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.