Watch a live stream of the Buena Vista hearing as it continues Wednesday, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The washing machines and dryers are infested with cockroaches, but Blanca Fonseca still wants to live in Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, she said during the second day of a hearing on the adequacy of a Relocation Impact Report (RIR) that would pave the way for the eviction of the park's 400 low-income residents.
Fonseca and nearly a dozen other residents told Administrative Judge Craig Labadie that the amount of money being offered by the park property owners, the Jisser family, to compensate and relocate residents is unfair and will not be enough to find replacement housing. The Jissers have offered residents sums ranging from $12,000 to $16,300 for persons moving into one-bedroom apartments and $20,000 to $30,600 for those moving into three-bedroom apartments.
But the majority of residents who spoke on Tuesday night said they would be forced to pay twice and three times as much rent as the average $685 per month they currently pay at the mobile home park if evicted, even with the proposed compensation under the relocation plan. And many will lose their life investment in homes they have purchased at the park, since most of the residences are too old to be moved to another location.
Fonseca has lived in the park since 1992. She lives with her brother and husband and a companion dog. A former sales associate, she has been unable to work after a work-related accident three years ago, she said Tuesday. She said she has searched in other communities for a replacement mobile home.
"Most mobile homes cost $70,000, and I can't buy half of a mobile home in this area," she said, referring to the amount she would receive for her home through the compensation plan.
Pamela Davis, 46, who has lived at Buena Vista since 1995, said she has also searched for another affordable place to live, but has been unable to find one within 35 miles of Buena Vista.
"As of yesterday, there were eight homes on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service used by Realtors). They were not senior homes. Six are in the East Bay, one is in Sunnyvale and one is in San Jose," she said, holding up print-outs of the listings.
The rental costs far exceed the $700 a month she can afford to pay, and those figures don't include utilities.
Davis is disabled and cannot work. She has a companion dog and needs to live somewhere with close access to public transportation. Living in the East Bay would be a hardship, since she also looks after her 76-year-old mother, who lives in San Carlos, she said.
Melodie Cheney, who is also disabled, said she cannot drive, and she moved to Buena Vista because she wanted to feel safe in an affordable community and be close to a bus stop.
"I wanted to have the American Dream and become a homeowner," she said, adding that Buena Vista met her needs for a safe, accessible and quiet place for a single woman. Cheney purchased her home for $30,000 and pays $1,150 a month for her space rental and mortgage. After homeowners' insurance, she still has enough for bills and food, but that will change if she is forced out of Buena Vista and loses her lifetime investment, she said.
"In nine to 12 months my house will be paid off. I improved the pipes, wiring, added wood floors and a new fridge and stove. Those improvements cost $10,000, and I still owe $5,000," she said.
"My home was built in 1960. It is a single-wide. It is old and small, but I can still call it mine. Leaving it will leave a black mark on my credit, and I think my credit rating is pretty good right now. When it comes to my payments, housing costs will double or triple. ... I will need to get a second job to pay my bills. Rents on average are $1,600 to $1,800 a month, not including first and last months and deposit," she said.
The $18,000 the Jissers want to pay in compensation would not come close to replacing what she will lose, she said.
"There is nowhere I can be a homeowner again. I am worried. I'm terrified. I will not be able to find housing and the relocation assistance will not be enough to find a place. The alternative is to allow the residents to purchase Buena Vista (with government loans and grants). Let us keep our homes and our second family; let us keep our community," she said.
Several Barron Park residents spoke in support of their Buena Vista neighbors -- and specifically to whether the proposed compensation is adequate to ensure residents can relocate to comparable settings with comparable amenities.
"It's laughable to me that anyone in this room could think there's an answer to that question," said Don Anderson.
Buena Vista residents would be dispossessed of their livelihoods, community, schools and homes, with no other nearby community offering anything comparable, he said.
"Closing the park would mean a loss of 108 units of affordable housing. It affects the entire city. Where are the people who staff our shops and restaurants supposed to live?"
The economic relationship between the landowner and the mobile-home park homeowners is more than about the structures on the land, added Sara Woodham.
"I want to make sure that (any dollar value) will not decimate families. We need to find a compensation or relocation that allows these families to resettle at some level of comparability," she said.
Resident Ken Dauber spoke to the influence of Palo Alto's high-quality schools on the local housing market. Finding anything comparable outside of the city for Buena Vista's children would be difficult, if not impossible, he said. Palo Alto has one of the highest percentages of college-prepared Latino students, with nothing comparable in either San Mateo or Santa Clara counties. Buena Vista students, many of whom are Latino, have a zero drop-out rate, he said, referencing a study published in March by Stanford University professors Donald Barr, a long-time housing advocate, and Amado Padilla, a former member of the Palo Alto school board. Padilla also testified Tuesday.
Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach, who started local advocacy group Friends of Buena Vista, spoke directly to property owner Joe Jisser, imploring him to find a solution that would both allow the park to remain and provide his family just compensation through a sale. The Palo Alto Housing Corporation has expressed interest in helping to find a solution, she said.
Prometheus, the San Mateo-based developer with which Jisser has an option contract to build 180 high-end apartments if the deal goes through, is a family-run business that funds medical buildings and programs for children, Dellenbach said, urging the company to step up and save Buena Vista.
"People are on the precipice of losing everything. They are about to be irretrievably wrecked. We have to find a sensible solution where these people end up with a life and a future," she said.
The last night of the hearing will take place Wednesday, with additional public comment starting at 6:30 p.m. at Avenidas, 350 Bryant St., Palo Alto.