Palo Alto's planning commission on Wednesday endorsed a change at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park that will be invisible to the naked eye and unnoticeable to the park's roughly 400 residents.
It is, however, a critical step toward preserving Palo Alto's sole mobile-home park as a source of low-income housing and toward making substantive, tangible upgrades to the park's long-neglected infrastructure in the near future.
The Planning and Transportation Commission acknowledged as much when it voted 5-0 to approve a plan to redraw the parcel map on the 6.19-acre property, which in addition to the mobile-home park includes a gas station and a commercial building with Baja Fresh and Jamba Juice. The new map reduces the number of parcels from five to three; the biggest of these, a 4.5-acre parcel that includes most of the mobile homes, would be owned by the Santa Clara County Housing Authority.
The other two parcels would remain under the ownership of the Jisser family, which is now in the process of selling Buena Vista to the Housing Authority.
The Housing Authority's acquisition of Buena Vista was made possible by contributions of $14.5 million each by the city and Santa Clara County. In addition, the Housing Authority is relying on $26 million in funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Because the federal funds come with a fall deadline, the Housing Authority was looking to redraw the parcel lines (a condition of the sale) as quickly as possible.
"We have an expedited timeline to purchase the park while we have funds available to us," Flaherty Ward, the Housing Authority's senior development manger, told the planning commission Wednesday.
For the residents of Buena Vista, the sale represents a victory after more than four years of anxiety and litigation. The Jisser family announced its plan to close Buena Vista in the fall of 2012, sparking a multiyear debate about how much relocation assistance it has to provide to the park's residents in compensation for displacement. While an administrative judge ultimately approved the Relocation Impact Report submitted by the Jisser family, both the family and the Buena Vista Park Residents Association ended up suing the city over the report's requirements (the former argued they are too onerous; the latter that they are too meager).
For residents, the situation brightened in June 2016, when the Housing Authority joined the effort and brought to the negotiation table its power to acquire the property through eminent domain. In May, the Jisser family agreed to sell the park to the Housing Authority for $40.4 million.
More than 30 residents of Buena Vista attended the Wednesday hearing on the revised parcel map, which also provides for vehicle access to the park and for utility easements. The change, which the planning commission enthusiastically endorsed, does not have any immediate impact on the property. But by enabling the Housing Authority to meet the terms of the sale, it paves the way for the agency to fully inspect the park at 3980 El Camino Real after Sept. 1, when escrow closes.
At that point, the agency will decide what types of improvements will need to be made to bring the park up to code and to upgrade its aged utilities.
Planning Director Hillary Gitelman noted Wednesday the new map intends to "preserve the existing condition."
"But it's an existing condition that we all treasure in Palo Alto," Gitelman said. "The city and county have put a great deal of money into preserving Buena Vista and this is one of the prerequisites for closing and moving ahead with the purchase."
Chief Planning Official Amy French said the project will have one major benefit: the preservation of Buena Vista as an affordable-housing complex.
"There will be no displacements," French said. "Families that are in the housing units will remain."
The commission cheered the Housing Authority's successful purchase of Buena Vista, which Commissioner Ed Lauing called a "wonderful outcome" and which Chair Michael Alcheck called a "unique opportunity."
"I an thankful the city also invested its own funds toward achieving the mutual goal here," Alcheck said. "I think this is a unique and special event."
Under the new parcel map, most of Buena Vista's 117 units (which include 104 mobile homes, 12 studios and one single-family home) will be located on the larger parcel that will be owned by the Housing Authority. However, eight mobile homes are located on the commercial parcel that includes a gas service station.
Under an agreement between the Housing Authority and the Jisser family, those units will be leased to the authority for up to three years to prevent those residents from displacement and to give the agency more time to accommodate them on the larger parcel.
The map needs final approval from the City Council that's currently on a summer recess and will reconvene in August.