News

Editorial: The Buena Vista imperative

With owner's right to close park affirmed, an urgency to acquire it

Constrained by advice from the city attorney aimed at keeping council members narrowly focused on their legal responsibilities, an emotional two evenings of public testimony and council discussion came to an anti-climactic end Tuesday night as the council unanimously gave permission to the owner of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park to close it down.

There was never really any suspense over this outcome, as the City Council's options were limited to determining the adequacy of the relocation benefits being offered current residents and ensuring compliance with state law and Palo Alto's mobile-home park closure ordinance. Blocking the park's closure was never an option, and all agreed that the Jisser family had the right to finally move forward with plans that are more than a decade old.

But neither the city's limited jurisdiction nor the inevitability of the outcome dissuaded dozens of speakers, some through tears, from urging the council to find a way to keep the park open and prevent the displacement of some 400 low-income residents, including 129 children.

In the end, the council found a way to help the residents financially, primarily by mandating that critical final appraisals of each unit reflect the value of being able to send children to Palo Alto schools. The propriety of this was aggressively challenged by the attorney representing the park owner, who argued that the city's ordinance did not specifically mention schools as an "amenity" to be considered in establishing value.

The independent hearing officer who heard days of testimony last year and who ruled the closure application met all legal requirements decided that the value of the local schools should not be a factor in appraising the units. It was this ruling, viewed by many as wrong-headed given the significantly higher real estate values in Palo Alto widely believed to be school-driven, that gave the City Council its best opening to improve the relocation benefits that will be paid to residents should the park be closed.

All the protests and threats of legal challenge by the Jissers' attorney on this point rang hollow, and the council did the right thing to require consideration of the value of access to local schools when appraising their units.

The posturing and wrangling among lawyers on each side, the city attorney and the City Council made for an unusual and dramatic evening, but mostly served to divert attention from the impending threat of Palo Alto losing its most affordable housing stock and the diversity it brings to the community.

Although the council's actions will not be finalized until next month, it is now time for Palo Alto and regional leaders, foundations and philanthropists to mobilize and pull together the financial resources needed to make an offer to buy the property and retain the mobile-home park.

County Supervisor Joe Simitian is already hard at work on this challenge and has identified almost $20 million in city and county funds that could be used to help purchase the park and is working to identify additional government, nonprofit and private resources.

Several nonprofit organizations that exist to purchase and operate mobile-home parks in California for the purpose of preserving low-income housing are evaluating the Buena Vista situation, and at least one is funding a full market appraisal of the property to determine how much will likely be required to acquire the park and make the utility infrastructure improvements and deferred maintenance possible.

These are hopeful signs deserving of strong support and a full-court press by city and county staff, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation and local foundations that recognize the importance and value of preserving an existing 140 units of low-income housing that could never be duplicated without a substantially more expensive redevelopment project.

While time is the enemy, since the Jisser family will be able to begin the six-month closure process as soon as next month, there is no reason to believe the Jissers would walk away from a fair-market cash offer for the park.

Even with the "victory" of the council's approval of the modified relocation-assistance package, the Jissers (or a buyer intent on redeveloping the property) face a long and emotional process of eviction, payment of in excess of $5 million to the current residents, possible extended legal battles and an unfavorable development climate that will bring opposition to any proposal that exceeds current zoning.

Government is rarely good at moving fast, but that is what is needed for this housing to be preserved. Simitian has stepped up and made saving Buena Vista a personal priority and a viable idea. Now it's time for others who care about affordable housing and diversity to join the effort and persuade the Jissers that a win-win solution is within reach.

Related content:

Attorneys debate the value of a Palo Alto education | April 17, 2015

Lawyer: Buena Vista evictions could start next month | April 16, 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

Videos from the two Buena Vista hearings

The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.

