News

Buena Vista residents appeal closure decision

Palo Alto City Council to decide on whether hearing officer was correct in siding with mobile home park owner

Residents of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto are appealing a recent decision by a hearing officer that paved the way for the park's closure.

Hoping to save their homes, the Buena Vista Residents Association on Tuesday filed an appeal that challenges last month's finding by hearing officer Craig Labadie that the mobile home park owner's proposal to compensate the residents is adequate. Residents were facing a Tuesday deadline to appeal the ruling to the City Council, a move that was widely expected.

The appeal filed by the residents' attorneys argues that the mitigation package offered by the family of park owner Toufic Jisser isn't adequate to compensate the roughly 400 residents who would be evicted should the city's sole mobile home park shut down.

The mitigation package offered by the Jisser family in the Relocation Impact Report -- a document put together by the Jissers that lays out its plan to assist the displaced residents of Buena Vista -- consists of the appraised value of each mobile home; a rent subsidy equaling the difference between the average rent space at Buena Vista and the average market rate for a replacement house; "start-up costs" equal to three months of moving expenses; and special assistance for disabled residents.

Hearing officer Labadie reached his decision in favor of the Jissers after an emotional three-day hearing in May, featuring testimony from residents and a last-minute agreement by the Jissers to raise their rent-subsidy level from 40 percent to 100 percent.

In their comments, Buena Vista residents argued that the park's closure will force them to pull their children out of Palo Alto schools and leave the city, where affordable housing is in short supply.

Labadie noted in the Sept. 30 decision that the two parties have "very divergent views" on the issue of "reasonable costs of relocation."

"Unfortunately, the law does not provide any empirical formula for calculating the appropriate amount of relocation assistance in the context of a private mobile home park closure application," Labadie said.

The appeal argues to the contrary. In reviewing the mitigation package, the appellants contest that Labadie should have referred to the California Relocation Assistance Act, which focuses on individuals displaced as a result of actions made by a public entity. This could mean an acquisition of real property by a public entity or the "rehabilitation, demolition or other displacing activity pursuant to a program or project of a public entity as to real property on which the person is a residential tenant."

The state act also sets guidelines and formulas for calculating relocation assistance, including a cap on payments made by tenants for replacement housing.

Labadie noted that it's difficult to determine whether these guidelines would have raised or lowered the level subsidies (neither side had made the calculations). He also concluded that this question isn't relevant because the state act doesn't apply to the Buena Vista residents because the park's closure is an action by a private entity, not the city.

"It is undisputed that the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is not being acquired by the City of Palo Alto, either directly or by a private party having an agreement with the city or acting on the city's behalf," he said.

And though the city has a regulatory role in the closure process, this role is "insufficient to convert the park owner's proposal for closure of a privately owned mobile home park into a public project undertaken by the city," he added.

The appeal disputes this interpretation. The state act, the appeal states, applies "not only when a local government undertakes a project that leads to displacement, but also when it participates in such a project."

In 2001, the city crafted an ordinance that stabilized rents at the mobile home park and created a process for shutting the park down. The city also served as an "intermediary" for the owner and residents and approved the Relocation Impact Report submitted by the Jissers, the appeal notes. Therefore residents should be entitled to the provisions of the state law.

The appeal also makes a case that the offer deemed by Labadie to be sufficient is far from so. The Jissers, the appeal notes, have "failed to identify a single mobile home park that would accept any homes or trailers within 35 miles of the park."

Furthermore, the residents are arguing that the appraised values of the mobile homes -- ranging between $5,500 and $45,000 -- are far too low because the appraisal didn't consider the homes' "in-place value." Though Labadie specified that his approval hinges on an updated appraisal, the residents note that the new estimate would be conducted by the same appraiser who undervalued the homes the first time around.

