severability clause (Web Link) so the entire ordinance could be thrown out, leaving the Buena Vista residents with nothing, including rent control.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on May 31, 2013 at 3:19 pm

well written Joe, I have read the ordinance and the history behind it. My only wonder thus far is why Jisser has taken the high road and made such a generous offer to the tenants.

This is why I used the word "suicidal" in my first post.

The tenants and the city should count their blessings that
1) Jisser didn't raise the rents to CPI plus 6% and force them out
2) Jisser didn't sue the city for an ordinance that mostly likely would win in a federal court.

After 40 years in the real estate profession I have never seen an investor offer so much without a fight. Not sure of the experience the attorney for the tenants has, but they better not make to much noise or they might just wake of the giant.

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

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