Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 10, 2013

Mobile-home residents ask for help as compensation announced

Report: Buena Vista homeowners would get a minimum of $31,000 to relocate

by Chris Kenrick and Sue Dremann

About 375 Palo Alto residents — including more than 100 children in local public schools — face relocation with the planned closure of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park on El Camino Real in Barron Park, the Board of Education was told Tuesday.

Buena Vista residents and their supporters packed the school board chamber to plead for help in their quest to stay put — or at least to keep their kids in Palo Alto schools.

Their plea came a day before the city released a report from the landowner stating Buena Vista residents would receive a minimum of $31,000 — $11,000 as "relocation assistance" and $20,000 or more per home based on assessed fair-market value. Those able to move their homes would receive the $11,000 only.

The developer, Prometheus, plans to replace the 108 mobile homes with 180 apartments.

All five school board members indicated they would back a "statement of support" for Buena Vista students and their families to "partner" with them, the community and the City of Palo Alto "as we seek favorable educational outcomes for the children."

Buena Vista children make up 12 percent of the enrollment at Barron Park Elementary School.

"This is a major potential dislocation with impacts not only on students leaving but on students staying," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said.

School board member Camille Townsend, a lawyer, said she so far has come up short in a search for legal ways to keep children in the district who do not live within its borders.

"Obviously we have the Tinsley program (admitting some children from the Ravenswood City School District), but that was a court-ordered agreement of desegregation many years ago," Townsend said.

"The current policy is that children can stay until the end of the semester after their parents leave, but that doesn't solve it either," Townsend said.

"There's no neat category into which this unique and difficult situation falls — no easy solution yet, but that doesn't mean we're not going to work on this, and it's going to take some time."

Terman Middle School seventh-grader Alvaro Hernandez told the board he would be sad to leave.

"My family and I moved here from East Palo Alto a couple of years ago because Palo Alto is safer. When we lived in East Palo Alto some robbers came into our house with guns, and it was very scary, and that's why I don't want to move to another city."

Alvaro said he dreams of studying hard at Gunn High School and attending Stanford University.

"It will be very sad for me and my sisters to lose our homes, schools and friends," he said.

Supporters of the Buena Vista residents Tuesday included Stanford University Professor Amado Padilla, who served on the Palo Alto school board from 1993 to 1997.

"Many of the Buena Vista adults work in Palo Alto or in immediately surrounding communities, where they are employed in the service industry, in construction, and as nannies or health care workers.

"Thus, the adults living in Buena Vista are important for the contributions they make to ensure that Palo Alto is the great place that we all love," Padilla said.

Buena Vista began as a tourist camp in 1926 and became a trailer park in the early 1950s. It has 104 spaces, but only 98 are currently occupied. The property was purchased by Toufic Jisser in 1986 and is the only mobile-home park in Palo Alto.

The appraiser hired by the Jisser family estimated that most of the mobile homes are so deteriorated that they cannot be moved. Nearly 60 percent of the residences are worth less than $20,000, the report stated.

Palo Alto enacted a 2001 Mobile Home Conversion Ordinance that allows the landowners to close the park, but it outlines procedures for providing relocation assistance and compensating mobile-home owners.

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