With the most mobile home parks in California, San Jose may take the unprecedented step Tuesday of suspending closures of what has become a critical part of the affordable housing stock in the Capital of Silicon Valley but also a target for developers in a hot real estate market.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider a six-month moratorium on mobile home park conversions proposed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and four City Council members. The decision comes just over a week after the announced closure within two years of Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Community, which threatens to displace more than 100 mostly elderly residents. A moratorium would freeze that process.
Alba Salciccia, 76, walks her dog, Fernando, at the Winchester Ranch mobile home park in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, July 31, 2015. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) (LiPo Ching)
As San Jose’s real estate market sizzles, the value of land beneath the city’s 59 mobile home parks has more than tripled — pushing landowners to sell to eager developers chomping at the bit to build market-rate housing. And in a city where the average rent reaches $2,500, mobile homes have become the only alternative for roughly 35,000 San Jose residents, including senior citizens and lower-wage workers.
City officials already were considering updates to a never-used 1986 ordinance that laid out rules for closing mobile home parks. The proposed moratorium is aimed at buying more time for the city to do that.
“There is a very hot real estate market operating right now, and it’s got thousands of our residents very scared about being displaced,” said Liccardo, adding he’s unaware of any other Bay Area city that has approved a mobile-home park conversion moratorium. “We’d like to finish our work on this policy and this will hit the pause button until we can do that.”
San Jose officials fear the city could be headed down the same road as Palo Alto, where the proposed closure of that city’s only mobile home park, Buena Vista, would uproot nearly 400 residents living in one of the Bay Area’s priciest cities. Palo Alto and county officials pledged funding to preserve it, but it’s unclear if it will be enough to stave off a sale for private development.
San Jose residents fearful of losing their mobile homes urged the city to beef up the 1986 ordinance that outlines the process of closing a mobile home park for other uses. Though the ordinance has never been applied, residents called for stronger tenant protections.
The City Council earlier this year requested a revised ordinance, and a plan for developing one will be presented Tuesday. Ideas include increasing relocation compensation for tenants, market value assessments and requiring council approval for park conversions.
But while the city hammers out the details of a revised ordinance, anyone can apply to close a park, leaving its tenants facing an uncertain future. That’s what prompted Liccardo, Vice Mayor Rose Herrera and Councilmen Chappie Jones, Tam Nguyen and Manh Ngyuen to propose the temporary moratorium.
“By doing this, we’re reducing the pressure and anxiety the residents are feeling,” said Jones, whose district covers Winchester Ranch.
But Councilman Johnny Khamis has concerns. He worries about trampling on the rights of land owners to sell if they no longer want to stay in business, and about creating conflicts with the city’s official plan for future growth, which includes densely built urban villages. At least five mobile home parks, including Winchester Ranch, are in parts of San Jose envisioned as urban villages, but Khamis recommended exploring the possibility of removing that designation.
The owners of Winchester Ranch said they planned to file paperwork to begin the closure process by the end of the year. But if the City Council approves the moratorium Tuesday, it would block that process.
Winchester Ranch owners and a nationwide developer buying the land, PulteGroup, had no comment on the proposed moratorium, other than to say they’re “committed to following local and state law” for the closure process.
But residents at Winchester Ranch are breathing a sigh of relief — at least for now.
“People are very stressed out when you talk about losing your home and this provides some relief,” said Mari Jo Pokriots, 71, who’s lived at the park for nearly 40 years. “I’m very happy to hear that they are willing to put a stop to anything until the plan has been thoroughly vetted and brought back to City Council.”
Follow Ramona Giwargis at Twitter.com/ramonagiwargis or contact her at 408-920-5705.
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