News


Court rejects approval of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park closure

Palo Alto mobile home park's relocation package based on inadequate information, judge rules

The Palo Alto City Council abdicated its duty when it approved relocation payments for Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled on Wednesday.

The decision by Judge Brian Walsh found the city did not have sufficient evidence to support its finding that the relocation assistance offered by the park's owners is adequate to prevent adverse effects on the park's 400 residents.

The 19-page judgment effectively stops the clock on any evictions from the property -- a stinging setback for the owners, the Jisser family, who have been trying to close the park since November 2012.

"As is readily apparent, the evidence upon which the relocation assistance is to be based, i.e., the updated appraisals and market survey, does not even exist. Thus, the City Council approved the closure of the park relying on the mitigation measures which are based on appraisals that have not been conducted, a market survey that has not been performed, actual moving costs that are unknown, and assistance for disabled and handicapped residents that is unspecified," the court wrote.

The City Council approved the Jissers' relocation-assistance plan in May 2015. It included payments to residents for the on-site value of their mobile homes and reviews by an independent appraiser within six months of a tenant's eviction.

The Jissers originally agreed to pay relocation costs for residents to move within 35 miles of the park, an estimated cost of $4,870 and $5,250 per household; a rent subsidy of $3,500 to $5,300 per household; and the costs of moving personal property and a two-night hotel stay, among other reimbursements.

Residents who could not move their mobile homes would be paid the fair-market appraised value of their homes, estimated at between $5,500 and $45,000, along with other costs. Partial rent subsidies ranged from $3,300 to $30,600, depending on if the residents moved to another mobile home in another park or into an apartment.

But during a May 2014 hearing front of the city's hand-picked hearing officer, Craig Labadie, to determine if the plan was adequate, the Jissers' relocation consultant David Richman stated that on average the proposed package was not enough for residents to purchase new mobile homes within 35 miles of the park without additional financing in the range of $20,000 to $50,000 per household.

He also stated that residents moving to an apartment would not find one in the Bay Area for the same amount of rent they paid to live in the park, the court noted.

The Jissers then presented an amended plan during the hearing. They stated that because the appraisals were old and only a partial rent subsidy was being offered, they would have their appraisers perform new evaluation six months prior to relocating any resident, among other concessions. Labadie approved the park closure with those concessions, but the Buena Vista residents appealed the decision to the Palo Alto City Council.

The council approved Labadie's determination with modifications: the updated appraisals for each home were to be completed no more than six months before the expiration of the notice of tenancy termination; the updated appraisals would be prepared according to the 2013 methods used by the appraiser; and an independent appraiser would review the new packages to ensure they are adequate and reasonable.

The residents filed the lawsuit against the city in August 2015.

On Wednesday, Walsh issued a stinging rebuke of the city's decision, noting the city did not have any evidence showing the amount of relocation assistance that would actually be provided or that the measures were adequate and would not negatively affect the residents.

"In fact, the City Council abdicated its duty to make such a determination by delegating its purview to the hearing officer (Labadie) and Richman to make determinations at some future point in time," the judge noted.

The city did not show that these updated costs were reasonable and appropriately reflected the Palo Alto location of the assessed units and market conditions, the judge noted.

The city and the Jissers' attorneys had argued that council members only needed to know the "categories" of relocation assistance when they approved the plan, a notion the judge firmly rejected.

Further, the city's mobile-home conversion ordinance lists a "lump sum" for relocation, which requires the city to know and make a determination based on an amount, Walsh ruled.

Nadia Aziz, senior attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which represents the Buena Vista residents, said she is "extremely pleased" with the court's ruling.

"The residents have been given hope this holiday season that their park will be saved, especially with the Housing Authority's decision yesterday," she said.

The court ruling is the second piece of good news for Buena Vista residents in 24 hours.

The Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara's board of directors voted unanimously in closed session on Dec. 20 to negotiate purchasing the mobile-home park with the Jissers. If the Jissers agree, the Housing Authority would use county and city funds -- as much as $29 million -- to purchase the park. The county authority would own the park, and a separate nonprofit would improve and operate the site.

Palo Alto City Attorney Molly Stump said her department would consult with the City Council regarding an appeal as an option when it reconvenes in January.

Stump said the judge's ruling was narrow. He wanted to see a specific, fully updated compensation package, she noted.

"He basically said, 'Go back and do the math,'" Stump said.

If the city doesn't file an appeal, the council would have to go through the process of approving the plan again with hard numbers, she said.

Although the council approved $14.5 million toward purchasing the park and has expressed support for the Housing Authority purchase, "The city's interest is in providing a fair process and outcome for everyone," she said.

The Jissers, as real parties of interest in the case, also have the right to appeal the judge's ruling, Stump added. The Jissers' attorney, Margaret Nanda, could not immediately be reached.

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Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 22, 2016 at 10:20 am

Train Neighbor is a registered user.

Nice to have some good news this time of year.
Hopefully 2017 will bring them confirmation that they can stay in their homes.


