"In recognition of the unique situation and vulnerability of mobile home owners, the State Legislature adopted the Mobilehome Residency Law that requires park owners to provide reasonable relocation assistance as a condition of closing and converting a park." (City of Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 9.76.010)
On May 26, the Palo Alto City Council will vote on whether or not to approve the relocation assistance measures offered to the residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park owned by the Jisser family. These low-income residents, most of whom are Latino, argue that the compensation proposed by the Jissers will not permit them to remain in Palo Alto, thereby preventing their children from continuing their education in the city's schools. The Jissers maintain that the compensation they have offered is fair.
LaDoris H. Cordell is the current City of San Jose independent police auditor, a former Palo Alto City Council member and a retired judge.
The Jisser family can lawfully sell their property; and they are entitled to make as much money as they can from that sale. Everyone knows that homes in Palo Alto sell for millions of dollars; rental prices for housing in this city are exorbitant; and land is the city's most precious commodity. The land on which their mobile-home park sits is a virtual gold mine. The Jissers will make a fortune, and in our capitalist system, that's their right.
Everyone also knows that one of the primary reasons for which the property values in Palo Alto are sky high is the stellar education offered by our public schools. I moved to Palo Alto in 1984 so that my two daughters might receive a top-notch public education; they did. The parents who live at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park want the same for their children.
The city's ordinance requires that mobile-home families forced to relocate be provided "comparable housing." For that ordinance to have any meaning, the extraordinary education provided by Palo Alto schools must be a factor in the comparable housing determination. It is my belief that there is a relocation assistance formula that will fairly address the needs and concerns of both sides in this dispute.
For the Buena Vista families with school-aged children, I propose this approach as a part of the relocation assistance package: Each family with children currently enrolled in Palo Alto schools would be provided funding to rent housing in Palo Alto until the youngest of those currently enrolled children has graduated from the 12th grade (or is otherwise no longer enrolled in our schools). Deducted from this amount would be the monthly rent the family would have paid to live at Buena Vista over the course of those years of schooling.
So, for example, where a family has three children in our schools, one of whom is in kindergarten, their relocation assistance package would provide funding for housing until the kindergartener completed the 12th grade. For this family, the funding formula would provide an amount equal to 12 years' (144 months) worth of rent in Palo Alto housing, less the rental amount that the family had been paying.
If, say, the monthly rent for housing that family in Palo Alto were $3,000, then the relocation assistance amount would be $432,000 ($3,000 x144 months), less the amount of rent the family would have paid to live at Buena Vista for 12 years. If this family paid monthly rent of $1,000 at Buena Vista, their relocation assistance package would amount to $432,000, less $144,000 (12 years' of Buena Vista rent), for a total of $288,000.
Those funds would be deposited in an interest-bearing trust account and disbursed directly to the landlord each month to pay the family's rent. Any remaining balance in the account would be returned to the Jissers.
Alternatively, where a Buena Vista family has only one school-aged child who, for example, is enrolled as a junior in one of our high schools, the relocation-assistance formula would provide housing funding until that child's graduation, a period of just two years.
Clearly, the approach I have outlined needs tweaking, but given the importance of this issue, I encourage all of the parties to take the time to give this proposal serious consideration. The City Council's decision on May 4 should not be heartbreaking, as some council members have characterized it.
In this instance, it is not heartbreaking to do the right thing.
LaDoris H. Cordell is the current City of San Jose independent police auditor, a former Palo Alto City Council member and a retired judge. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor's note: The date of the City Council meeting has been clarified: It will be on May 26.