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Land the city sold for $109k?

Original post made by Aaron, Midtown, on Sep 25, 2007

Anyone else notice in the "recent sales" section of the weekly that the city of PA sold a piece of land for $109,000 to what appears to be a family? Anyone know the story behind this?


Comments (25)

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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 25, 2007 at 4:34 pm


Yes, I saw that too. I even printed out driving directions to check out over the weekend. Never made it out there though. I seem to remember it being just east of El Camino by Fry's?.

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Posted by openspace
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 25, 2007 at 4:38 pm

It appears to be a Below Market Rate unit. A one bedroom for those who qualify for BMRs.
For more information and background, go to:
Web Link

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Posted by James
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 25, 2007 at 5:09 pm

"and a new Jacuzzi bathtub"

This is typical of how we Palo Altans are being sucker punched by this BMR nonsense.

Please, please read the link above by "openspace".

The owner could afford a Jacuzzi bathtub and double paned windows, but he/she could not afford to keep up the general maintenance of the unit. Then, guess what, PA steps in and buys the place.

BMRs are welfare housing, nothing else. They are usually sold to the PA voters as housing for police and fire and teachers. Yet, there are few, if any, such people who use them, or will use them in the future.

The truth might set us free....

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Posted by don
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 25, 2007 at 5:29 pm

James is right. Jacuzzi tubs are irrelevant. What is more interesting is the delays and lame excuses offered by the city administrators during the course of this. It is clear that by entangling itself in this program, the city is spending tons of money, wasting time and resources with no return either financially or in civic terms - I bet there are NO teachers police and the like in the program. And so the unit is sitting empty while the city stews. It ain't their money, I guess.

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Posted by Jeremy Loski
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:03 pm

Please! A jacuzzi bathtub. I can get one of those on eBay or Craigslist, used, for $300.
Web Link

I've seen them for half that price.

This is a 750 sq ft property. Tiny! And, the owner was an elderly person. You ucan walk almost any street, in any neighborhood in Palo Alto, and see run-down homes that are not maintained, because their elderly owners are too infirm to repair them - and their incomes are limited,

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by James
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:47 pm

"wake up to the fact that this city is going to help some who cannot otherwise afford to be here, to be here"

JL, exactly. It is welfare housing, not essential housing for police, fire, teachers, as always promised by the council.

We shall see if this turkey gets further political support in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Give Away
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 7:37 pm

I saw that notice too it was for an apartment on Thain Way off El Camino. I was amazed that it had been sold for something like $109,000. It blew my mind but it was one of the City's many BMR unit. For $20,000 the City could have got the place repainted and carpeted and new appliances installed but they are too lazy to do that so they just gave it away for far less than it's worth.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 8:50 pm

Could someone please tell me why the City of Palo Alto is in the "BMR" business? This looks like classic well-meaning wooly-headedness.

I would look it up on the City web site, but... well, you know the rest.

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Posted by jake
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:16 pm

I believe state laws require communities to have a certain percentage of BMR units or face substantial financial penalties.

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Posted by Aaron
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:19 pm

Thanks for all the background. It would be interesting to know--does the City track the effectiveness of the BMR program? How many teachers/police officers/etc are actually living in them? On top of the cost of administering the program, how much are we spending every year for the BMR Emergency Fund? We're giving this new buyer a no-interest loan for $45k to redo the apartment. If the new buyer lives there as long as the last one did, over the course of 30 years, that free interest really adds up (a basic online mortgage calc says $87k). Hm, seems like the City could have fixed the space up themselves for a lot less than that, & resold it quickly without any legal fees and all the convolutedness of buying the place and then reselling it. Wonder what the overhead was on that transaction--incl. staff time, Council time, etc.
And we needed private donations to buy furniture for the children's library...