The appeal also challenges the hearing process and argues that the residents were deprived of a fair hearing. That's because neither the Jissers nor some of their expert witnesses actually testified at the three-day hearing, depriving the Buena Vista Residents Association of a chance to cross-examine them. The decision by the Jisser family to change the offer at the very end of the hearing also kept the residents from commenting on the inadequacy of the amended mitigations, the appeal states.

Closing Buena Vista, the appeal states, would also conflict with the city's Housing Element and with the Fair Housing Act, which Labadie deemed to be beyond the scope of the hearing. The appeal points out that federal and state laws recognize that actions that have a disparate impact on protected groups of people may constitute "illegal discrimination" even if these groups aren't overtly targeted. The city has an obligation, the appeal maintains, "to affirmatively further fair housing."

"The closure of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park would certainly have a discriminatory effect on Latinos in Palo Alto and would likely also have a discriminatory effect on people with disabilities and families with children," the appeal letter states. "Accordingly, any relocation assistance must ensure that the residents can access housing in communities that have opportunities similar to those in Palo Alto. Moreover, failing to preserve the Park and allowing the displacement of its current residents in the Park would be a violation of the city's obligation to affirmatively further fair housing."

The appeal was filed by Nadia Aziz and Kyra Kazantzis of the Public Interest Law Firm and Fair Housing Law Project at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. The legal team also includes Navneet Grewal, S. Lyn Martinez and Sue Himmelrich of the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Matthew Dolan of Sidley Austin LLP.

According to an appraisal conducted during the closure process, the property is currently valued at about $14.5 million under its current use. If the property is rezoned to accommodate a multi-family housing development, the value would jump up to $28.8 million. In April 2013, residents made an offer to the Jissers to buy the park for $14.5 million, but the offer was rejected in September. Labadie notes that the owner has reiterated after the hearing an unwillingness to sell the park to the residents.

Yet it's far from clear what type of development the five-acre site at 3980 El Camino Real will ultimately accommodate, should Buena Vista close. The developer Prometheus Real Estate Group had entered into an agreement with the Jissers in 2012 to develop 180-units of high-end housing on the site. In June, the real estate giant filed a quitclaim deed, nullifying this agreement.

Speculation about Buena Vista's future has also become a hot topic in the City Council race, with candidates generally agreeing that the city should take some role in assisting Buena Vista residents, should the park close.

At an Oct. 2 forum, candidate Eric Filseth called Buena Vista's pending closure a "huge tragedy" while candidate Lydia Kou said the city should consider extending a loan to a nonprofit to develop affordable housing at the Buena Vista site, a deal comparable to one that the city made last year with the Palo Alto Housing Corporation to a housing development on Maybell Avenue that voters ultimately shot down.

Candidate A.C. Johnston said it should be a "priority for the council and the city to find a place for additional affordable housing." He said he is sympathetic to the park's residents.

"I want to find ways to help them," Johnston said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 6:54 am

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Good on ya
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2014 at 7:10 am

Greed on the part of the entire system.

Kicking out this amount of affordable housing to make room for a higher density development is a major cost to everyone. BV should do what it needs to do, like any corporate or private wealthy person would surely do in their place.

Good on ya BV.



3 people like this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 15, 2014 at 7:40 am

Sea REDDY is a registered user.


Wish the best on appeal.

Wish there is a way to accommodate the families to stay put and not impact children and elderly.

LIFE is hard some times!
Let us look for sunshine!
Let all creative minds work on placing these families in Palo Alto we love.

respectfully


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 8:41 am

If Jisser has stated that he is not willing to sell the Park to the residents, what would be the point of the City loaning money to the residents. Let's focus on helping them find housing within Palo Alto if possible.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 9:02 am

Just more delay tactics on behalf of the law foundation. Just read their argument against the hearing officer's decision. It is a very weak [portion removed] position just to delay the inevitable. the park is owned by a private party not a public entity, thus their argument is not relative.

[Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Cory Wolbach
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 15, 2014 at 9:35 am

Cory Wolbach is a registered user.

Key members of two distinct citizen groups formed within the past year (Palo Alto Forward and Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning) have expressed interest in finding a resolution which avoids the largest displacement in Palo Alto history.

The owner surely has a right to move on and do something different with his life. But the ability of the Buena Vista residents to stay in Palo Alto is important for them, and for the rest of the community. City and school district policies support this. City, school, residents, and community groups need to come together to find a legally acceptable solution which ensures community continuity. The city should play a leading role.


10 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

@ Cory Wolbach - this would be true if the owner wanted to sell or move. he simply is requesting his land back. he leased it to these tenants, the leases have all expired and now he has asked them to move in order to develop his land. Further, he has done this following the city and state law.

the irony is that the people who leased his land no longer want to move. They argue that their mobile home is really not mobile. which begs the question, how is this the landlords problem. he simply leased them land for a period of time, that lease has expired. The fact that the home is to old to move is not really his problem.

[Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:27 am

the city council should make it very clear to owners of the BV mobile home park the land will not be rezoned, period.


3 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:29 am

JUST CLOSE IT !!!!!


3 people like this
Posted by rainbow38
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:42 am

What would Jisser do if the city decides not to re-zone the parcel?


Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:59 am

[Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by move
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:05 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:13 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

the owner is closing the park and has not formally requested any land up zone. The current zoning is RM15. he is obviously happy with that zoning because the park is still being closed after the developer left the deal. thus, it seems to me the owner will close the park without an upzone.


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

While not unexpected, this action is only going to result in a delay - not a turn back. It's private property, not state/city/public. It's been 10 years since Jisser stated that he would sell the property.

I'm no city insider, but given Measure D - I sincerely doubt that the city would allow Jisser or any future owner to upzone the property. Whoever the owner is, leaving the property at its current zoning (R15?), they will still come out ahead just fine.


1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

The appeal notes that the Plan "failed to identify a single mobile home park that would accept any homes or trailers within 35 miles of the park". There is a reason for that - most of the homes in the park are actually not modular homes that are accepted in Mobile Home Parks, many of the homes in BV are simply converted RV's.

Again, lets focus on finding as much housing within Palo Alto or reasonably close communities for these residents. I believe the group Neighbors Helping Neighbors has been successful in helping people find housing and negotiating with landlords for more reasonable rent.


4 people like this
Posted by Berry
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:42 am

The owner of the land should be able to do whatever he wants with it. This is a waste of everyone's time and resources. I feel for the tenants of BV but every headline on PAO is about affordable housing. I believe the PAHC has a very high affordable housing vacancy rate. Good luck BV residents, you had a good run and now it's time to move on.


2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:47 am

@palo alto resident. You are right. The ordinance has already forced the city to hire a relocation specialist to help the residents as part of their package. He spoke at the hearings and testified that the package was enough to help them move.

The law foundation has stood in his way this entire time. They don't want him relocating anyone. Or their argument would fall apart. It's been their strategy this whole time. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2014 at 11:58 am

[Portion removed.] They're doing the best by their clients, according to their strategy. Just because you don't agree doesn't mean it's disgraceful. Thus far it all sounds legal, and part of the lengthy process that occurs when dealing with mobile home parks.


4 people like this
Posted by Frankie
a resident of University South
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:04 pm

It's hard to believe that a private landowners cannot sell their property and have been stalled for over 10 years! If the City of Palo Alto wants to help the mobile park residents remain in the city, while not establish a mobile park on city property and let them be the first lessees on that site?
Why not make more mobile parks in Palo Alto for people of limited income? There has to be a reasonable solution that is fair to everyone.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I can see it now -- Cubberley Mobile Home Park


1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:30 pm

@Hmmm, they are not doing what is best by their clients. What is best for their client is to allow the Professional relocation specialist to help them move to a place they desire when there's still time. Eventually, the owner will have the right to close the park down, maybe this year or next. The law foundations has already hit a wall and will continue to do so down the line. They have a very weak argument.

When the owner is eventually given the green light, he will ask them to leave all at once with a short window of time to do so. Many will be forced to move to a place they don't want to only because the lack of time.

If I was the attorney, I would definitely be negotiating for adequate time to move, Not giving my client false hope.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Yeah, according to you that's the best strategy. But that doesn't actually mean it is in their best interests. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:44 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by PALocal
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I see many children who live at BV on a daily basis at our local elementary school. When you look into a child's eyes, you hope you don't see the stresses and strains that trouble adults. You hope that a child can grow up in a stable and supportive environment. Some of that comes from family. Some from the community. The children I see have a wonderful, supportive community in their school and neighborhood. As you argue about tactics and who should be diss-barred, I hope you also think about the human impact of what's going on. I grew up in a Palo Alto where the interests of the community were paramount. We build schools, libraries, parks and community centers. Reading the dialog here, I fear that ethos may be changing.


Like this comment
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 15, 2014 at 1:41 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 15, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Too many people seem to think it is ok for the city to pretend to be Robin Hood. The city should strive to have clear regulations that are followed. No more Lytton Give-A-Way buildings for developers. Don't force a "wealthy" land owner to pay to support the current social cause of the day. Have zoning that owners and tenants can understand and base their future expectations on.


1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Jeff, it's worthless to conflate your complaints with commercial development with a mobile home park. Apples, oranges.


4 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 6:01 pm

@hmmm - I actually think that the delay tactics of the BV's residents may have hurt them. As an example, Eden Housing opened s brand new building in Palo Alto about a year ago. Preferences was given to current PA residents. There are 50 units in the building, which could have house 1/2 of the resident of Buena Vista.

I think it is more important to focus on helping the residents find affordable homes rather than fighting the inevitable. The lawyers may buy the residents more time, but the law is on the side of the private property owner.


4 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 15, 2014 at 6:21 pm

If I was the owner of this property, I would be having my lawyer drawing up a huge law suit against the city, to be filed if the city council delays this thing any more. This is private property, not public property.

Palo Alto should not be putting any money into this private affair. Suggestions that the city should buy the place, and go into the business, are what will inhibit voting for the big infrastructure bond issue.

It is little wonder that mobile home parks are no longer being built in California.


3 people like this
Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Perhaps my information is incorrect, but I recall that shortly after this project became the public issue it is, there was an attempt by the residents as a group to buy the land from the Jisser family. The Jissers must be interested in selling, since there was a proposal by Prometheus to build luxury homes on the site. I recall that the Jissers wanted something like $30 million, and the residents came up with $14 million. This would be a good opportunity for one of the billionaire titans in Palo Alto to come forward and offer to work with the city as follows: Since the city has a history through the PAH Corp of assisting in developing low cost housing (Remember the Maybell issue?) the city could establish a non-profit corporation with the BV residents, contribute $3 to $4million, add the resident's $14 million, and have some wealthy PA resident or residents come up with the rest. The Jissers would thereby get their asking price, and any private donors to the cause would get a nice tax deduction. The residents of BV would be doing their part as they would have to pay back the loan or grant they already have or had. In fact, I wrote to a local titan and his wife about this very idea but, as to be expected I guess, never heard back. I'd like my fellow residents to think about this instead of carping about private property rights, etc. If we are going to sound like we are compassionate community,then let's be creative and think about how we can make that happen.


