For nearly four years, a team of Sidley lawyers, working as pro bono counsel with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, has represented the residents of Palo Alto’s only mobile home park in the fight to preserve their homes. This battle to save the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park has been at the forefront of the broader effort to preserve and grow affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. For affluent Palo Alto, Buena Vista, which is home to over 400 residents, represents one of the only sources of affordable housing in the city.
Recently, the Sidley team won a significant lawsuit against the City of Palo Alto, reversing a 2015 decision by the Palo Alto City Council to close Buena Vista and force its residents to relocate. By law, the park’s owners are required to receive permission from the City to close the park. In order to give its approval, the City needed to determine that the park’s owners would provide residents, each of whom owns their individual mobile homes, adequate relocation assistance to enable them to find new homes in a similar community. Arguing on behalf of the Buena Vista residents in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the Sidley team asserted that the City’s approval of the park closure was unlawful because the City Council had refused to approve a specific amount of relocation assistance and because the assistance offered by the park owner was inadequate. During lengthy administrative hearings that preceded the lawsuit, expert witness evidence had established that the amount of relocation assistance on offer would have forced most of the park’s residents to not only move out of Palo Alto, but to leave the Bay Area entirely.
The Superior Court’s decision reversed the City’s approval of the park closure. The Court found the closure was unlawful because the City Council gave its approval without setting the specific amount of relocation assistance to be provided to each resident. Having refused to set specific amounts of relocation assistance, the Court found that the City Council’s decision that the amount of relocation assistance was adequate could not have been supported by any evidence. On April 4, 2017, the Court issued a writ ordering the City to set aside the closure approval and to “reconsider the amount and adequacy of the mitigation assistance” offered to residents.
While successfully representing the park’s residents in these legal proceedings, the Sidley team, along with the Law Foundation and Western Center, engaged with community leaders to build political support to save Buena Vista and preserve the park as affordable housing. These efforts recently reached a successful conclusion when, on May 18, 2017, the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County announced an agreement to purchase the park for more than $40 million to preserve it as affordable housing using a combination of funding from the Housing Authority, Santa Clara County and the City of Palo Alto.
“For virtually all of the residents, owning a mobile home is the only feasible way they can afford to live in the Bay Area. Buena Vista is a vital source of affordable housing in Palo Alto that provides homes for many of the workers who support Silicon Valley businesses, and enables their children to attend the excellent Palo Alto schools,” said Matt Dolan, an associate in Sidley’s Palo Alto office who led the firm’s efforts on this matter. “We are deeply gratified to have been able to help these families keep their homes.”
There has been significant media attention on efforts to save the park, which has served as a symbol of Silicon Valley’s housing affordability crisis. In addition to extensive local coverage, the park has been featured on NPR and in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and The Atlantic.
The Sidley team also included partner Norm Blears and associate Helen Theung in Palo Alto.