News

Ruling brings closure to Palo Alto's Buena Vista

Hearing officer releases final decision in favor of park owner

The owner of Palo Alto's sole mobile-home park on Thursday scored a victory in his controversial quest to shutter the park when an administrative officer issued a final decision in his favor.

The decision from administrative officer Craig Labadie paves the way for Toufic Jisser to close the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, a five-acre mobile-home park in Barron Park that currently houses about 400 residents. After presiding over a hearing on Buena Vista's future in May, Labadie issued a tentative decision in late August in favor of the Jissers. This week, he followed that up with a final decision, which is subject to an appeal to the City Council.

Labadie's ruling focused on the Relocation Impact Report, a document put together by the Jisser family that lays out its plan to assist the displaced residents of Buena Vista. The family has been working on the document since it first applied to close the mobile-home park in fall 2012. Palo Alto deemed the document to be complete in February, after more than a year of negotiations and five different revisions.

During the May hearings, dozens of Buena Vista residents and their supporters argued that the benefits offered by the Jisser family are insufficient and pleaded with the Jisser family to keep the park open. Most talked about the hardships they would face if the park closed, which would include pulling their children out of Palo Alto schools and most likely moving out of Palo Alto.

The Jissers have offered as the relocation benefits the full appraised value of each mobile home; a rent subsidy equal to 100 percent of the difference between the average space rent in the park and the average market rents for replacement housing for 12 months; start-up costs equal to three months' rent; moving expenses; and special assistance for disabled residents. Labadie's ruling, which will likely be appealed, affirms that these mitigations are reasonable benefits to compensate the Buena Vista residents.

Labadie acknowledges in his decision that the closure will indeed have a significant impact on both the residents and the city.

"These impacts include not only disruption to the lives of the residents and their families, but also loss of economic and cultural diversity for the City of Palo Alto," Labadie wrote in the final decision. "On the other side, the park owner made a thorough evidentiary presentation regarding the merits of the closure application and asserted his right to close the park, subject to providing adequate relocation assistance to the residents."

He wrote that his task as hearing officer was to "dispassionately consider and analyze the factual evidence and legal arguments" presented by the parties.

"Although I am mindful of the impact this decision will have on the lives of park residents, my factual and legal conclusions must be based on evidence and reasoned analysis, not emotion or sympathy," Labadie wrote.

Related content:

New report boosts effort to close Buena Vista Mobile Park

Buena Vista hearing opens in Palo Alto

Buena Vista owner offers eleventh-hour changes to relocation benefits

Survey shows neighborhood support for Buena Vista residents

Developer drops plan to buy Buena Vista Mobile Home Park

Comments

7 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Thank goodness that the owner of a property can sell his own property. The benefits the residents are getting are incredible, I can't see why they are getting so much for their [portion removed] trailers and getting so much to have a year's subsidy for trailer park or apartment rental. [Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Reading the final ruling clarifies the reasons behind the Prometheus Real Estate Group's decision to pull out of the deal to buy the mobile home park (Web Link).

Apparently in response to Labadie's preliminary decision in August, the lawyers representing the Buena Vista residents raised the CRAA (California Relocation Assistance Act) again. Labadie correctly states that the CRAA doesn't apply, if for no other reason than there's no pending development planned for the site after Prometheus pulled out. If the Buena Vista residents could have managed to get CRAA leverage, the City would be on the hook for compensation to the residents as well as the owner.

Given the new threats of a Federal lawsuit by the residents against the City for violating the Fair Housing Act, it's not surprising that the Palo Alto City Attorney doesn't want council discussing Buena Vista before the appeal process runs it course.


8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2014 at 6:48 pm


Many Palo Alto residents (who support the needs of the Buena Vista residents) feel the compensation is very fair. Buena VIsta residents please move on graciously. You need to show dignity and accept a well thought out "legal" offer. Don't threaten law suits against the city that has provided you with wonderful homes and schools for decades.

If the residents of buena vista keep threatening law suits, Buena vista residents will just appear to be opportunistic and greedy. Mr. Jisser did a wonderful job providing Buena Vista residents with reasonable rents for decades. Be thankful for the wonderful opportunites you have experienced, due to Mr. Jisser.


3 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:34 pm

The Buena Vista residents will never accept this and move out graciously. Not that they are greedy by any means, its just that they are represented by the Law Foundation who have a history of convincing their clients to fight even if its against their best interest. The attorney will tell them they can get more only to continue the fight. Accepting the jissers offer would mean defeat for the attorneys which they don't want. The irony behind it all is my friend who lives in the park actually wants to move out and is happy to accept the owners offer. What about his rights, must he fight even though he wants to accept the owners offer? I hope the state bar has their eye on the actions of the law foundation.


