Judge considering if Palo Alto held adequate hearings on Buena Vista closure

Mobile home park association seeks hearing on application

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge is considering whether City of Palo Alto hearings surrounding an application approved last year to close the city's only mobile home park were adequate.

The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association filed a writ of mandate heard by Superior Court Judge Brian Walsh Monday morning at the Downtown Superior Courthouse in San Jose.

The association claims the city incorrectly interpreted its ordinance surrounding mobile home closures in considering Toufic "Tim" Jisser's 2012 application to close the mobile home park and leave the business.

The association is seeking a fair administrative hearing from the city on the application that impacts more than 400 residents who live on the site at 3980 El Camino Real.

The City Council granted Jisser's application after hearings last year on an appeal by the residents, who claim the approved relocation benefits don't give them access to comparable housing in the area, the association's attorney Madeline Howard said.

The residents own their mobile homes, and the issue has a human impact that shouldn't be interpreted simply as a land use decision, Howard said.

Jissers' attorney, Margaret Nanda, told the judge that her client with the city's decision is allowed to move forward with the closure and remove residents from the property.

The mitigation package is sufficient for the residents and doesn't exceed the relocation costs Jisser would have to provide, Nanda said.

The city's attorney Kevin Siegel told the judge that the mitigation measures were adequate and the residents don't have a vested right to stay at the mobile home park.

Under state civil code, the city can adopt additional conditions including rental assistance and a yearlong subsidy before approving a mobile home park closure, Siegel said.

The relocation benefits based on the appraised value of the homes and moving costs have changed over the past few years since the application was filed, Melissa Morris, an attorney for the residents, said after Monday's hearing.

The rate that was originally provided by Jisser through an appraiser differed from what the City Council approved last year, Morris said.

The judge can make one of two decisions in the case. He could grant the writ that would require the city to correct its hearing process before making a decision on the application based on the court's order, according to Morris.

The judge could also find that the city was proper in approving the closure, which would allow the closure to continue and allow the owner to begin serving six-month eviction notices, according to Morris.

The owner's relocation specialist who testified at the city's hearings last year claimed that many of the residents would be forced to live in the Central Valley with the benefits they were expected to receive, Morris said.

The mobile home park has low-income residents, many of whom are Hispanic and live with their families, residents association President Erika Escalante said.

"We've never been told how much we'll receive in relocation assistance," Escalante said.

Escalante doesn't want to leave the Bay Area and would like the relocation package to help her buy another mobile home in the area, but many mobile home parks in neighboring cities are mostly dedicated to senior citizens.

Escalante hopes a plan by the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara announced in June to acquire the property will help avert the closure.

The Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet with negotiators on the costs for acquiring the property during a closed session Tuesday.

The attorneys are scheduled to present their arguments to Walsh at another hearing on Wednesday afternoon.


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25 people like this
Posted by Winter
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2016 at 11:54 am

One can easily get lost in legal weeds when reading of Writs, Hearings, lawyers, etc. I say this as a retired attorney. While it is critically important that if Buena Vista residents are forced out of the homes they own, that that be fairly compensated to relocate in the area, it is vital that we keep the focus on the bigger issue - BV residents must not be forced out of their homes, Buena Vista Mobile Home Park must be saved, and, yes, the owner must be well compensated..

First consider what happens if residents are forced out, the owner pays a few million in relocation but profits many tens of millions of dollars. The owner's own specialist acknowledges here that many residents would have to relocate to the Central Valley where they have never lived, know no one, would lose their jobs, friends, community, schools, etc. because the relocation amount isn't enough for most to live anywhere in the Bay Area no matter how hard they continue to work. And we lose a big part of a Palo Alto neighborhood - nearly 400 people including 130 children - who will, dustbowl-like, drive off to parts unknown, lost to us forever. This cannot stand. It makes no sense. It is not just. Is makes us all look bad and is too sad.

Now let's consider the alternative - that the County Housing Authority decides to buy Buena Vista at fair market value from the owner at fair market value, that the residents continue to live there, and the 90-year old Buena Vista Mobile Home Park survives to celebrate its centenary and beyond as part of the Palo Alto and Stanford community. This is the path of least suffering and compensates the owner handsomely. Let's hope it is realized.

51 people like this
Posted by Oui Oui
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2016 at 12:35 pm

I wish people would stop disrespecting those of us who live in the central valley like is a "step down". I've lived there for 30 years and work in the Bay Area. I would much rather live there than here. The air is cleaner, there is open space, everything is more affordable, there is less traffic, etc...

As for the trailer park. Its rental space, always was and renters knew it. Close it and leave the owner alone.

9 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 6, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Well said Winter. I agree with all you wrote.

30 people like this
Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 6, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Winter, let's be clear where the force is.
If I rent a piece of land to park my mobile home, it is not force if the owner of the land decides not to renew the rental contract.
The County Housing Authority gets its funds from forced taxes and extortion from home buyers for "affordable" units. That's where the force is.

19 people like this
Posted by Yosemite Sam
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2016 at 4:51 pm

I'm with R Wray. I hate the way the guvmint comes in and just thinks it can collect taxes and build stuff.

22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2016 at 9:04 am

Time to close the trailer park and move on.

2 people like this
Posted by Two perspectives
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 7, 2016 at 10:34 am

Two perspectives is a registered user.

This is a hard issue - on one hand we have a business owner who would like to close his business, is being denied that choice and is being pressured by government agencies trying to force him to sell. On the other hand, we have a community of people who would be required to move, but will be compensated. They are supposed to be compensated in order to afford "comparable housing", but for many of the BV residents, their current housing is actually an RV, not a Manufactured Home.

14 people like this
Posted by Sweet
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 7, 2016 at 8:37 pm

I wish I'd known about this sweet deal 10 years ago.
I'd have bought a $15K 25-foot trailer and rented a spot at Buena Vista. I'd pay my rent controlled $600 a month and my brother could stay in the trailer and pay me the rent. Then I'd get paid $80k by the property owner (or more if the tenants win their case(s) when the park closes.

A $15k investment yields me $80K and my brother gets a place to stay at 1/3 apartment rents. A mighty sweet deal!!

4 people like this
Posted by Help me too
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 25, 2016 at 9:19 am


Can you help me too, and many other families like myself? Stand up and advocate for us? I mean, us renters, who have been renting in Palo Alto for 15+ years and are hanging on by a thread to stay here to keep our kids in the same schools with their friends? Most of us don't qualify for low income housing but our rent still takes up more than 50% of our salaries. Already we have lost friends who have had to move because they could not afford to continue to live here. I thought we also made a contribution to the community. I volunteered in each school my kids went to, got involved in volunteer work benefiting the city even as a single parent working fulltime. Nobody cares about us, typically the response is, if you can't afford to live here then move somewhere you can afford. Do we not matter because we just aren't poor enough and this is really a city for the very rich and the very poor?

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