59 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2016 at 11:13 am

Paying any amount for relocation of the Buena Vista tenants should be considered a generous act by the Jisser family, who once again are being hampered in the sale of their property by government bureaucracies.

Many people have been forced out of the real estate purchase and rental market here because of the high costs associated with living in the area. They don't get relocation subsidies from the city or county and they don't hire lawyers to get the special treatment the Buena Vista tenants are getting.

While I sympathize with the plight of the tenants, new lower income housing built on the land would be a far better alternative and not as prejudicial.


14 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2016 at 11:50 am

'"...the City Council approved the closure of the park relying on the mitigation measures which are based on appraisals that have not been conducted, a market survey that has not been performed, actual moving costs that are unknown, and assistance for disabled and handicapped residents that is unspecified," the court wrote.'

Oh, c'mon. Data-free legislating is SOP at 250 Hamilton. How many other council decisions will be invalidated on this basis?


3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 22, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@38 year resident
No, not any amount, but the right amount is what should be determined and strived for...and time is money...so the longer this drags on the higher the costs will be. They need to get a new assessment made and move quickly, which seems very hard to do in this city and county. There will be another round of attorneys' pleading their clients cases, and on and on it will go.

Yes, the Jissers have been hampered by government actions. Was that right or wrong? I have heard so many arguments on both sides. I have waffled on this issue myself, from supporting the rights of a private property owner to do what they want to do with their property, to the support for low income housing that PA is obligated to provide, which is already in place there at BV.

New lower income housing? Get real! For anything that would be built to replace the mobile homes, RV's, et al, that are there now, it would cost a lot to build in the first place, and then the rent rates would be much higher than those current residents are paying now. That alone would force the current residents out. Is that what you want?

I think I'll die before this issue is finally resolved. I'm going to be 80 in January and am a 55 year resident of PA. I know all about changes in my town. Some were good, but most were not.


12 people like this
Posted by How does this work?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Property prices in Palo Alto have doubled between 2012 and 2016 (Web Link).

They now need to re-do everything at today's prices as the city has dragged its feet?

So, who's going to pay for all this increase in cost? The Jisser's? Isn't that just another court case waiting to happen since the delays are all down to the city?

The city's going to get hit from all sides with this.


12 people like this
Posted by The real issue
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 22, 2016 at 3:55 pm

So if real estate doubled in the last 5 years in Palo Alto who should benefit? The jissers who on the real estate or the residents who own the RV's and rent from the Jisser's.

I believe that's the basis of the jissers law suit.

The city is in over its head and the county and housing authority are here swinging their eminent domain power as a sword to scare the jissers into selling and getting our city out of the mess they are in.


20 people like this
Posted by Macky
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 22, 2016 at 4:08 pm

I hear it's nice and affordable in Sacramento or Fresno. Had a good run, time is up. If the owners want to see the property they should be able to do whatever they want with it without any interference. Murry Christmas!


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 22, 2016 at 4:10 pm

The value of the land should have inflated over time but the value of a broken-down RV should have depreciated over that same time.

This should make it even easier to close the blighted parking lot and prevent requiring a sell the land at market rate using public funds, but probably not in this environment.


30 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2016 at 4:11 pm

@ Gale Johnson. My point was that the Jisser family has made generous offers to help move and transition the tenants to new locations. The problem is that no monetary offer of assistance will be considered good enough by the renters, many of whom have openly stated their anger toward the family by hypocritically referring to them as greedy, all while continuing to stay on the property because of the low rental fees.

While I am sympathetic to the plight of the tenants, the property owner has rights as well and those rights have been overlooked by the city council who have rallied behind the tenants in a purely biased manner and have dragged the county into this fiasco. As usual, the city seems to not know what it's doing and it will cost the taxpayers.


6 people like this
Posted by Carrie
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2016 at 5:53 pm

What a revolting development. Who is paying off who.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2016 at 7:45 pm

"They now need to re-do everything at today's prices as the city has dragged its feet?

The city and county can buy the land much cheaper if they wait for the Trump Recession which, presuming it's a reprise of the 2008 Bush Recession, will tank real estate values again. A falling tide strands all boats.


21 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 22, 2016 at 8:21 pm

I did not vote for trump. But thank god he won if the government thinks they can treat the Jisser family like this. This is death to property rights. How sad!


6 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2016 at 8:48 pm

Who knew residents of Palo Alto were so concerned about property rights and being able to make the most out of the value of one's land (tongue planted firmly in cheek).


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2016 at 9:40 pm

"thank god he [Trump] won if the government thinks they can treat the Jisser family like this."

You lost me on there. How would a real estate devaluation during the Trump Recession help the Jisser family?


16 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 23, 2016 at 3:31 am

If Palo Alto wants to purchase land to provide low income housing, that is up to the city government & the voters. Who decided that it's up to the Jissers to provide the low-income housing? Everyone else in Palo Alto who pretends to be liberal help-the-poor proponents without it costing them a penny.
There's no logical reason why one family should be burdened with this responsibility. Let the do-gooder advocates pay to move the rattle-trap trailers onto their properties so they can share this burden.


