After two years of waiting, San Jose mobile homeowners say the city reneged on a promise to give them more protection.
The San Jose City Council in March 2020 unanimously approved a plan to put all 58 mobile home properties under the same land use designation—but only two sites have received the new layer of protection, officials said last week, leaving the remaining 56 properties in limbo. For the next fiscal year budget, the city has also reduced the original budget of $381,000 for the land redesignation to less than 8%, or about $30,000.
The new land use designation—mobile home park—limits housing density to 25 homes per acre and only permits mobile homes and amenities such as clubhouses, community rooms, pools and other common areas. The designation also requires the City Council to approve any requests to close a park or convert it for alternative uses, making it difficult for developers to swoop in with high-density, market-rate housing.
Mobile homeowners—the majority of whom are seniors living on fixed income and low-income families—said the lack of progress is a betrayal.
“They promised to do this in 2020,” a housing advocate told San José Spotlight. “(Mayor) Sam Liccardo sat up there and said, ‘I’m voting yes on this to give you peace of mind,’ then we were betrayed.”
The advocate requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation after a few city officials claimed residents spread misinformation at a meeting. A mobile homeowner who spoke to San José Spotlight after the meeting said others shared the same concerns of retaliation.
City officials said the lack of progress in changing the designation stemmed from insufficient funding and a shortage of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Liccardo, who turned down several councilmembers’ pleas to fully fund the project last week, said the city made no promises, despite voting yes on the plan in 2020. He said prioritizing the initiative would delay progress on other affordable housing projects.
“The City Council knows how to make a promise—that’s by saying that they’re making a promise, or by signing a contract. The council didn’t do either of those things on March 10, 2020,” Rachel Davis, Liccardo’s spokesperson, told San José Spotlight.
City officials said changing the land use designation for all parks would not add more protection, noting San Jose added a number of other protections such as a program to provide displaced mobile homeowners relocation benefits and other compensation for their houses in 2016.
The remaining 56 parks are already zoned under low-density housing designations that allow up to eight homes per acre, Deputy City Manager Rosalynn Hughey told San José Spotlight. The city cannot stop owners from selling their properties, but any plans to convert a park needs the City Council’s approval under current rules.
But residents at mobile home parks still want San Jose to fulfill the commitment it made to them years ago.
Dozens of residents from at least six mobile home parks sent letters ahead of last week’s meeting urging the City Council to fully fund the initiative. Roughly 100 residents at Pepper Tree Estates Mobile Home Park also signed a petition to support the efforts.
“We are asking the mayor and all the (councilmembers) to finish what they unanimously voted to accomplish two years ago,” the petition reads.
A community commitment
Mobile home parks are considered one of the last remaining affordable housing options in the heart of wealthy Silicon Valley—a region where the housing crisis continues to rage on and the homeless population has exploded in the last few years.
The issue highlights the challenge for San Jose to balance preserving its existing affordable housing and creating new homes, Councilmember Pam Foley told San José Spotlight. Foley, along with Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez, advocated for the mobile home park land use designation change to be fully funded.
“I was disappointed and a little frustrated,” Foley said, referring to the slow progress. “I understand we are short staffed, but we made a commitment to our community and we need to fulfill our commitment.”
San Jose is working on identifying the most high-risk mobile home parks, with plans to report back to the city’s Community and Economic Development Committee later this year, city officials said. Foley said it’s her goal to get the land use designation change for all mobile home parks in the next two years.
“We’ll be moving forward,” Foley said. “I’m committed to doing the work that we need to do to give our mobile homeowners’ peace of mind back.”
A years-long fight for protection
San Jose, one of the most expensive places to live in the country, has more than 11,000 mobile homes and 35,000 people living in its parks, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Many fear mobile home parks have become easy targets for redevelopment in recent years, as residents own their homes but not the land they sit on—leaving few options if property owners decide to sell the land.
Efforts to protect these homes in San Jose started nearly a decade ago, when residents at the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park faced displacement. The Cali-Arioto family, who owned the land, wanted to sell the 15.7-acre site to housing developer PulteGroup. The developer wanted to construct luxury housing, Nadia Aziz, housing directing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight. The foundation worked with the homeowners throughout their years-long fight.
As more than 100 senior residents of the Winchester Ranch park protested the closure, San Jose established a temporary moratorium on mobile home park closures from 2015 to 2017.
After seven years of dueling, the developer agreed in 2020 to allow the Winchester Ranch homeowners to stay on the property in upgraded condos at the same rates—a win for both the developer and residents.
Months before the pandemic started, the city’s largest site—the Westwinds Mobile Home Park on Nicholson Lane in North San Jose—came under threat of closing, which would have displaced more than 1,600 residents on the site.
The threat prompted the City Council to unanimously approve creating a new land use designation to bolster protection for all the mobile home parks—including Westwinds and Mountain Springs because they were considered high risk for redevelopment. They were previously zoned “urban residential,” which allows a developer to build up to 95 high-density homes per acre, city officials said.
More than 100 mobile homeowners flooded City Hall in 2020 to advocate for the change.
“It adds another layer of protection because it adds an additional step,” Aziz said, referring to the land designation. “It’s also important because the City Council is signaling that they value mobile home parks and value having low-income families and seniors stay in San Jose.”
Mari Jo Pokriots, who fought for residents at the Winchester Ranch park, said San Jose should do everything to protect mobile home residents.
“These are people who clean houses, work in grocery stores or in our cases, who are seniors,” Pokriots told San José Spotlight. “I feel absolutely saddened that they did not stick to their own words.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.