Written by Emma Chiao
On Jan. 27, the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors voted to give $8 million from an affordable housing fund to Buena Vista in order to allow the residents to remain in the mobile park.
Initially, the Jisser family, the owner of Buena Vista, filed an application to close down the trailer park in Nov. 2012 and sell it to Prometheus Real Estate in order to develop it into luxury apartments. However, the company backed out of the deal in June 2014. In October of 2014, the Jisser family was granted permission by Administrative Law Judge Craig Labadie to continue closure. However, on Jan. 12, the Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted to give residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park the right to appeal the park’s closure. Although the $8 million might not prevent the family from selling the park, another hearing has been scheduled in April to determine the future of Buena Vista. Nine council members will be present to make a decision based on testimonies and evidence from both residents and the Jisser family.
The Residents’ Association and their attorneys will be preparing their side of the case and the issues that still have to be discussed. One major controversy is the compensation that must be paid to the residents if the park does close. The Jisser family is willing to pay compensation, three months rent and moving costs and feel that it is enough as supported by Judge Labadie’s ruling in 2014. However, residents complain that the relocation package is not sufficient and is not compatible to the actual price as required by law.
Mary Kear, who has lived in the Buena Vista Park for 11 years and is an employee of Palo Alto schools, voiced her concerns. “The compensation won’t be enough for Palo Alto, or even nearby,” she said. “The compensation isn’t as much as what we paid for our homes. It just doesn’t help enough.”
Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) board member Ken Dauber supported the residents’ views. “From my perspective, the fact that the hearing officer didn’t consider the value of Palo Alto schools before setting the level of compensation was a mistake that the City Council should correct in the appeal,” he said.
The Jisser family had formally rejected an offer made by the residents to buy the park last year. However many residents aim to be granted permission to buy the mobile park at the appeal if the compensation can not be raised. $25 million to $30 million are needed to accomplish this; with the money from Santa Clara County, they could be closer to reaching their goal. The $8 million plan was proposed by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who had wished to encourage more groups to donate money to preserve Buena Vista.
Founder of “Friends of Buena Vista” and community advocate, Winter Dellenbach hopes the result of the hearing with the $8 million put into consideration, will benefit both Buena Vista and the Jisser family. “The property owners want money and the residents of Buena Vista want to stay in Palo Alto,” she said. “That means that the land should be purchased and a deal should be worked out with the family. Over the next few months this effort to resolve the issue by buying out the owner will go on.”
There are currently 400 mostly low-income residents living on the 4.5 acres of land on El Camino Real. Closure of the trailer park residents could mean having the residents move out of Palo Alto and giving up their jobs.
Kear worries that relocation will negatively impact many residents’ jobs. “They are going to have to move 30 miles away, there’s nothing in the area. A lot of the people living in the park work in restaurants in the area or they’re nannies and different things. So they’ll lose a lot workers,” she said.
Kear adds that many students would be forced out of their education. Of the 129 children, about 80 percent of them are enrolled in the PAUSD schools. “They’ll lose a really good education,” she said. When people buy homes in Palo Alto, they buy it for the schools too.”
As a member of PAUSD, Dauber feels the need to help as many students in the community to remain in the schools as possible. “The 400 residents of Buena Vista are working hard to live here and send their children to Palo Alto schools. We should be getting to keep them in the community,” he said.
Additionally, many members of the Palo Alto community are showing their support by stressing the benefits of keeping Buena Vista and its residents. Dellenbach explains the potential negative economic and racial effects of losing the mobile park. “The whole community’s going to suffer. All that affordable housing is result of years and years of work,” Dellenbach said. “If this town of 65,000 people lose that much affordable housing, replaced by expensive housing, that is a heck of a loss.”
Dellenbach also believes that the Palo Alto community will experience a significant decrease in diversity. “Buena Vista is the location where the largest amount of our town’s ethnic and economic diversity resides,” she said. “Communities that aren’t diverse are not healthy communities- they’re much less reflective of reality. We need a good, diverse population which brings tremendous richness to the community of Palo Alto.”