[Metroactive News&Issues]

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

Photographs by Felipe Buitrago

Stay or Payday: Irene Dulfer is one of the Oasis Mobile Manor residents resisting the deal with Centex, a developer interested in the property. Other residents say she's ruining their financial windfall.

There Goes the Neighborhood

A proposed buyout deal at a Sunnyvale mobile home park has residents in a bitter split

By Najeeb Hasan

IRENE DULFER was playing cards in her mobile home in Sunnyvale one afternoon last May when Wally Wiseman came calling. That's not unusual in a place like Oasis Mobile Manor, the Sunnyvale park where they both live, especially since Wiseman's mobile home is just one lane over. But this time Wiseman wasn't there to play a hand.

"He was madder than a hornet," Dulfer recalls.

Wiseman had just found out that shortly after offering the park's residents a relocation package, Centex, the developer planning to shut down Oasis, had abruptly suspended the offer. The reason: a sizeable segment of the park's remaining 31 residents still opposed it, and had decided to continue fighting the closure of their homes.

The reason Wiseman was so steamed is that Dulfer was one of the ringleaders of the opposition. Five days before he'd come storming in, Dulfer had sent off a letter to the park's owners informing them that some of the park's residents had formed a homeowners' association and were interested in purchasing the park. The owners' attorneys responded to her four-sentence letter with more than two pages telling her that her request was unreasonable because they had already contracted with Centex.

Meanwhile, Jeff Jacobs, the Centex project manager, had emailed Mariam Ghazvini, a Catholic Charities relocation specialist who had been assigned to help Oasis residents move out, informing her that the relocation package was—at least temporarily—off the table. Ghazvini told Wiseman. In this neighborhood, word gets around fast—especially when there's so much at stake.

"I went over and talked to Irene," Wiseman says. "They were playing cards. I said, 'They're shutting the money off.' I wanted to clean the whole place out. I don't trust Irene as far as I can throw her."

Dulfer, meanwhile, asked to see the letter. "I told Irene that Mariam wouldn't let the residents have copies of the email, but that she would let them read it. Then, Irene said to me, 'Are you Mariam's puppet, running back and forth for her?'"

A week after Jacobs sent Ghazvini his email, he came to the mobile home park himself to explain why the deal was off the table.

"The meeting was supposed to be about Centex explaining why we froze the payments," Dulfer says. "Instead, they opened the meeting by saying, 'We have two things for you [the residents] to sign, either: (a) we want to take the money and go; or (b) we want to go to court and fight to get our money later. It was a set-up questionnaire. Most people signed it. But it's like, 'Have you stopped beating your wife yet?' What are you going to say?"

Swimming in Trouble: Considering that the swimming pool is filled with dirt, to say the Oasis fallen into disrepair might be belaboring the obvious.

Split Indecision

At that point, the rift—between those who wanted to continue fighting the move and residents who wanted to take the money are run—was established. Earlier this year, Oasis residents were virtually all united against the closure of their park, and critics say Centex has resorted to pitting them against each other with divide-and-conquer tactics.

"People are angry," says one resident. "Rather than placing their anger on who is changing their lives, they are placing their anger on their neighbor." To which Centex representatives reply that there's a much simpler reason some residents are supporting the relocation package: in their opinion, it's more than fair.

There's one thing everyone agrees on: the Oasis Mobile Manor is worth fighting for. It sits in a desirable residential neighborhood about a half-mile from I-280 in Sunnyvale. Million-dollar homes surround the park, which is in easy reach of services and amenities: the local library is not far away, City Hall is just a couple of miles down the street, as are many restaurants and grocery stores.

On July 21 of last year, the residents of the senior park received a letter that the Oasis—which had never been put on the market—had been sold to Cupertino-based Dubrovnik Properties for about $8 million; the letter indicated that the park would remain the same, one of the few places in Sunnyvale that low-income seniors could call home.

However, despite the park's favorable location, the park's previous owners had been neglecting the park for sometime: weeds were not trimmed, potholes not filled, the pool was filled to the top with dirt. Mobile homes that were vacated were allowed to rust and remain empty, and the 1970s infrastructure never got an update. One Bay Area Realtor told the residents that he had not been able to sell a mobile home in the park for the last four years. Meanwhile, the owners would buy up the empty mobile homes, a practice that Dubrovnik continued once it gained control of the park.

By Jan. 5, after six months of hearing from Dubrovnik that there were no immediate plans to convert the mobile home park into something else, the residents were told that the company had entered into an agreement with the San Ramon development giant Centex to convert the park into new homes, pursuant to Sunnyvale's City Council giving the developer the go ahead. On Feb. 15, the Sunnyvale City Council voted 6-1 to allow Centex to prepare a Conversion Impact Report (CIR), a document required by Sunnyvale ordinance when a change of use for a mobile home park is planned. The city council meeting was packed with the park's elderly residents, who brought along a petition with 300 signatures that requested the park remain open.

