Buena Vista Mobile Home Park a Vote Away From Closure

After two years of emotional pleas and legal wrangling, the fate of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park may come down to a final vote next week.

Yet with the Palo Alto City Council set to decide on Tuesday whether to close the city's only mobile home park, there's a last-ditch push to re-evaluate relocation compensation for the 400-plus residents that would be displaced.

Park owner Joe Jisser's relocation offer—which evens out to $56,000 for single-bedroom and $63,000 for two-bedroom units—didn't account for the value of Palo Alto's top-tier public schools, according to residents. A fair appraisal would have accounted for the local education system and public safety, they said.

City officials called for a re-evaluation last month, but appraiser David Beccaria resisted, according to the Palo Alto WeeklyRe-appraisal may give the Jisser family grounds to sue the city, Beccaria cautioned.

But late in the day Thursday, the city attorney proposed a peer review of Beccaria's assessment because of perceived flaws in its analysis. The community also raised questions about inherent bias in the process. Based on documents obtained by the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Beccaria came recommended by Prometheus, the developers lining up to buy the park for about $30 million. Then, per city procedure, the property owner foots the bill, which arguably puts Beccaria on the Jisser family payroll.

"We think that his work was fundamentally flawed because it failed to account for the fact that these homes are in Palo Alto, which carries with it a tremendous range of benefits for the people living there," Law Foundation attorney James Zahradka told San Jose Inside.

At least a peer review could buy residents more time, he added.

"There's a lot of nervousness," Zahradka said. "[Residents] are working very hard on a couple fronts to save their homes."

A Southern California nonprofit called Caritas Corporation has reportedly announced an intention to buy and run the park. The city and Santa Clara County have agreed to put up matching affordable housing funds for the purchase, if they could find a willing buyer. Caritas has already bought about 20 mobile home parks in California by leveraging public funds and tax exempt bonds.

“"I find it encouraging," Zahradka said. "Caritas’s mission is perfectly aligned with what the residents need. But there's no guarantee that this purchase will come through.”

As the Bay Area housing market heats up, mobile homes have been cast as a critical part of the region's affordable housing stock.

Silicon Valley is home to about 130 such parks, most of them built up as quick cheap lodging in the '60s and '70s during the region's transformation from farmland to a tech and manufacturing hub. All these decades later, the parks require policymakers to strike a balance between economic interests and social conscience.

Mobile home parks are a stable investment for landlords in most of the United States. But they become a burden in a market like Santa Clara County, where the median home price, according to market analysis firm CoreLogic, tops $900,000.

With local governments struggling to come up with public funding for affordable housing, some have rallied to the side of residents. San Jose is considering a moratorium on park conversions until it works out a solution that balances the interest of residents and property owners.

In the meantime, landlords restricted by rent control and eviction restrictions are trying finding creative ways to dial up their return on investment. At Oak Crest Estates, a mobile home community on the northern border of San Jose, property owners tried to raise rents beyond the 3 percent annual increase allowed under the city's rent control ordinance by passing off routine maintenance as capital improvements.

h/t Palo Alto Weekly

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

3 Comments

  1. I find the part of the story about the community believing there is bias in the process extremely ironic. I have never heard of a single community around the state (and we are probably talking about 50+ communities) express concern over bias when they hire Kenneth Barr to evaluate rent control in a particular market. Mr. Barr is the most biased party anyone could ever hope for. Thus, this article shows me that the residents can care less about fairness to the park owner.

    • Mike: please explain your unsubstantiated statement that Mr. Barr is “…the most biased party anyone could ever hope for.”

  2. Josh, since SJI does so many stories about Santa Clara County and not just SJ, perhaps it’s time to consider changing your name to Santa Clara County Inside or Silicon Valley Inside. Lord knows JW scours the entire county for sad tales about the inequities of capitalism and private property.
    Jennifer pointed out that the amount of relocation payments failed to account for the value of Palo Alto schools. A good point. However, true to form, she failed to disclose whether any of the residents actually had school age kids, nor did she mention whether the residents receiving relocation payments that take into account the value of PA schools would be required to remain in PA school districts in order to get that increased amount. But then, JW has never been a news reporter. She’s always been an editorializer.