14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2016 at 1:13 pm

Residential land is selling for $330 - $350 per square foot; the size of the lot is 163,000 square feet, which makes the value somewhere between $54 to $57 million. The relocation costs of $8 to $9 million means the market value is between $45 to $49 million.

The land + mobile homes bring in around $100,000 in property taxes. If the Santa Clara Housing Authority buys the property, one can assume they will receive an exemption from property taxes. So instead of a net gain of $400,000 in property taxes, there will be a net loss of $100,000 in property taxes.

Since the Housing Authority has $29 million in commitments to purchase the property, they will need to raise another $15 million plus. If I remember correctly, the mobile home rents are under rent control. And raising the rents on the current residents to fund the loan payment on $15 million would not be in the spirit of why the mobile park home is being saved. So I'm guessing the taxpayers will be responsible for this.

As I recall, the infrastructure (ie. utilities, etc) is functionally obsolete, and is in need of upgrades. Add that to bill.

By the way, there are 179 mobile homes for sale in San Mateo & Santa Clara County. The $29 million currently committed could buy all those mobile homes and there would still be money left over. Buena Vista has 110 units.

Finally, there have been no research on the following:

1) how many of the current residents have incomes that exceed the limit for low income housing? and what would happen to them?

2) what is the criteria for deciding who has priority for any units that become vacant? For example the Palo Alto Housing Corporation which administers many of the current BMR units in Palo Alto require an applicant to either live or work in Palo Alto.

3) the last I checked, the waiting list that the Palo Alto Housing Corporation has a wait list of over 400 applicants. Why did the city of Palo Alto not use the $14.5 million that they committed to the purchase of Buena Vista to buy housing for some of those 400 plus applicants - especially since they've have the money for many years.



2 people like this
Posted by EM
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 23, 2016 at 2:10 pm

The Daily Post says in today's paper that the housing authority offered $36.7 million to the Jissers. That's more than what Prometheus was going to pay them a couple of years ago. And if the Jissers take the housing authority's offer, they won't have to pay the $8 million in relocation costs. So it strikes me that they're getting a good deal considering that it's more than they originally were offered.


2 people like this
Posted by EM
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 23, 2016 at 2:12 pm

I meant to say that Prometheus offered them $30 million -- so the housing authority's offer is $6.7 million more, and they don't have to pay the $8 million in relocation costs. They ought to take the deal and smile.


4 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 23, 2016 at 3:58 pm

If the Jissers accept this offer they should negotiate to include repayment of all legal fees they incurred to protect their rights. I'm sure it's in the hundreds of thousands by now.


27 people like this
Posted by Land Grab
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm

Lets see...
- City imposes a retroactive closure ordinance on property owner.
- City imposes rent control on property owner.
- City imposes $8M payout if owner sells, refuses to support development by any other buyer who buys property
- City joins government cabal to low ball bid on property
- City threatens immanent domain further poisoning the well

Sounds like an outright crooked government rip-off of a Palo Alto citizen.


20 people like this
Posted by ow does this work?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 23, 2016 at 4:46 pm

"I meant to say that Prometheus offered them $30 million -- so the housing authority's offer is $6.7 million more, and they don't have to pay the $8 million in relocation costs. They ought to take the deal and smile."

That offer was back in 2012. As I noted above, property prices in Palo Alto have doubled between 2012 and 2016 (Web Link)

So the property is now worth $60 million and they're getting an offer of $36 million. And you recommend they take a $24 million loss and smile?


17 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 26, 2016 at 3:32 pm

I will freely admit that, if I were in the Jisser family's position, I would try to negotiate a sale. The reason is that I would be very tired of the difficulties presented by basically everyone. I would want to get out of the mess and say goodbye to this community.

Mr. Jisser has had a nearly perfect storm of trouble in his 5-year effort to repurpose his property. This is the only property in Palo Alto that has anything like these rules associated with it. Most Palo Altan's can sell their house or rental property at market value without any bureaucratic intervention and without a lot of public notice.

The thing that has most disturbed me is the vitriol and anger directed very personally to the Jisser family. Sadly, the City Council has contributed to this treatment and failed to give even a modicum of respect to the Jissers. If you don't believe this, watch the video tapes of the City Council meetings.

It is hardly any wonder that we do not have more private individuals or firms seeking to provide low-income housing. If you do it, you must keep doing it forever or else you are a social pariah.

What a sad situation.


5 people like this
Posted by Just a resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2017 at 11:24 am

Frankly this is what the future is going to be like for Palo Alto, and for all of its residents. This time it's a mobile home park, next time it can be a multi-unit owner who will go through a similar process where the government wants to do some "social justice" by asking owners to sacrifice for problems they did not cause. Once the government is in the mindset that it can do this just because it can, the trend is unstoppable.


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

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