Dubrovnik, meanwhile, continued to snap up emptying mobile homes, buying them in the $12,000 range and keeping them empty. In one case, a resident died; the resident's relatives say they were unable to sell the mobile home on the open market because of the planned change of use, and not wanting to continue paying space rent to Dubrovnik for an empty mobile home, were forced to sell at that price.

In the second week of May, the CIR report which outlined the relocation offer to the residents was finally completed and distributed. The CIR, using partial data gathered from Catholic Charities, reported that the profile of a typical Oasis mobile home owner was somebody who was 73 years old, receiving an average income of $1,210 a month and able to afford $527 a month in space rent. The report then went on to conclude that because the mobile homes at Oasis were constructed before new federal standards regulating mobile homes appeared, no other mobile home in the park would take them. The only option would be to sell.

While the Sunnyvale ordinance only required that the residents be paid 85 percent of their mobile home's "on-site" value, the Dubrovnik CIR offered to pay the residents 100 percent of the appraised value. Also, as some of the mobile homes at Oasis had values as low as $7,500, the CIR established a minimum $22,500 payment, meaning residents who owned mobile homes worth less than $22,500 would still receive at least that figure in compensation. Additionally, a moving allowance of $2,765 and a moving incentive that could be as high as $8,265 and as low as $3,765, depending on when the residents chose to move, was offered in the CIR. The handful of renters who were not protected by the ordinance were also offered as much as almost $6,000, depending on when they moved.

Dancing About Architecture

The CIR, meanwhile, was approved by the Sunnyvale City Council 6-1 last Tuesday after a tense, three-hour meeting. Sunnyvale will also have to amend the city's general plan, which calls for maintaining at least 400 acres of mobile home zoning in the city; closing Oasis would mean that mobile home zoning would fall below 400 acres. Before divulging her vote to approve the CIR, Councilmember Melinda Hamilton said, "I can't dictate to a company how to run their business. It's very unfortunate this park got to this state, but I don't think it's my role to do anything about this."

Wally Wiseman was pleased as punch with the deal. He had bought his mobile home for only about $10,000 and, if the offer went through, would be receiving more than $30,000 dollars for it, providing he sold in time to get the highest incentive bonus. He planned to buy another mobile home near Orville, about 200 miles from Sunnyvale, for $10,000 dollars and planned to use the extra cash to buy a big-screen television, a used Corvette and a small fishing boat. Dave Sund, another supporter of the deal, already bought another mobile home in Sunnyvale for $59,900; Sund had the resources to pay for his new home in cash before he received a compensation check from Dubrovnik. Maria Nicholas, another resident who supported the offer after it came out, has been considering Redwood City as well as Southern California as places to move and feels she might have to begin working part-time again to afford the move despite the compensation. Richard Lee, the only mobile home owner who was able to receive his check from Centex before they pulled the deal, moved to Phoenix, Ariz. Other residents who supported the deal were planning to take their money and move to the Stockton and Sacramento areas.

However, many residents who prefer staying in the Sunnyvale area say the deal is virtually useless to them. Most Oasis residents are closer to the CIR profile—earning about $1,200 a month—and many of those who oppose the deal say they cannot afford to buy a new mobile home in Silicon Valley. Of 41 mobile home listings compiled by a Century 21 realtor at the request of Catholic Charities for affordable mobile homes in the Sunnyvale-Mountain View area, only 10 were priced at less than $35,000, and only three at less than $30,000. Two of those were mobile homes already in the Oasis park.

Harry Adams, a staffer from Assemblywoman Sally Lieber's office, says residents who oppose the deal shouldn't be judged for holding out.

"Of course there's disagreement," says Adams. "Of course there is anger and anxiety, because people are being uprooted from their homes. So we should not be surprised if people are angry or worried or how much money they should be getting. So that's becoming the story line, but what's real is that people from outside are coming in and saying we want to uproot this park; we want to take away affordable housing for seniors. We shouldn't be surprised at all this chaos."

"Assemblywoman Lieber's office is entitled to their opinion of things," says Centex's Jacobs. "I'm not going to dispute right and wrong. I think this is an issue of property rights. You have a current owner of a current piece of property who has rights. That current owner is not in the subsidized housing business. The seniors are living there, but they are living at a subsidized value. There are many needs in a community, and this developer is forwarding an alternate type of housing. [The seniors] are being displaced."

Dulfer, meanwhile, still hasn't given up. Her association has found an attorney willing to take their case on a contingency basis, and she believes the lawsuit has merit. So far, while ex has been using attorneys and consultants, residents who oppose the deal haven't been able to afford such help.

"I haven't even had time to read the CIR," says Dulfer, showing a half-foot-thick binder of documents she's been wading through instead. Others opposed to the deal are expressing similar frustration—and stubbornness.

"I'm not an attorney," says another resident. "I'm a 70-year-old homeowner in a park where they are taking my home from me."

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the June 22-28, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate