Council rejects Evandale idea

Complex would have been turned into affordable housing, but members wanted more facts

The City Council unanimously refused to support a project Tuesday that would have renovated the vacant and long-troubled apartment complex at 291 Evandale Ave. to turn it into affordable housing.

While many council members appeared to support the idea behind the project, none had seen a design proposal to judge the quality of the improvements promised by developer KDF Communities. The council's support on Tuesday would have allowed KDF to apply for $12 million in state bonds for the project. Then council members would make a final decision later on whether to allow the project after KDF submitted designs.

"I'm kind of being asked to take things on trust," said council member Ronit Bryant. "We're opening a door for one specific developer who has given us nothing but words."

As it has done with more than 4,000 units throughout the state, KDF Communities would have taken the 64 apartments down to the wood frame, replacing everything from electrical to sheetrock and roofing. The firm says it has developed a positive reputation in San Jose, where it has renovated 2,000 units. Ray Harper, a principal with KDF, said it would cost $60,000 to renovate each unit, double what the firm usually pays. The cost illustrates the state of disrepair at 291 Evandale, described by many as a "slum."

City staffers supported the proposal by KDF Communities, a for-profit firm that specializes in renovating rundown apartment buildings to make them into affordable housing. The staff was concerned, however, about the building being a century old by the time a 55-year agreement to use the buildings expires.

"It was not an easy recommendation to make, let's be frank," said planning director Randy Tsuda, who said it weighed heavily on his decision that the apartments were "clearly blighted right now."

KDF had committed to giving 90 percent of the units to families that make about 60 percent of the area median income, or $63,660 a year for a family of four. Those monthly rents would have been $130 to $214 below market rate. The remaining units would go to those who make 50 percent of the area median income, or $53,050 a year for a family of four. Those monthly rents would have been $329 to $479 below market rate.

Harper said KDF is welcomed in most cities, where council members are grateful to have blighted apartments renovated and turned into affordable housing at no cost to the city. But Mountain View council members did not seem happy with KDF despite the firm's efforts to work with neighbors over the last few months, giving them tours of apartments KDF renovated in San Jose.

"I haven't been invited to go on a tour even though I expressed my full interest," Bryant said. "The developer has put no effort into convincing me. Again and again we get told this is your last chance," to move on a project. "I refuse" to believe that.

Originally, the complex's 16 buildings were to be demolished to make way for 144 condos, and last year the city spent $127,000 to relocate 33 low-income households there. Neighbors say crime has gone down dramatically since then, and that the gangsters who had taken over Devonshire Park have left the area.

Because of that, many neighbors want the complex demolished, and on Tuesday they gave the council a petition with 69 signatures opposing any re-use of 291 Evandale.

Council member Mike Kasperzak said fears that the KDF project meant a return to the problems of the past were "unfounded."

Eduardo Cerna, a broker for Marcus and Millichap, said he's been trying to sell the property since 2005. At one time the owner passed on many good offers from the state's top developers, but things changed after the housing market began to sink last year: Now even "second tier" buyers don't want to renovate the buildings, he said. One recently pulled out of a contract to buy the property after learning more about its problems.

A Los Altos-based developer who has been looking into buying the property told the council that it appears his project won't pencil out at the current price. Because of state bonds, KDF was able to enter a contract to buy the property with a higher offer than anyone else.

KDF's ongoing management of the affordable housing would have been overseen by the several state bond lending agencies who would visit the site periodically. A representative of one such agency, California Communities, told the council that the agency has never received any complaints about KDF projects over the years. Council members were not pleased that the city would have no control over how the property was managed, which the city usually does when it subsidizes affordable housing projects.

KDF would have had to spend $150,000 to $250,000 to come up with a formal design for the City Council to consider Tuesday night. While there may be a chance the council could approve the project with a detailed design plan, Harper didn't appear willing bet $250,000 on it.

"We believe we were proposing a high quality project," Harper said after the meeting. "We regret not being able to do a project in Mountain View."


