More than 40 Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents on Thursday protested against the planned evictions from their longtime homes, which would make way for a high-rise apartment development at the 3980 El Camino Real site..
Parents, toddlers, aged gardeners with calloused hands and students waved signs at the four corners of Robles Avenue and El Camino Real to raise awareness about their plight.
The protest is one of several organized by Buena Vista residents in the weeks leading up to a hearing on the Relocation Impact Report, a document prepared by the Jisser family that lays out a plan to compensate the displaced families.
The report, which is required by local law, cleared a major hurdle in February when the City of Palo Alto deemed it complete after more than a year of negotiations with the property owners.
The Jisser family had offered to buy each mobile home for its appraised value and to pay for the "startup costs" of relocating, including rent for the first and last month, a security deposit and 12 months of subsidies, equal to the difference between rent at Buena Vista and rent at a new location.
The offer has done little, however, to ease the anxieties in Buena Vista, where residents remain deeply concerned about having to find a new place to live and new schools for their children to attend.
Acceptance of the report would pave the way for removing the more than 100 families who pay on average $930 a month to rent a space for the mobile homes they own. The residents say the plan's compensation is not commensurate with the market value of their homes, and it would force them out of Palo Alto.
Several hundred feet away from the protesters, across El Camino, a banner on a swanky new senior community was a reminder of the competition for housing space that low-income and working-class residents increasingly face in the city. Monthly rents at the senior apartments start at $5,300 for a studio with rents as high as $8,900 for a two-bedroom unit.
Many Buena Vista residents said they have lived in the mobile home park for decades, and all that they don't want to be pushed out. They made two offers to the Jissers to purchase the mobile home park for $14 million, which would be paid for in large part with federal and state loans and grants, but the property owner could reportedly get an estimated $30 million in a deal with San Mateo-based developer Prometheus.
Erika Escalante, president of the Buena Vista Homeowners Association, said that residents are taking to the streets to garner community support and encourage people to come to the May hearings.
"We're asking for residents to support us," Escalante said, as passing rush-hour traffic honked in solidarity with the protesters.
"On Monday (May 5), we will go to the city to challenge them to help us. We want the City Council to help us find a way to stay. They're taking affordable housing and it's not just our issue. It's a Palo Alto issue," she said.
Resident Juana Lugo has two children who attend Barron Park Elementary School and Terman Middle School, and her family has lived in the mobile home park for nine years.
"We moved here because it was affordable," she said. "We used to live in Redwood City, but the rent increased too much."
The park closure would force the family to leave Palo Alto, she said.
"No high school dropouts at Buena Vista," some signs read, emphasizing one of the main reasons -- Palo Alto's schools -- for why residents want so much to be able stay.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, April 29, dozens of residents also attended the City Council meeting to garner support. Blanca Fonseco asked the people in attendance not to forget about Buena Vista.
"We have more than 100 families, including children, disabled and resident seniors in Buena Vista that are being affected by the closure process -- residents that have been Palo Alto residents for over 20 years," Fonseco said during the oral communications portion of the council meeting.
Residents also plan to hold a rally at Cogswell Plaza on Monday, May 12 at 5:45 p.m., right before the first of three hearings on the relocation impact report. The hearings, which will be overseen by hearing officer Craig Labadie, will take place on May 12, 13 and 14. Each will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Avenidas, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto.