In what could be the decisive battle in the two-and-a-half-year war over closing the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto, the City Council is set to hear an appeal by residents of the El Camino Real park next Monday and Tuesday.
The hearing could cap the long and emotional process that since the fall of 2012 has galvanized the community and thrust the park's residents into the spotlight. A working-class enclave in a city known for sky-high real estate prices, the 4.6-acre mobile-home park has for decades provided affordable housing to about 400 residents, many of them Hispanic and on the lower end of the local income scale.
If the council rules that the compensation offered to the residents by the property owner for relocation is sufficient, those residents are expected to be evicted and the park closed. Last fall, a hearing officer concluded that the relocation assistance is enough; Buena Vista residents are appealing that decision.
The hearing will begin on April 13 at 6 p.m. with public comment. Under rules outlined in a recent letter from City Attorney Molly Stump, speakers will be allotted 3 minutes each, unless Mayor Karen Holman further limits the time allocation due to the number of people wishing to address the council. A group of five or more people at the meeting may select a spokesperson to represent them, in which case the spokesperson would be allowed to speak for up to 10 minutes, according to Stump.
Following public comment, the Buena Vista Residents Association will be invited to make a 30-minute presentation, followed by a 10-minute testimony by a witness. The witness for the residents will be Elizabeth Seifel, president of Seifel Consulting.
According to a letter from the attorneys for the residents association, Seifel has "extensive experience advising public and private sector clients regarding real estate and development matters." Her presentation will outline the "unique features of Buena Vista" that must be taken into account when identifying comparable housing; the current housing market in which the Buena Vista families will have to find comparable housing; and the location and features of alternative housing that would be available to the residents based on the relocation assistance approved by the hearing officer.
The park owners will then be given the same opportunity. This week, the attorney for the Jisser family indicated that the expert witness for her side will be David Beccaria, whose firm appraised the Buena Vista properties as part of the Jissers' Relocation Impact Report. According to attorney Margaret Nanda, the decision to call Beccaria as an expert witness was prompted by a recent review commissioned by the residents' association that challenges Beccaria's methodology. Beccaria this week offered a point-by-point response to the critique. Though Beccaria noted that property values have increased since early 2013, when he wrote his report, he maintained that the firm's reports "are valid relative to the effective date of the report."
After the presentation and the expert testimony from each side, the council may either proceed directly to hearing each side's 15-minute rebuttal, or it might opt to ask questions and make comments first, followed by the rebuttals.
The council's deliberation and decision on the appeal will follow. If the meeting extends too late on Monday night, the council will reconvene the next day, also at 6 p.m., to conclude the hearing. Members of the public will only be allowed to speak at the April 13 meeting.
In advance of the hearings, the Weekly has compiled an archive of documents, videos, photos and news articles that illustrate the history of the closure process and more recent efforts to coordinate funding and plans for preserving the park, should the council next week rule in favor of the residents.
The archive is posted at Storify.com/paloaltoweekly.