2 people like this
Posted by Winter
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 6:58 pm

To clarify:
- Mobile home parks are full. As the largest resource of affordable housing, there are few vacancies.
- the same is true of PAHC housing - the waiting lists run about 3 years now with preference given to those who live or work in town.
- The newish Eden housing had 1000 applications with qualified applicants chosen by lottery. I know of only 1 Buena Vista person who got in.
- The owner, not the city, paid for the appraiser and Relocation Specialist.
- BV residents have not, unfortunately, stalled the process.
- As an expert testified at the May Hearing, the required relocation plan and payments by owner have no actual relationship to residents actually being able to relocate. The City Council must not let the owner circumvent our laws.
- There are competing property rights - the property owner and the home owners which is one reason this is complicated.
- we must use our famous smarts to resolve this reasonably well for all concerned. It's what we do in Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by Realist
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I strongly agree with Mr. Placone. Those were my thoughts exactly. Perhaps this would be a great opportunity for someone like Mr. Arrillaga to step in, help the city and the Housing Corp buy and develop the land, upgrading it, adding more affordable housing, and what better name for the development than Arrillaga Park. This would be a wonderful addition to Palo Alto, not just to Stanford, and would certainly improve the image of land developers.


10 people like this
Posted by Adobe
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 7:17 pm

What's wrong with moving to East Palo Alto? It's just across the bridge and it is affordable. Redwood city too. All I can see are opportunities for BV mobile home residents to move on with their lives


2 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 7:44 pm

@ Richard C. Placone and @realist - Mr. Jisser has indicated that he is not interested in selling the property, just closing the Park.


4 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Property control by third parties is detrimental to the community and especially property rights. Go to the internet: The End of Rent Control . . . Mobile home parks shouldn't even exist in Silicon Valley at this time because of land prices. Like in rent controlled situations "affordable housing" usually ends up in the hands of the relatively better off. The Buena Vista is an eyesore and the property owner should have been developed as apartment houses years ago. Politicians want to appear as kindly so give away somebody else's money as a gesture of sympathy thereby hurting the community in it's effort to develop appropriate housing. People should know these things in Palo Alto, it's in the first chapters of high school economics and economics 101. Geroge Drysdale


Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2014 at 7:29 am

The reality is eventually the land owner will prevail and the mobile home owners will be paid around $50k to vacate the property. The affordable housing situation in the entire Bay Area is just atrocious. Rents are at record highs. What mobile homes that are available in Sunnyvale are selling for $300k with monthly space rents $1k plus utilities. The soon to be former residents of Buena Vista will end up dispersed to other areas of the county or state. New lives will have be started and I hope that meager $50k will at least enable them to get a roof over their heads. Good luck to them all.


3 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 16, 2014 at 8:38 am

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

I am guessing that if Jisser doesn't want to sell now, his plan is to vacate the property and let it sit idle for a few years until it becomes a public eyesore. Then he will claim that he can't afford to develop the property unless he gets his desired up-zoning. That tactic was used successfully by the owners of Alma Plaza to get that land rezoned from neighborhood-serving commercial to housing. Look for a repeat of this tactic with BV.

What to do? The City of Palo Alto should get that land appraised, then use its power of eminent domain to acquire it from Jisser at fair market value. Then the city, as the new owner of the land, should re-zone it to "affordable mobile homes only", or some such thing, and add some CC&Rs to give added protection to the tenants if needed. Then they should sell it back to the residents, or to a housing nonprofit to manage it. Lastly, they should structure the transformation to look like new affordable housing is being created that counts against our allocations. Strangely, if BV is closed it will not count against our affordable housing requirements because BV pre-existed those requirements.


Like this comment
Posted by question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2014 at 11:25 am

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2014 at 11:28 am

Eminent domain (in California) can be exercised for properties that are then re-purposed for public use.

Traditional examples of "public uses" for which the government might exercise its power of eminent domain include such things as schools, roads, libraries, police stations, fire stations and similar public uses.

What is proposed above would not qualify as public use - the project would only benefit a specific group of people (BV residents). Public use must be a service or resource that all citizens can benefit from...not just 100 mobile home residents.


2 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Adobe - I am not sure why you think that renting in Redwood City or East Palo Alto are still affordable, compared to an old mobile home park.


Posted by John B
a resident of Charleston Gardens

on Oct 16, 2014 at 6:33 pm


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