The Sunnyvale City Council voted 6 to 1 on Jan. 5 to approve the conversion impact report for Nick’s Trailer Court, a mobile home park at 1008 East El Camino Real. The lone dissenter was Pat Meyering, who served as the City’s Housing and Human Services Commissioner from 2005 to 2009.
Rebutting claims of declining occupancy at the 44-trailer mobile home park that has been in Sunnyvale since its residents worked the orchards that once surrounded it, Meyering said, “There’s no valid finding of reduced occupancy (in the park), so I’ll be voting no on this motion.”
Nick’s is one of two of the city’s 15 mobile home parks, making up some seven percent of the city’s housing stock, that are in a unique situation because they do not have a land use designation as mobile home park, which invokes a state law that protects such properties from conversion to commercial uses. Nick’s use as a residential site is officially “discouraged” in city planning documents, which note its existing commercial zoning designation and suggest future residential redevelopment be limited to mixed-use or strictly commercial plans.[contextly_sidebar id=”QC21UwFz99bKshXRkrmXKUFlsBL96lsy”]Jennifer Garnett, communications officer for the city, said because Nick’s is a commercially-zoned site, it can be converted to other uses without rezoning or an amendment to the city’s General Plan. The city’s mobile home park conversion ordinance provides residents with a 90-day option period in which to negotiate a resident purchase of the park from its owner. The residents of Nick’s chose not to pursue this option and it expired.
Garnett notes that slightly under half of Nick’s units are travel trailers and all of the units are well past their designed lifespan. Others are less charitable, describing many of trailers and associated sheds and porches in the park as dilapidated and in disrepair.
Garnett said many of the residents in Nick’s, which opened in 1959, have moved in within the last ten years and are single working adults. “It’s not predominantly seniors or families with young children,” Garnett said.
Ardie Zahedani, division president of St. Anton Partners, the developer that purchased the two-acre property in July 2014 for $5.9 million, said St. Anton has been working collaboratively and smoothly with the city to make sure the needs of Nick’s residents are being met.
“More than half of the park’s former tenants have relocated. Within six months the rest should be relocated. The closure package includes the value of their mobile home, two years rent, a security deposit, first and last month’s rent, and moving expenses,” said Zahedani.
Garnett said the city is happy with how relocation is being undertaken. For approximately 18 months, the city has contracted with Autotemp, an Oakland-based firm, to inform residents of their options. The effort has included providing Spanish to English and Chinese to English translation. The City has also brought in non-profits, including Sunnyvale Community Services and Project Sentinel, to educate residents on items ranging from food banks to mediation.
At the recent meeting, Meyering and other Sunnyvale councilmembers expressed concerns about the low amount of affordable housing in the city. They made specific inquiries about how the relocation process was going after Nick’s resident Juan Salazar requested more city oversight and said he was not being fairly compensated for his mobile home.
Through a Spanish to English translator, Salazar said, “They said that they would help me to relocate, but up until this point they haven’t. For them, it’s easy to throw money at us and just move on. I’ve been living there for 24, 25 years. They start putting up big buildings and just cast us away like we’re garbage.”
An unidentified female speaker who said she was an owner of a unit of nearby Blue Bonnet Mobile Home Park, the other unprotected park in the city, said, “I’m scared. It (the assistance currently being offered) is not enough. Where are we going to put these people? I don’t think due diligence has been done.”
Ishbel Dickens, executive director of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association (NMHOA), a Seattle-based nonprofit, said the loss of the property means the residents will be “thrown onto the rental market.”
“Regardless of how much money they get (from relocation), they’ll never be made whole. They’re going to be desperate in two years. Manufactured housing is part of the affordable housing continuum,” said Dickens.
“Now that the economy is picking up, manufactured home communities will be much more at risk of closure. Cities need to be protective with preservation strategies to ensure the ongoing availability of this home ownership option,” she said.
Zahedani said St. Anton’s plans for the site include a significant residential component. It is looking to build housing that allows workers to reach local workplaces without cars. One of the most frequently used bus routes through Sunnyvale runs up and down El Camino Real, adjacent the property.
“That’s best practices, densifying in areas along transit corridors,” Garnett said.