Posted by anna, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Maybe council should look into something similar to;

Web Link

Posted by Seer, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 24, 2009 at 2:31 pm

The problem isn't the type of construction, but the un-constructiveness of our parochially focused city council and a planning department whose only vocabulary seems to be "no." When you add this fiasco to the nixing of a proposed rebuilding of an apartment complex on Escuela because it was "too tall" even though you can't see the tops of the story poles for the project from the sidewalk, the pattern becomes clear: Just say no, and don't bother with suggesting an alternate way forward.

Posted by resident, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm

I think it's interesting that Ronit Bryant is rejecting the project because she has not been taken on a tour of the other KDF projects. If she really is in support of it, she and other City Council members should be pro-active about working with KDF instead of expecting everything to be spoon fed to them.

Posted by reader, a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:50 pm

From the quote in the article, I thought it sounded like Ronit Bryant had asked for a tour and that KDF (that I know nothing of) did not reply. Maybe the Voice or Ms. Bryant can clarify that.

Posted by Sandra, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2009 at 4:31 pm

City should buy it, flatten it, turn it into a really nice park.

Posted by Jane, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2009 at 5:14 pm

How do you make low-income housing work without a school, shops, or transportation? Senior housing needs those, and so does family housing. The only housing that makes sense is high-end housing where people have two cars, two jobs, and expect to drive to private schools, or at least drive every where including shops and schools. And is that the pollution-generating and congestion-generating life-style that we want?

Without the supporting infrastructure, housing of any kind except luxury housing can't go there - luxury meaning condos or single family homes. There is no infrastructure to support a quality life-style in this part of town. And why would families choose to live so near the freeway and so far away from anything else?

Yes, low income housing is needed. However;
1.) This complex is truly old and run-down - can it really be
renovated and made livable and still be low income?

2.) Low-income should be near amenities. This complex is right by
the frontage road and freeway. There is NO school - in fact,
students at this location have a home school of Huff -- way on the
other side of El Camino. Not exactly conducive to low-income ease,
and there is NO public transportation to go from this location to
Huff school - all elementary schools are only within driving
distance, so this is a hardship on any low-income family.

3.) Walking distance to shopping centers or other resources? No.
This area has nothing to be attractive to low-income families - it
is isolated from the rest of any activity in MV, across from and
next to commercial buildings.

Why put low-income at the outskirts of town? Except to make it
invisible as if the duty has been done. This area is not
family-friendly, certainly not for any families with school-aged
children, so who is the market for this area? People with children
have no incentive to move there.

Posted by LN, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2009 at 5:43 pm

I was at last night's meeting. It is now clear that any attempt to rehabilitate this 55 year old property is out of the question. It is time to clean up the mess left behind. If you care, please write and send a letter to the City Manager at 500 Castro Street, Mountain View Ca, 94041. Let them know you care about your neighborhood.

*** Please request that the City Attorney's Office take immediate action to declare the real property located at 291 Evandale a public nuisance as defined in the Article 1, SEC 25.1 of the Code of Ordinances for the City Of Mountain View. The property needs to be demolished and cleared for a new development that will use the special R4 zoning designation that set up for this project. The Mayor in her own words has declared this an unfortunate property, and it is clear the City Council would like to see the property move forward with a development that will be new and improved. Please write and email. Use the Mountain View City website and link to the City Attorney page.

Posted by Gary Rosen, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Unsurprisingly, the people most enthusisastic about putting affordable housing in the Whisman neighborhood live south of El Camino.

Posted by j.cooper, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 24, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Jane raises a good point, there is no school in the area. Both have been rented out by the school district. Existing schools are at capacity, except for the middle schools. There's a need for coordination with the city & schools if high density housing is going to be re-established there.

Another issue, it's close to freeways, but far from mass transit, so this seems to also counter high density housing.

What about the long term housing plans at Moffett?

Does the City have a plan?

Posted by Matt, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 25, 2009 at 12:03 am

The article states, "KDF Communities would have taken the 64 apartments down to the wood frame, replacing everything from electrical to sheetrock and roofing", yet this is not what KDF presented in it's hour long meeting to the Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association. They indicated that they were going to reroof (of course) and that drywall was handled on a wait and see basis. They also said that "mold can be taken care of with bleach". Of course we all know that the 291 Evandale complex has major structural problems that will only be turned up after things like the roof are torn off but none of that is "official" since it has yet to be actually uncovered. Moreover, KDF touted it's good standing with San Jose yet neglected to mention it's rather bad standing with San Francisco. Also, we have zero data on other cities/projects they have attempted and never started. KDF's properties in San Jose are neither remarkable nor slums. They are all newly remodeled so there are no long term examples to visit/view (someone spoke about 10 years at the CC meeting but it's less than 5 if you do the background checks). Moreover, some of their current residents are less than pleased with KDF's performance as indicated by Apartment Ratings website for KDF's Cherry Creek Apts in San Jose.: Web Link .

One thing the article doesn't mention is the requirement that the property remain affordable housing for the next 55 years. Anyone care to do the math and figure out how to keep 50 year old buildings with a 50 year life span for 100 years. 291 Evandale may last another 10 years but another 55 it can't. The owners passed up offers of up to 20 million (source: Eduardo Cerna, Marcus and Millichap) and are desperate for KDF's current offer of 6.5 million (source: Ray Harper, KDF). The owners made a multimillion dollar mistake and it's not our responsibility to bail them out with taxpayer funds (the funds KDF was to use to purchase/renovate the property are tax credits which large corporations buy to avoid paying taxes as well as stimulus funds; read: you and I pay for it, not KDF). City Council did the right thing, affordable housing on KDF's terms was something we can not afford. Some BMR housing would be great, how about taking some of the cities BMR funds to partner with a developer—the city provides affordable owner occupied units, the developer provides some as well and the developer also gets to have some at market rate. On the other hand folks could just find places to live which are BMR, I conduct rental surveys of Mountain View and surrounding cities regularly and the number of available BMR units is quite high. (With KDF's annual turnover rate of 20-30% (source: Ray Harper, KDF) you get less than 2 units per month.) All of my apartments are BMR with 4 out of 5 being $300 below market. And no, they are not slums, I live in one myself and have tenants who highly recommend me. I'm not under some city mandate and I'm not publicly funded. I charge what I do because I seek long term stability and believe that charging what I have to charge rather than what I can charge is the right thing to do. Maybe I'm not a good businessman but at least I can sleep well at night.

MJF, 250 Evandale Avenue

Posted by arh, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:41 am

The buildings have already been RED Tagged; Let MVFD run fire drill practice on the structures and then force the owners to hall away the debris. Leave it an empty lot until a decision can be made of what type of housing to build there.

Posted by jane, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 25, 2009 at 10:27 am

If MV wants low-income housing in an area that makes sense, then near Castro School, between California Ave & El Camino and between Escuela and San Antonio: walking distance to Castro School (woops, at capacity but at least walking distance); walking distance to the shops at San Antonio which includes several grocery stores; walking distance to the train and other ammenities. Not place low-income housing at the furthest edge of town with no low-income resources.

As for this Summerhill location, is it written in stone that housing has to go there? It sure would be nice to have a park and a community garden at this end of town; there is a lack of play areas for children.

Posted by ct, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 25, 2009 at 11:15 am

I agree with Jane on the infrastructure issues and have written to City Council after reading about the Minton project. How can it be "green" when there is no school and grocery stores that's walkable?

In addition, this City Council seems to want high density housing for every housing project proposal, but they first have to deal with the over crowding in school, the lack of community services, parks, and etc. How about a city master plan?

Posted by Ada, a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 25, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Jane -

Spot on there. High density makes no sense there unless the bottom floor includes both a grocery store and an elementary school.

Posted by Smart Growther, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 26, 2009 at 6:31 pm

I wouldn't expect the city to do anything. At this point given the low property value most developers will not want to go through the headache of trying to please the planning department, council, and the neighborhood. This property will sit as is for several years. Trying to blame the developers is short-sighted. What person would want to risk money on developing this property.

Posted by Dandy, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

I am just astounded that the MV council listened to the neighbors about this project, but they don't listen to the 108 Bryant Street residents when it comes to the Franklin/Evelyn BMR project. We submitted a petition, yet it was ingnored. We offered alternatives, yet they were ignored. Every single attempt to work with these people goes ignored. People have already lost tons of property value because of this project, and some lost money because they had to sell right now. The BMR project is impacting people, yet the MV council is unsympathetic and uncaring.

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