Comments

41 people like this
Posted by Clarence darrow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2015 at 8:33 am

Wow! What a surprising editorial-- the weekly completely agreeing with the ridiculous attempt of the council to extort more money from the owner. Not surprising given the coverage of this whole issue by our local " newspaper".
No one can accuse the weekly of accurate reporting and journalistic integrity


10 people like this
Posted by get a new lawyer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 17, 2015 at 8:42 am

I think the residents' attorney did a horrible job in the oral presentations to the City Council. As a legal professional I was alarmed to watch her. She never clearly laid out the case for the errors of law or factual bases in the record for rejecting the Hearing Officer's report. She never even said what she wanted the Council to do. Normally an appellate argument would at least give the judges at minimum a request for what she wants them to do: I am here to ask you to affirm in part and reverse in part the hearing officer's report. The hearing officer erred in determining as a matter of law that the value of education and other intangibles are excluded from the statute. The plain language of the statute clearly indicates that they were not excluded. The legislative history suggested by the opposing counsel is incorrect. But in any event there is no need to review it because the plain language of the ordinance is clear. The Hearing Officer clearly erred, and your review is de novo. If you agree that the HO got the law wrong, you have no choice but to reverse and remand for a new decision.

Etc. She never did that. She was horribly unprepared and it was painful to watch. Her presentation was scattered, disorganized, and a mush. It was hard to watch. Meanwhile there were like 50 other lawyers with her, at least some of whom must have realized she was tanking but no one got up to assist her. By the second night it was unwatchable.

Sometimes pro bono is no bono. This is one of those times.


6 people like this
Posted by Eminent domain
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 8:44 am

The Jissers can be compelled to take a fair market value offer. That part isn't in doubt. The question is whether funds can be raised.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 17, 2015 at 8:56 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

One distinct advantage of being forced to sell a property by eminent domain is that the capital gains taxes can be deferred if the proceeds are reinvested.


9 people like this
Posted by Brad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2015 at 10:56 am

I was at the hearing part of the time and watched at home, the rest. I have never seen such horrible legal representation as that of the lawyer supposedly for the residents. She was inarticulate to the point of pain, could not answer several questions asked of her by council, was so unorganized that she became useless and the owner's attorney (who was not great but alright) attorney basically took over the chambers and was the only one for a long time that council members even talked to. Residents attorney seemed unprepared even though this has been going on so long. I asked someone if these attorneys (there was more than one there that night) had been working for residents long and was told, yes.

Council didn't get the benefit of a coherent case, information they could have used to inform their decisions, etc.
There was no excuse - there are hundreds of clients who deserved much better. Is this malpractice? Surely they will get new attorneys if they have more legal matters to pursue? A tragedy.




15 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:17 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Eminent domain - you'd never ever, even in California, be able to take the property via eminent domain. That's just more fantasy and false hope for the BV residents. Imagine how much better off they would be if they had taken their money and moved out a few years ago before all the increases in housing prices in the bay area. Palo Alto really is killing them with kindness.


22 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:27 am

As discussed in other threads, in California eminent domain cannot be asserted unless it is for a project that benefits the public at-large...where anyone may access services or benefits from the redeveloped property. You cannot use eminent domain to benefit a specific group of individuals (i.e., the BV residents). Examples of acceptable use for eminent domain in California are freeways/roads, libraries, parks, safety service buildings, public schools, etc.


19 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:19 pm

This editorial is out of touch with reality.

"there is no reason to believe the Jissers would walk away from a fair-market cash offer for the park." HOW MANY TIMES DO THEY HAVE TO SAY THE TRAILER PARK IS NOT FOR SALE.

"The independent hearing officer who heard days of testimony last year and who ruled the closure application met all legal requirements decided that the value of the local schools should not be a factor in appraising the units. It was this ruling, viewed by many as wrong-headed given the significantly higher real estate values in Palo Alto WIDELY BELIEVED TO BE SCHOOL DRIVEN, that gave the City Council its best opening to improve the relocation benefits that will be paid to residents should the park be closed."WHY ARE HOMES MORE EXPENSIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO,WITH WORSE SCHOOLS" THIS IS MORONIC AND ONLY BELIEVED BY MANY EGOCENTRIC PALO ALTO RESIDENTS WHO THINK PALO ALTO IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. GROW UP.
THE SCHOOLS HAVE NO ADDITIONAL VALUE TO THE TRAILERS. IF THE LEFT WING PALO ALTO RESIDENTS WANT THE KIDS TO GO TO SCHOOL, LET THEM RENT BUSES OR USE THEIR CARS TO TAKE THE KIDS TO SCHOOL, WHEREVER THEY MAY BE LIVING.


