After a four-year battle between the owner of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, the City of Palo Alto and Buena Vista residents, there is a chance that one of Palo Alto’s last islands of affordable housing may be saved, as a plan for the county to acquire and improve the park was approved in recent weeks.
The three partners to fund the effort — the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the Palo Alto City Council and the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County — all unanimously backed the plan over the past three weeks. The City Council and Housing Authority approved the plan about two weeks ago following the County’s initial greenlight June 21.
The plan between these three agencies calls for a $14.5 million contribution of affordable housing fees each from both the County and the city of Palo Alto to purchase the property from the Jisser family — the park’s owners — at fair market value, with an additional set of funding from the Housing Authority dedicated to improving the state of the park.
Previous efforts to save Buena Vista have gone awry, but Palo Alto Mayor Patrick Burt is hopeful that this plan will satisfy parties on all sides of the issue.
“The property owner will be guaranteed fair market value for his property and the residents will be able to stay in a renovated trailer park,” Burt said.
Palo Alto and Santa Clara County now await the owner’s decision on whether to accept the purchase and acquisition offer. If the owner does not accept, the Housing Authority may use its powers of eminent domain to force the sale.
Burt believes that the plan — if executed — will finally calm the frustrations of both Buena Vista residents dealing with an uncertain living situation and deficiencies in park facilities and other Palo Altans who have pushed for the park to stay.
“[The park] would be an improved infrastructure and residence over what exists today,” Burt said. “The community … has expressed very strongly that they value the retention of Buena Vista as a part of our community for providing both social and economic diversity and vital housing for low-income people.”
Vice president of the Buena Vista Association Mary Kear, who has lived in the mobile park for 11 years, believes funding for park improvements will particularly benefit the residents. According to Kear, the facilities have not been up to par, even though rents were raised every year.
Last Monday, the city also scored a victory when a federal ruling dismissed the owner’s against Palo Alto. Attorney Larry Salzman, who represents the Jisser family, said he is “outraged” by the situation.
“Making the Jissers preserve a mobile home park — by taking private land to turn over for the benefit of a particular group, from an individual’s private property — is not the kind of public service that traditionally comes to mind,” Salzman said.
Buena Vista residents, however, take a different view. For them, the plan is a chance for security and stability after a volatile period of four years, Kear said.
Kear recalled a time of uncertainty during which residents’ hopes of saving Buena Vista were repeatedly raised and then dashed. Neighbors told her that their families might be separated if the park was closed. Parents would have had to move to low-income housing in areas with less highly regarded schools and contemplated sending their children to relatives who lived in areas known for better education. A psychologist was even brought in with the aid of Stanford’s professor of education Amado Padilla to help children who were having nightmares about the situation.
Although residents are still in limbo while they await the Jissers’ decision, Kear noted a heightened sense of optimism within the park.
“For a while people were just scared because we waited and waited,” Kear said. “In the beginning it was overwhelming for everybody. Now you see people having hope again.”
Residents and advocates such as Friends of Buena Vista founder Winter Dallenbach attribute the success of the save-Buena-Vista plan to the mobile park residents themselves.
“Every time they were asked to step up, they stepped up and then, on their own, took up the initiative over and over again,” Dallenbach said. “If there was ever a group of people that was determined to stay some place to survive, it was that group of people.”
Contact Shagun Khare at shagunkhare.st ‘at’ gmail.com.