This article is part of a larger story on Glory Mobile Home and RV Park in East Palo Alto headed for closure in 2020. Read the story here.
Dora Arnold always wanted her mobile-home park protected from development. It's the reason why, even with investors clamoring to purchase the 1.07-acre East Palo Alto property at 1893 Woodland Ave., she chose to sell to Kenneth and Barbara Averell in 1972.
She wanted someone she could trust who wouldn't kick out her tenants, Barbara Averell said during a recent phone interview.
The Glory Mobile Home and RV Park, now long out of the Averells' hands, today faces potential closure. City staff determined it is undergoing a change of use because its vacancy rate has reached 41%, which falls above the city's 15% threshold requiring property owners to file for a change of use.
The Planning Commission in December 2018 ordered the current owners to file a conversion-impact report. Tenants learned last November from the park's owners, Woodland Glory Investment LLC, that they plan to close the park by January 2020.
When Arnold and her husband owned the property, they called it City Trailer Park, Averell said. They purchased the land in 1943, according to San Mateo County records. Early on, they homesteaded the property, where they maintained a small house, Averell said. At some point, they began renting out spaces to weary travelers driving along the road that later became U.S. Highway 101.
"There were a lot of overnighters. Some wanted to stay longer," Averell said, and the park became a permanent destination for residents.
Arnold stayed in her home on the property, getting to know many of the tenants at her mobile-home park. She was reluctant to sell, even as offers came in.
"She was very concerned about the tenants. She knew most of the people there and she cared about them," Averell recalled.
Arnold took a liking to Kenneth Averell, however, and she felt comfortable that the couple wouldn't evict the tenants. Like the Arnolds, the Averells were not corporate investors. Barbara was an elementary school teacher; Kenneth worked for then-telecommunications firm Western Electric Company. They bought the property as an investment, but they didn't plan to develop it. "Our parents thought we were crazy," Averell recalled.
The Averells changed the name to Creekside Trailer Lodge, which was more in keeping with its surroundings and close proximity to wooded San Francisquito Creek, she said. It was popular.
"We rarely had any vacancies at all," she said.
After East Palo Alto incorporated, the city enacted a rent-control ordinance in 1988 to preserve low-income housing. The mobile-home park fell under that ordinance, which limited the amount of annual rent increases to percentages based on the Consumer Price Index. For the Averells, who already charged a low rent, making a profit was difficult.
"Our little trailer park's rents were extremely low. We had to try to keep rents down. We were trying to take care of the tenants," she said.
Because Kenneth Averell did most of the handyman work, the couple was able to get by, she said. Over the years, keeping up with the aging park's demands became difficult.
"As we got older, the park got older," she said.
The Averells sold the property to another couple in 2003, who added investors and formed 1893 Woodland EPA LLC. The park was sold again in 2015 to a group of real estate investors, Woodland Glory Investment LLC, also called MAStar Corp., which renamed it Woodland Glory Mobile Home and RV Park. They later dropped "Woodland" from the title.
County court records show that since the corporate ownerships, the park has been mired in controversy. For years, investors from 1893 Woodland EPA, Woodland Glory/MAStar and Vida Capital Partners LLC, a Palo Alto-based investment group subletting trailers at the park, have been embroiled in more than a dozen lawsuits over property ownership and other allegations.
At various times, the city of East Palo Alto and tenants at the park have jumped into the fray over rent-stabilization fees, unlawful evictions and rent. Some of the many lawsuits are still active, according to San Mateo County Superior Court records, complicating the property's future.
Averell said promises such as the one she and her husband made to Dora Arnold nearly 50 years ago are difficult to uphold given the new reality of Bay Area real estate, high housing costs and corporate control of low-income housing. Losing the park would remove an important source of affordable housing.
"It's a hard thing, especially in this climate, where so many people can't afford a place to live," she said.