11 people like this
Posted by gg7
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:22 pm

This editorial also forgets that millions of dollars in repairs and replacement of the utilities would be required if the place stayed as-is (God forbid).
If the trailer park changes hands CA law would require a huge decrease in the number of trailers per state law.
And of course, Joe Simitian is only in it for grandstanding to get more Latino votes. His "contribution" was allegedy 8 million of Stanford money extorted from them to build new low cost housing. I have no idea where he was responsible for 20 million dollars.


6 people like this
Posted by Ellie
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:47 pm

If residents had "packed up back then" they would have left with a nickel in their pockets - low ball appraisal, no mitigation for loss of schools or safe community, etc. it is better now - though not nearly enough. Good for them that they did not go quietly into the night.


7 people like this
Posted by Eminent domain
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Affordable housing is an acceptable use of eminent domain in California.


4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 17, 2015 at 3:53 pm

@eminent domain - if the city wanted to declare BV blighted, condemn it, and tear it down for redevelopment, then they might have a slim chance to grab it via eminent domain. But to use it to block redevelopment? That's pure fantasy, no chance!


3 people like this
Posted by Question?
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 6:14 pm

What is to prevent "borrowing" an occupant in order to increase the total payment received to a resident due to the higher housing allowance for more than 3 occupants in a unit per one of the added provision the CC's add? Since some of the units have 4-6 occupants it would be possible to "loan" one or more to another resident to up the cost of relocation.

That may be a much smaller factor than the fuzzy "school and safety" provision which had the potential to be effective delaying tactic toward bringing closure to the process.


6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 6:23 pm

From the Castle Coalition on eminent domain abuse...

The California Supreme Court invalidated the taking, quoting a long-standing constitutional axiom from the Hayes decision: “[one] man’s land cannot be seized by the Government and sold to another man merely in order that the purchaser may build upon it a better house or a house which better meets the Government’s idea of what is appropriate or well designed.”


4 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 17, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Please see my past posts regarding the possibility of setting up an organization to crowdfund investment in affordable housing in order to save existing low-income residents from major displacements like this in rapidly gentrifying areas, and to invest in improvements.

It would be a kind of Nature Conservancy meets Habitat for Humanity. Crowdfunding investment in real estate is already happening. It would have some elements of BMR and nonprofit advantages.

I wish I could have been the one pursuing it, because it's not only very doable, it would then be available to go on to help other people. The great thing about crowdfunding is that you can get people to make the commitment to whatever it is but you don't really charge them the money unless the deal goes through.

It couldn't be done overnight and would need someone smart and driven to lead. There are many people in our community who will help, an effort like this usually just most needs someone to lead. Even if it doesn't result in a purchase at BV, the effort would not be wasted, however, it could help raise money fast once it's in place. Please, won't someone help?


6 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2015 at 8:26 pm

Researching the data of sales of mobile homes; last time a unit sold on the MLS in Palo Alto was in 2011, and it sold for $28,000; it was 640 square feet, about 47 years old, and rent for the space was $650/month.

During that same year, 5 mobile homes sold in Mountain View of similar size; prices were $28,000, $26,000, $22,000, $14,000, $10,000; all were about the same age, but rent was $835/month. Since rent is higher, these homes would sell for less than if located in a lower rental space (like the one in Palo Alto).

Once one computes the value today, of the difference in rent going out 10 year - 20 years, it means that the a mobile home in Mountain View was probably worth as much or even more than one in Palo Alto, which would mean that a buyer in the mobile home market did not value Palo Alto schools.


4 people like this
Posted by Eminent domain
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 9:16 pm

Clearing substandard housing and building affordable housing is a classic example of the use of eminent domain. Quoting irrelevant opinions doesn't make you a lawyer.


12 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 18, 2015 at 8:36 am

I think our city and all of Palo Altans should be grateful for the Jissers and all the positive things that they have done for this community. The land owners have already shouldered a huge task of providing subsidized housing for this city for well over 10 + years. There isn't a need to demonize the Jissers any further especially when these services should have come from the State and local governments. It's one thing to just speak charity and pledging public doles and it's an entirely different thing when you are doing it like the Jissers. Reading and watching the CC proceedings, the Jissers through their Counsel made it quite clear that this park is not for sale. However, this article continues to allude that somehow the City can outright buy it off. If this is the case, let's put this decision on the ballot and have everyone vote on this.

This article is absolutely one-sided and it does not represent all the members of the community. The article demonstrates an extreme level of journalistic competency.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2015 at 11:15 am

Speaking of competency...


23 people like this
Posted by DH
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2015 at 11:26 pm

Many of us who have lived here many years, whether as a renter and/or homeowner, have had to adjust to the demographic changes, whether it's positive or not. Why are you in the BV Mobile Home Park any different than the rest of us? No one owes you. The rest of us don't even have an opportunity to get compensated for whatever "changes". We have to move forward and get on with it. Heh, let's be fair to all of the citizens of Silicon Valley, huh.


12 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2015 at 9:20 am

Affordable housing is not a viable use of eminent domain. If it were, the city could use eminent domain to take any residential feeling or business for the purposes of "affordable housing." Could you imagine the city using eminent domain to take the Westin, Crowne Plaza or some other expensive hotel just to turn into "affordable housing" suites?


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2015 at 9:25 am

Question: Do any of the BV residents have active (current) lease agreements?


1 person likes this
Posted by Shannon Griscom
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 20, 2015 at 9:17 am

I wonder if there is any plot of land that the city can use for these people to move their mobile homes? They would stay in Palo Alto, also in Palo Alto schools, and the city would be providing affordable housing space. Palo Alto is such a rich community: sure there is a piece of land to use for this purpose?


11 people like this
Posted by Chuck Thornberry
a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 20, 2015 at 9:56 am

"I wonder if there is any plot of land that the city can use for these people to move their mobile homes?

Why not Rinconada Park?


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

Funny guy...

@ Shannon - one of the big problems with all of this is that most, if not all of the mobile homes or RVs at BV are in such disrepair (or modified to the point) that they are no longer close to being mobile.

This is why part of the "relocation fee" is compensation for the value of the current dwellings.


8 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2015 at 11:41 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Let's think about a solution for the residents.

Buying the park has a number of serious problems including the following:

ACQUISITION
The owners may not sell, and eminent domain looks like a non-starter. But let's assume they will sell.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE PROPERTY IF THE CITY GETS IT
1. The property has been under city-mandated rent control since 2001. Rent control almost always causes a property to become poorly maintained; hence, a lot of money will need to be spent.
2. Adding together the costs of a purchase, renovation, plus costs of on-going maintenance and operations, lots of lawyers, how will this be paid for? I did some rough calculations that suggest that the monthly rental would have to double, and of course would have to increase with time. This leaves the city the unpleasant choice of a) considering the purchase price to be entirely lost, b) subsidizing operations, or c) repealing the rent control ordinance so that the new owners could recover their expenses.
3. It is not clear that a mobile home park on that piece of land is the best approach to low-income housing for this community. The land is valuable, and mobile home parks are inefficient consumers of land.

At the very least, the city needs to think about this before jumping into commitments that may be difficult to keep.


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Chuck Thornberry - and if there is not enough space, the overflow can be at Pardee Park, the community garden space at the Rinconada Library, and why not move the art center to Cubberley, and use that space as well? Time for all neighborhoods to benefit from diversity.


8 people like this
Posted by Chuck Thornberry
a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Funny? Why? Why not affirm our deep commitment to affordable trailer housing in Palo Alto by converting a part of publicly-owned Rinconada Park to a trailer park? It's got the right amenities: playground, outdoor eating area (think patio), and a great swimming pool with a bathhouse. It's close to them nonpareil Palo Alto schools. Its neighbors could easily stroll over to visit their new invited neighbors.

If we can undedicate our park land for garbage, why not for people?


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Posted by Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 20, 2015 at 1:20 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2015 at 1:26 pm

[Post removed.]


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

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