As local officials continue to scour for ways to save Buena Vista Mobile Home Park from imminent closure, the attorney for the park owner warned Tuesday night that eviction notices could legally be sent to the Palo Alto park's 400 residents as early as next month, when the closure application is set to be formally approved by the City Council.
The council unanimously voted Tuesday to uphold a September decision by Hearing Officer Craig Labadie to approve the property owner's Relocation Impact Report, which details the financial compensation owed to each resident, but ordered several revisions. These include a revised appraisal that takes into account the monetary worth of local schools and the safety of the Buena Vista community to its residents.
The council specified that the new appraisals would have to be completed within six months of a Buena Vista resident's relocation from the city's last remaining mobile-home park. It would be up to a hearing officer to ultimately sign off on the assistance packages, and any appeals of the hearing officer's decision would have to be made to the state Superior Court.
In the meantime, if things go as planned, the Jisser family, which owns the El Camino Real park, would have the right to proceed with the closure process, which began in the fall of 2012.
The council plans to revisit the topic on May 4, when city staff is to return with written findings and a formal decision consistent with the council's unanimous decision Tuesday. Margaret Nanda, the Jissers' attorney, told the council that eviction notices could go out the following day.
"As I understand it, on May 4, when you approve some version of this, it's a final decision of the council," Nanda said. "If the park owner chooses to accept this, that means that on the day following this, on May 5, the park owner can issue a six-month notice of termination of tenancy under the civil code."
Nanda made it clear that she is not suggesting this is what, in fact, will happen.
"I'm not saying we will do that. I'm not representing that. I want everyone to understand the scope of it," Nanda said. After "the application has been approved ... (my client) has the legal rights that flow from that, which is to begin the conversion or closure of the park."
Nadia Aziz of the Silicon Valley Law Foundation, which is representing the residents, requested Tuesday that the council "clarify" that the new appraisals be made before, rather than after, a resident is relocated from Buena Vista. The council ultimately chose not to adopt this suggestion.
The council did, however, agree to push back the timeline from Tuesday to next month to give attorneys from both sides a chance to submit written responses to Tuesday's decision. Even so, the council's vote and Nanda's comments underscored that the drive to save Buena Vista isn't just a fundraising challenge but a race against time.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who in January jump-started the effort to prevent Buena Vista's closure, said Nanda's comments made it clear that the issue of saving the park now has a renewed urgency. The park's closure could conceivably be a "matter of weeks," he told the Weekly.
"I thought we got a clear message from the park owner's legal counsel, who said that the moment this approval is final, eviction notices can go out to every resident of the park," Simitian said. "That conveys pretty clearly the sense of urgency that we have to have about finding an alternative."
Simitian said he has already met with three nonprofit developers that expressed interest in a partnership to buy the property from the Jissers and maintain Buena Vista as a mobile-home park. The county Board of Supervisors has earmarked $8 million for Buena Vista's preservation. Palo Alto City Manager James Keene added another $8 million in city funds to the pool, pending the council's approval. State Sen. Jerry Hill and Assembyman Rich Gordon have both reached out to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for possible funding sources to preserve Buena Vista. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo made a similar request in a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"There's clearly interest," Simitian said. "I think it's a question of finding sufficient resources and the right partner all in a very short period of time."
Plenty of obstacles remain. A 2013 offer by the residents to buy the property for $14.5 million was rejected by the Jisser family, which has estimated the property's value closer to $30 million.
The family at one point formed a partnership with Prometheus Real Estate to build 187 apartments. Prometheus pulled out of the partnership last year, and with the closure process pending, the family has not disclosed its current plans for the site.
"The property ownership has to date indicated that they would prefer to wait until after the relocation (report) is resolved, and I understand and respect that," Simitian said. "Once the matter has been finally resolved, we'll want to be front and center with a genuine and realistic plan that might have appeal."
Attorneys debate the value of a Palo Alto education | April 17, 2015
Buena Vista's closure hangs on new appraisal | April 14, 2015
Buena Vista residents make final plea to save their homes | April 13, 2015
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.