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:41 pm

Well, I did a little digging. BMR goes under the general rubric of "inclusionary zoning" whereby towns (or counties or whole states) adopt zoning requiring a certain percentage of new housing to be sold below market rates. Here the link to the Wikipedia article:

Web Link
Inclusionary zoning - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Didn't see anything that makes us do this (in some states, like MA and NJ, all towns must do so); seems like a choice we made, as we were one of the earliest adopters (in 1974).

Per the PAHC web site, there are 179 BMR units today (most/all are condos). Per the website:

"Only persons who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents may purchase BMR units. Also, there is a preference given to persons who live or work in Palo Alto. Because of the large number of applicants who meet the preference, persons who do no live or work in Palo Alto are unlikely to ever be selected to purchase a BMR unit."

So, no preference to public emps or such - someone at the mall or Frys, or a renter looking to buy, has as good a shot at buying a subsidized piece of Palo Alto.

Noblesse oblige anyone? But at least unlike the schools' VTP, this program is tiny.

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Posted by Give Away
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 3:17 am

Aaron, there are no PA Police Officers living in BMR units. Since most of them make over $100,000 they prefer to live outside the City with their families in something bigger and better than a BMR unit, can't say I blame them!!

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Posted by Bebe
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 26, 2007 at 6:15 am

If you read the link above posted by openspace, you will be appalled by the inefficiency and waste by the BMR bureaucrats - who now have only 179 BMR units to account for.

If, as appears increasingly likely, the city follows the recommendations of the ABAG uber-bureaucrats, the city will build 3500 new units in the next 8 years......and 43%, or over 1500 will be BMR units. The kind of thing we're writing about in this thread will will become commonplace when that happens.

If the city kind of loses track of the process of selling and managing one property when they have only 179 to account for, wait until they have 1700 to look after.

"Slums" seems a little exaggerated for what we can expect to see....but not by much

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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Sep 26, 2007 at 11:59 am

Give Away;
$20,000 for new carpets,appliances and a repaint. Do not thinks so. This is the City of Palo Alto, Lets see the consultant would cost $ 143,206.14. It would take 10 months to make this happen.So add that cost in. It took them over 1 year to do this at Fire Station #3 and cost $99 dollars a day to feed the Firefighter that had no kitchen and where going to the bathroom in the bushes. The sewer line was broken and the raw sewage was going into the ground under the station for a very long time.{Oops got side tracked} If this would have been a citizens home they would have been red tagged. Then lets see the City would use low bid.Saving $11.00 dollars from the next lowest bid. The next to lowest bid would be from a proven contractor. So to save $11.00 the City would take the bid from a contractor who has never done this type of work,however they once saw it done.Once. So the cost would triple after the low bid contractor did not complete the work and walked off with the appliances. So add $60,000.00-80,000.00 to the original $20,000.00. Then lets not forget that the property tax should be paid for by the City. I think this is only fair. If they can do this for the top paid employee,who gets bonuses,all benifits paid for a long with his retirement paid for and has enough time left over to have a second job. Then they should do this for someone who really needs/could use it. See Give Away we would be talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not counting the cover up and legal investigation that you would not be able to see. Welcome to the City of Pal Alto. Give us your money and go away. Its a matter of pride. Yes even crimanls have pride.

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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 26, 2007 at 9:58 pm

On a lark, I drove by there this afternoon. All I can say is either someone got a screaming inside deal or someone didn't do their job properly. I expected to see some converted horse barn/garage or quonset hut from WWII conversion for 109k. I was shocked to find a semi-modern (Bult in 1979 Barron Square Condominiums located at Maybell Avenue and El Camino Real) set of attractive, clean well-kept units. I read the city's report and I understand about the elderly owner and the deferred maaintenance, but my goodness, 109k? Like the previous poster said, you darn near replace everything for appx. 20k and flip this place on little more than location only for easily 109k times four. Interesting, very interesting. I wish I'd have purchased it.

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Posted by Burlington
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2007 at 6:04 am

Can someone tell me why we are giving away housing to low income people in the first place? I don't mean to sound insensitive, bit I know plenty of modest income people (say $150k/yr) who would LOVE to live in Palo Alto and have their kids go to PA Schools. They have no chance.

And the BMR program makes it worse for them, since the way it works is that developers have to sell some of their offerings under their cost (or pay into a fund) which the have to recoup on their other "Market Rate" units. This prices more people out of the PA housing market who don't qualify for the BMR program - but who might have been able to afford the market rate units were their price not inflated by the BMR program.

Like many of these ham-fisted government programs BMR has unintended and undesirable consequences. (The homeless wandering our streets are another example - the Opportunity Center qualifies as a BMR facility!)

Do we really want 1700 more BMR units in our city. HOw many middle income people will this exclude from Palo Alto? How much of our dwindling budget will city bureaucrats squander managing a couple of thousand units occupied by people who don't have the capacity to do basic maintenance on the homes they "own"?

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Posted by GSB
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:17 pm


$150 is considered "most income"?


So us $50k income folk just don't deserve to be able to own a home. How sad.

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Posted by Burl
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:31 pm

My point is that people making $150k/yr are not eligible for the BMR program, and yet they cannot afford a market rate home in Palo Alto. They are excluded from owning in Palo Alto.

What makes it right to arbirtrarily pick some and help them buy in PA while excluding others? Why should you be subsidized because you earn $50k/yr while those (maybe because they work harder) who earn more are not? Seems pretty unfair to me.

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Posted by James
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:35 pm

"So us $50k income folk just don't deserve to be able to own a home. How sad.

GSB, no not sad at all. I can't afford to live in Pebble Beach. Is that sad? If you cannot afford to live here, then move to where you can afford to live. It took my wife and me 15 years to save up for a downpayment on a small house in PA, which we bought 15 years ago. We struggle every month to make our mortgage payment (and haven't missed one yet!). Who owes you a living?

BMRs are a ripoff of PA taxpayers and market-rate homeowners.

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Posted by GSB
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Since when has how hard one works = how much they're paid?

If that's the case, then lots of service industry workers who actually break a sweat on a daily basis are grossly underpaid.

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Posted by GSB
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:45 pm


It's called "fair housing".

When the person that serves you your grande latte or thai chicken pizza has to commute 30 miles because they can't afford to live closer decides its not worth it anymore, then maybe people will have a better understanding.

Though I think the movie "A Day Without A Mexican" took the message to extremes, it still makes a good point.

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Posted by Anna
a resident of University South
on Sep 27, 2007 at 1:09 pm

Why should someone who works hard and makes 50k/yr be subsidized to live in Palo Alto, while someone who works hard and makes 100k/yr be locked out? Doesn't sound like "fair housing" to me. It sounds rather arbitrary in fact.

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Posted by James
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 27, 2007 at 2:04 pm

"It's called "fair housing"."

No, GSB, it is NOT called "fair housing". Fair housing is about non-discrimination based on race, religion, etc., NOT income.

If you want to argue income redistribution, then you should argue it in a separate thread.

BMRs have been sold to PA citizens as a way to provide affordable housing for teachers and fire fighters and police. That was a lie. It is simply welfare housing.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 27, 2007 at 2:15 pm

If the BMR units actually went to our firefighters, teachers and police I think there would be a lot more support. I'd love to have them live in town and not have to commute for long distances. We'd loose a lot less of our young teachers if they could afford to stay nearby.

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Posted by Dan W
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2007 at 2:17 pm

I'm in agreement that BMR has been a fiasco with no tangible benefit to the city, and very little benefit even to those who live in them.

So far, we've been fortunate that we have only 170 or so units for the city bureaucrats to screw up. (That linked piece by open space above,Web Link, is really eye opening - and very appalling. But the fiasco is a small fiasco with only a small number of units.

I find it difficult to believe that we'd even consider 1500 MORE BMR units. This would be a colossal waste of money - and a major sinkhole for city staff time. Can this really be true as Burlington says?

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