Written by: Zoe Weisner and Catalina Zhao
125 students and their families, totaling 375 people, would be forced to relocate should Prometheus decide to purchase the land the trailer park occupies. “It’s disheartening,” Principal Katya Villalobos said. “Parents work really hard to be here, and they want to send their children to good schools.”
District officials’ primary concern is to help ease the transition for students and minimize any disruption to their education that Prometheus’ decision might cause. “Our real issue is, how can we support families that will be uprooted by this, and if they would like to continue to go to our schools, how will they do that?” Superintendent Kevin Skelly said. “Moving is disruptive to students anyway, but moving when you’re forced to leave your home is another thing.”
Because this issue is the city’s responsibility, the district can only manage the outcome of Prometheus’s final agreement. “Our interest is in the kids who are there because they’re part of the district community,” Skelly said. “The district doesn’t generally get involved too much with Palo Alto land issues because the developer is responsible for working with the city about what they want to do with the land.”
The district’s elementary schools have taken extra precautionary measures in the process, as most of the students in the park are still K-5. Children who live in Buena Vista Mobile Home Park compose approximately 12 percent of Barron Park Elementary School’s student population. “Adults are worried and children are scared, and it’s not very compatible with the kinds of things kids need to do while they’re in school, which is to listen and learn and have fun,” Barron Park Elementary School Principal Magdalena Fittoria said. “That doesn’t happen when you’re worried about where you’re going to live and what your parents are going to do.”
As such, schools such as Barron Park have directed students who have been exposed to the abrupt change to counseling services. These students are also offered free breakfast and lunch through the school’s reduced lunch programs, and some receive donations from school fundraisers. “These are some of the poorest families in our communities,” Fittoria said. “We’re trying to connect families to other resources, especially during the holiday season.”
Since much about Prometheus’ project is currently unknown, the district is working to gather information to help its students. “Right now, it’s a lot of trying to help the students get their questions answered and trying to get as much information about the timelines and what is being planned,” Villalobos said. “The district is spearheading the information-gathering.”
Compared to other types of real estate, mobile homes are governed by entirely different laws, which is why outside developers can purchase the park. “There are specific laws regarding mobile homes, and the city has its own zoning laws,” Skelly said. “Issues of density are also controlled by the city. Those are issues that come into play here too.”
Not only are the schools and Buena Vista residents concerned, but also other members of the Palo Alto community, especially those of Barron Park, feel strongly about the situation. Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach has been heavily involved with the entire process and formed the support group Friends of Buena Vista for the Buena Vista community. According to Dellenbach, the community faces two major issues—the first relates to the fate of the Buena Vista residents should they have to move. “I personally hope that I’m not living in a community where 375 men, women and children are somewhat disposable because that’s not right,” Dellenbach said.
The second concern is the issue of affordable housing in Palo Alto. “[The Buena Vista residents] are living in what the city realizes as ‘an essential resource of affordable housing,’” Dellenbach said. “Since Palo Alto realizes the value of having affordable housing and people in this town work very hard to create more affordable housing, losing 125 units of affordable housing would set back all the work of the last decade.”
Supporters of the Buena Vista families hope the residents stay in Palo Alto’s viable housing. They see the residents, which include people of lower-income, disabled citizens and elderly citizens as important contributors to the city. “There’s a wonderful mixture of people and a lot of different ethnicities that live there,” Dellenbach said. “They are a very diverse group, which is a valuable thing for Palo Alto. They represent a nice chunk of our economic and ethnic diversity. It would be Palo Alto’s detriment to lose these people.”
The Buena Vista residents themselves have also acted by selecting leaders and having meetings. They are worried about Prometheus’ potential purchase of the land they live on and the effects of this transaction on their lives. “I’ve lived at the park for eight years, although I technically live in a house next to the manager’s office,” senior Shazer Chaudhry said.“The owner,Tim, has been running the place for 28 years and wants to retire. The whole thing kind of came out of nowhere and at first we started freaking out. A lot of kids are probably going to leave because there isn’t a lot of room left, especially for cheap housing.”
Since proposing its idea to the President of the Barron Park Association in June, Prometheus has not announced a timeline of its work. It plans to meet with City Council in Jan. or Feb. of next year to discuss further plans about the future of the park.