Mountain View Voice

News - August 19, 2011

A respite for the poor makes way for offices

Developer must help with relocation of long-term residents

by Daniel DeBolt

The Pacific Euro Hotel is not the sort of place most people would want to stay. The smell of cigarette smoke permeates the air, and many of the rooms share a bathroom. A bulletproof window protects the front desk, and the general manager is known for her bulldog personality.

But the downtown hotel at 891 West Evelyn Ave. is a welcome respite for many who are down on their luck, and some have stayed for more than a few years. The rent is as low as $1,188 a month for a small room with a TV, a microwave and a fold-out bed. No questions are asked about credit or rental history, and there is no waiting list — as there is with subsidized housing. Several families with children have even found refuge in the hotel.

A couple in their late 20s, David and Michelle, say they moved here in November with their pre-school-aged son after a family dispute left them nearly homeless last year. They say they know of two other families in the building, one with three young children.

David says that few landlords would rent a studio apartment to a family of three with no credit history, and they could afford nothing more. David works as a chef and Michelle stays home with their son.

"This is the first time I've lived in Mountain View," Michelle says. "This is the first time I've lived somewhere and I actually like it."

Soon, David and Michelle and everyone else in the hotel will have to move. The City Council has approved a new four-story office building development on the hotel site and an adjacent vacant lot. Demand for offices downtown is huge. Downtown's popularity with tech startups has filled nearly every available space, creating a downtown office vacancy rate that is now less than 1 percent, says Mike Cobb of Colliers International.

The hotel is a short walk away from busy Castro Street, the downtown transit hub, the social services agency on Moffett Boulevard, and the Community Services Agency, which gives food to low-income residents several days a week. David takes the train, which runs in front of the hotel, to his job in San Jose.

The couple has lived in more affordable San Jose, but the apartment complex they lived in had too many problems, they say.

"You don't see as much violence out here as you do in San Jose," Michelle says. "You don't see as many police officers out. You don't see as many stabbings here or shootings here. I worry about that when it comes to my son."

Michelle says she feels safe in the building —the general manager won't let anyone in who isn't greeted by a tenant in the lobby.

"I like it because the manager runs a tight ship," Michelle says. "You can't just say 'hey, I'm here to see so and so, they are expecting me.' She will tell you 'you have to call on the room phone'," and visiting a tenant is allowed only "if they come out to get you. If not, you have to wait out there in front. We know that no one can just come back there and get to our kids. Our kids can't get out and get to the street. That's why I like it here."

"I really don't think they should tear it down," David says. "It's been a home to a lot of people. For a lot of families that are struggling and need a place to go, this would be a good place."

Though City Council members in recent years have wrestled with how to adequately compensate low-income apartment residents who are displaced by development, no one expressed concern about the people who live in the Pacific Euro Hotel when the office building was approved.

Relocation questions

Residents of the hotel may be asked to leave the Pacific Euro Hotel anytime now, but it remains unclear how they will be compensated for being displaced.

Buried deep in the project's conditions of approval is a requirement that the developer help relocate long-term tenants of the hotel. It must be done according to a complicated and little-known state law: The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970. When the City Council approved the building, council members did not ask city staff to elaborate on those requirements, as they often do.

It is clear, however, that long-term tenants "shall be compensated for relocation and shall be relocated to suitable housing in decent, safe and sanitary condition" according to the law, the condition states.

At press time, it was still unclear to city staff exactly what the relocation requirements would be and who would be considered long-term tenants. It is the community development department's responsibility to make sure the relocation compensation requirements are met.

"We would not allow them to take action on demolition without satisfying the requirements of the project," said city planner Rebecca Shapiro.

In a previous instance where the council was concerned about tenant relocation — the redevelopment of a 64-unit apartment complex at 291 Evandale Ave. — concerns were expressed about implementing tenant relocation policies before tenants moved out and could not be found.

Developer Daniel Minkoff did not respond to requests for comment before the Voice went to press, but said in April that the project would begin construction "soon."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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