10 people like this
Posted by Bob Moss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2014 at 8:24 pm

There are no other trailer parks anywhere nearby so when the residents of Buena Vista are forced out they will be scattered all over the area and forced to pay far more for housing. Most of the trailers can't be relocated because they're in poor condition, so many people will be forced to find totally new housing. The number of low income people forced out will be more than Palo Alto has been able to move in over the past 10 years total, so our deficit of low income housing will grow.
I urged councilmembers to proactively say they'll never upzone Buena Vista from the current RM-15, killing the proposed redevelopment project, but the city attorney told them not to make any comments. However Jisser owns the property and can close the trailer park if he wishes and if the compensation offered tenants is approved as adequate. Bad situation, hurts far too many people.


5 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2014 at 10:41 pm

There is no proposed development at this site since Prometheus pulled out last summer. So, I guess you win. Buena Vista in its current form is already non-conforming at RM-15 given the density of trailers in the park. Read Joe's post again. Making any statement about keeping RM-15 might be interpreted as directing future development, putting the City at risk of a CRAA lawsuit and forcing the City to make additional compensation to the residents.

It would have been better for the park residents to work with the city, but that ship has long since sailed. Thanks to the misguided direction of unbending Buena Vista supporters like Bob, we're likely to have the site as a dirt lot surrounded by a cyclone fence for the next decade. I guess if your friends at Buena Vista can't live there, nobody can? Not exactly sure how this helps the housing situation in Palo Alto, but we're not as smart as you.


3 people like this
Posted by sweet and lovely
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 3, 2014 at 7:26 am

As the New York Times told us recently, the whole state of California is unaffordable for the middle class. These BV residents will have to go far away.
Wonder how long before the unaffordability extends to every state.
Better hope those barrier fences don't go up everywhere.
Then again, Americans can't open bank accounts anywhere else.


6 people like this
Posted by winter dellenbach
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Terribly misleading headline. This pathetic ruling was not unexpected, and only one stop along the road to finding a good resolution that includes residents continuing to live here. It does not "bring closure to Buena Vista". IF closure of Buena Vista happens, it won't happen anytime soon. The required process is a lengthy one, and moves at a glacial pace. Buena Vista residents will thankfully still be with us for the foreseeable future.

The next step in the process is likely a hearing by the City Council, this year or next year. What happens from there is anyone's guess. The city must actively engage, given 400 Palo Altans may be tragically forced from town.

It is mistaken taht the required relocation payments are generous. They are required so to compensate for residents lost property, and to pay relocation costs. Only it doesn't - not even close. And who compensates 105 school kids for loss of their great schools and bright futures? And for their parents lost jobs and income? As an expert witness testified at the Hearing in May - the amount offered by the owner has no relationship to the actual amount needed for people to relocate.

Buena Vista is an issue in this election because it represents 3 critical issues that Palo Alto is confronting. Be sure to ask Council candidates the following:
1. What will we do to preserve the affordable housing being lost to redevelopment at Buena Vista, and if it is lost, how will we replace it?
2. What will we do to prevent Palo Alto's residents at Buena Vista from being forced from their homes, schools, and jobs by redevelopment?
3. What will we do to preserve and support the economic and ethic diversity represented at Buena Vista?


4 people like this
Posted by Berry
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Driving a car in California or in any state is not a right, its a privilege. Living in Palo Alto is not a right for these residents, its a privilege. I'm surprised this issue has gone this far and they are being offered this luxurious severance package. They should be happy that they are getting anything at all. And isn't the PA affordable housing vacancy rate higher than the occupation rate? So they have options locally, don't they.


11 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Winter. Please stop. The hearing officer decision was long and thoroughly drafted. The owner has been dealing with this for years now. He has rights to. The appeals process is just greed by the residents. The hearing officers decision is the cities decision. He was hired by the city. You r wrong!!! 6 months and the per is closed.


5 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 3, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Finally. The compensation is more than fair. The property owner should not have local government interfere with their right to develop their property as they see fit, assuming it's within the law. They have no obligation whatsoever to continue to provide affordable housing. I'm thankful that common sense and logic prevails.


4 people like this
Posted by Truedy
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm

The trailer park tenants are not the only casualties of the current housing market. I've seen a number of middle-class families having to move out of town because house rental rates have skyrocketed. I've been through a number of booms and busts in this area and that is a fact of life here. I don't see anyone speaking up for the middle class when they have to move from house to house as their rents go up or when the owners decide to cash out of their rentals. Somewhat ironically, I think those in favor of keeping the trailer park are taking advantage of the tenants, forcing families to live in those notoriously unsafe fire traps because they can't afford anything else.


5 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 4, 2014 at 3:13 am

I've lived in this area for decades, and I don't see anything different now than 30 years ago. If you want to remain in a high-priced area, at some point, it's necessary to buy in. If one isn't wealthy to begin with, it's usually necessary to buy in somewhere less expensive, often substandard, and move up over time.

The residents of Buena Vista made the trade-off to live in substandard housing for the price and location. Many of the critics here wouldn't make the same sacrifices. People seem to forget that the mobile homes are an investment for them that is for most as great or greater a sacrifice relative to income as anyone else makes around here.

This is a tough area to put down roots - I do not begrudge helping the residents of BV, even as I realize I will probably have to move myself.

Jisser will be a very rich man regardless. No one begrudges him that. But given what residents are losing, and the conditions in the area, the settlement seems pretty inadequate.


8 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2014 at 5:11 am

Here we go again. @greenacres how is the package inadequate??? As I read it, the owner has to buy the home at appraised value, pay moving experiences and a years worth of rent. What precisely is inadequate?? Remember these people placed their property on his land and agreed to pay rent for that right. Did they really expect to be there forever??? It's actually sad to believe the owner actually agreed to pay anything at all


4 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm

@ Jane,
My recollection is that Jisser willingly purchased/took on/or built a mobile home park, is that not correct? He did not have some blank piece of land and get suckered into letting people put mobile homes on it, he got into the business with his eyes open and he's collected a huge amount of money in rent while the value of the land went up and up, apparently doing very little to maintain the park.

Mobile home owners occupy a uniquely vulnerable housing sector, because their asset, the home they OWN, the asset they invest in, is on rented land, and homes, once in place, are acknowledged not to really be mobile anymore (that's acknowledged by the laws). It's no different than people whose mansions sit on Stanford leased land, except that low-income people seem not to enjoy the same consideration for the protection of their assets in the public consciousness. Because of this unique situation, mobile home owners have rights, more rights than if they were just renting apartments. The settlements are inadequate because if you know this area, you know this settlement cannot possibly satisfy the intent of the law. That is my opinion, and maybe another judge would agree with it, maybe not. The point is, the residents have rights, and they deserve to exercise them if that is what they choose to do. It may be inconvenient for Jisser, but he chose this business, no one forced him into it.

In fact, the density of settlement on his property is above code and Jisser has benefited from that in income with no repercussions for this whole time. He benefitted from a development environment in this town which every proposal was a high-density exception, driving up the cost of land. If he did not wish to deal with the mobile home regulatory environment and responsibilities of a mobile home park, he shouldn't have gotten into the business in the first place. He has done, and will do, quite well. Here we go again, indeed.


2 people like this
Posted by Check this ALL out....
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 4, 2014 at 5:10 pm

This whole mess makes me ill. The owner of the BV "park" has been collecting rent from these people there, as an investment....he has also evicted people out and then confisgating and ended up owning the mobile home that they lived in~ only to resell it to someone else~ thus making a pretty good profit~ for a slum lord.(My observation.)


6 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I can't afford to reside in Palo Alto where I graduated from Paly because I'm not a multimillionaire. So I moved away. That's life. The place is being bought-up by the wealthy from other countries like China. It's not like the good old days anyway so why live among the oligarchs?


2 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 4, 2014 at 6:47 pm

@Frank,
The good news is that residents have woken up and are fighting back against the Manhattanization of Palo Alto. Stay tuned. While Los Altos gets a group called Los Altos Forward concerned with keeping family-friendly events and a small-town community-oriented feel, Palo Alto gets a group called Palo Alto Forward concerned with filling in every available space with high density development, in order that developers can max their profits.


2 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2014 at 7:10 pm

@greenacres [Portion removed.] You are right jisser bought a mobile home park and he is expected to follow the law to close it. But please read the details. They bought the park before 1990s. Palo alto ordinance was voted in in the year 2000. He made an investment and city council changed the law for mobile home park knowing Jisser was the only one in the city. This is a huge law suite waiting to happen.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 4, 2014 at 11:20 pm

I'm not quite clear on all of the details (somebody please fill in the blanks), but Jisser has wanted to close/sale BV for approximately 10 years. Didn't the city persuade him to hold off? If true, seems to me that Jisser has bent over backwards for long enough.


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Winter Dellenbach has it exactly right. The three questions she poses deserve to be front and center in this year's campaign [portion removed.]

Candidates must be clear about how they would facilitate construction or acquisition of more affordable housing in Palo Alto. Both Greg Scharff and Cory Wolbach have called for a complete elimination of PC zoning variances as a tool for building affordable housing, but they are advancing clearer, more specific policies that would help us get the housing the community needs. Karen Holman and Nancy Shepherd must believe in affordable housing to have voted to take the Maybell Project to a referendum. What would they do in the current political climate?

And what would Erik Filseth, Tom Dubois and Lydia Kou, the PASZ candidates, do to increase the number of affordable housing units should they reach the city council?

The Buena Vista discussion should be very informative in this regard. Thanks to the judge for rendering his determination in time for us all to process it before the election next month.


3 people like this
Posted by Check this ALL out....
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 5, 2014 at 12:35 am

HOW much money was given to the removal of the Jewish Community Center when they were asked to leave the Terman building????? Moving expenses, etc, etc....Our town bowed down to the "private sector", so what is the big difference of Jisser giving up a decent amount of money to the residence peoples of the BV park...? I would like to see the occupants ( if and when they get displaced) not necessarily end up with a small amount of money and a kick in the rear, but accommodations made locally in housing so they can go about a somewhat normal life in the area they have called "HOME". With the real estate reaching an astronomical all time high and buy outs, they should be first on a list of subsidized housing and not having to relocate jobs, schools....


4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 5, 2014 at 6:49 am

You are comparing apples to oranges. PAUSD owns the Terman property (not the city) and leased out it out with the option of taking back the facilities. If I recall correctly - the lease was terminated early.

BV is private property, not public property. Compensation for the trailer park moves are governed by the State and (in this case) City ordinance. The arbiter has ruled that Jisser has met those requirements.


Like this comment
Posted by Sea-Seelam REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 5, 2014 at 7:55 am

Move on!

YMCA and Buena Vista closures:

Find living space in nearby areas; Palo Alto; East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park.

Let us help the children to stay in the same school district until next summer.

Rich Palo Alto citizens: Please open your heart! and pocket book!

That is life and the owner has the right to what they want to do.

GOVERNMENT can help to certain extent. But, it is difficult.

See what happened to YMCA? Jim Keene could not help. He has a lot of power.

The existing city council could not help on YMCA/page mill.

Let's move on and help as much individually


1 person likes this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2014 at 10:22 am

[Portion removed.]

The priority here should always have been Buena Vista, and existing low-income residents. The Maybell mess, for all its support by advocates, drained millions from the City's affordable housing funds and locked them away so they weren't available when they could have been added to the offer the residents made.

Being real, the chronic zoning giveaways Scharff et al are responsible for caused the conditions that made BV attractive for redevelopment in the first place, and we all know Prometheus's application was for 4 times the existing zoning there. If not for Measure D, Prometheus would still be there, still virtually guaranteed its upzoning. And the whole Arastradero corridor would face massive upzoning, too, once high rises bisected the residential neighborhood. [Portion removed.]

We have a regional crisis in affordable housing and need to look at the big picture, and prioritize people and their needs, not use up all the resources on a few buildings that won't even serve the existing residents threatened by displacement. I see no sign that any of the incumbents is capable of thinking about anything except development first. We should be thinking of solutions putting people first. When I was at one of the Maybell meetings, an existing resident of a PAHC property came up to me and asked me why was anyone trying to build "affordable" housing at Mapybell when twice as much housing could be built in easy distance? He's thinking of people, but try bringing such a sensible notion up [Portion removed.]

Where larger developments for affordable housing are desirable, they're actually an easier sell in an environment where people aren't so fed up with overdevelopment. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 5, 2014 at 2:24 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 5, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Winter D. - go gentle into that good night.
The judge's obligation is to follow the law plain and simple.
Imagine if every court case was tried in emotion rather than law?
If P.A. Residents feel so strongly about keeping the park open, why not pool their money and buy it from Jissr and keep it open? But they won't, why because running the park in its present condition is a poor investments of why should kisser be compelled to keep it open?


Like this comment
Posted by businessdecision
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 6, 2014 at 9:22 am

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 6, 2014 at 7:05 pm

[Post removed.]


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

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