Palo Alto Weekly
News - July 26, 2013
Buena Vista conversion prompts debate about local schools
Residents concerned about being displaced from Palo Alto school system
by Gennady Sheyner
When residents of Buena Vista Mobile Park paid a surprise visit to Palo Alto City Hall last fall to urge city officials to preserve their homes, education was among their leading concerns. Several students and parents from Buena Vista told the City Council they worried about being displaced from Palo Alto's school system.
"Palo Alto has great schools. They can't really be compared to other schools around the area," Misael Morales Sanchez, an 18-year-old student at West Valley College told the City Council at an Oct. 2 meeting.
But it's far from clear how prominently the topic of school displacement will feature in the debate over the park's conversion into an upscale apartment complex. The city's ordinance states that displaced residents must be compensated for moving to a "comparable" mobile home park in "a community similar to that in which the park that is being closed is located and has similar access to community amenities such as shopping, medical services, recreational facilities and transportation."
For the Jisser family, who own the property, the exclusion of schools from the legal definition of amenities is significant. But even if it were listed, they argue, other schools in the region can be considered comparable.
"The applicant submits that while the quality of education at the Palo Alto schools is high, the quality of education at the surrounding communities such as Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Redwood City is also high and thus housing in these communities which is otherwise 'comparable' under the ordinance's definition meets the criteria of the ordinance," a new report from the Jissers states. "Thus the suggestion that the only comparable housing for residents with children attending public school is in Palo Alto, is neither supported by the requirements of the ordinance, nor by empirical data nor API scores."
Amado Padilla, a professor of education at Stanford University, rejects this assessment. Padilla, a former member of the Palo Alto school board who currently works with fellow Stanford Professor Don Barr and a group of students on research in Buena Vista, told the Weekly that the other communities cited in the report are significantly different from Palo Alto. Though many boast fine school systems, they have two significant disadvantages when compared to Palo Alto: less resources and less stability.
The Palo Alto district benefits from both the city's high property values and from generous donations. The fundraising group Partners in Education presented the district with a $4.9 million check in March.
"There's just a lot of resources going into the schools in Palo Alto that most of the surrounding school districts cannot match," Padilla told the Weekly.
The stability factor is also critical, Padilla said. In Palo Alto, a student stays within the same district from kindergarten through 12th grade. In each of the other cities the Relocation Impact Report cites, students go through different school districts before graduation: Mountain View has three districts; Sunnyvale and Cupertino elementary school students attend their own districts up until high school, when they are funneled to the joint Fremont Union High School District.
The transitions, Padilla said, make it harder for other school systems to track students and their particular needs as they progress from one grade to another. It also makes it harder for students to feel like they're part of a stable community as they get older.
"That stability is very, very important in a student's life and is probably more important for kids who come from the kinds of disadvantaged circumstances we see at Buena Vista," Padilla said. "For many of the kids who live in Buena Vista, this is the only community they've ever known. A number were born in Stanford Hospital. They identify with Barron Park Elementary School or Terman Middle School or Gunn High. This is their community."
Erica Escalante, a Gunn graduate who has been living at the park for 15 years, said residents are concerned about the adjustments they'd have to make if they move from Palo Alto.
"We know our schools are safe. We know we have good relationships with staff. Shifting all that — it's going to have an impact."
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Greenacres,
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 4, 2013 at 10:27 am
The residents of Buena Vista are long-time Palo Altans who have sacrificed just like the rest of us to live there. I have known teachers in our schools who lived there because it was close and it was the only thing locally they could afford. The children who live there make up nearly 10% of the local elementary school population. The mobile home park is the last truly affordable patch of Palo Alto, where the residents do not have to enroll in some program.
Let's look at this logically:
1. The residents have a lease agreement that entitles them to stay there or to compensation if they are evicted. They are being evicted so the owners can sell to a developer who is counting on being granted significant violation of the zoning a significant giveaway to a single developer (who probably isn't even a Palo Alto resident). Any large development in that area would instantly add major enrollment to the local schools. The proximity to Gunn HS and Terman MS especially is the single biggest factor in housing demand and prices in that area. Such a large development would add major traffic and strain an area already being severely impacted by rampant overdevelopment.
2. The developer wants to put 180 units on approximately 4 acres of RM-15 property adjacent to a residential area. RM-15 adjacent to residential is supposed to be 8 units per acre. If we assume (because residents are so fed up they will make the City follow the Comprehensive Plan) the half adjacent to residential would be 8 units per acre, and the half closer to El Camino the maximum 15 units per acre, that's about 46 units total on the whole property. With a 40% density bonus, assuming some BMR units (and that residents are in a mood not to contest that much increase), that's still only 64 units, a third of what Prometheus plans. And the density bonus is supposed to be an incentive for affordable housing, it makes little sense for it to be used to provide an incentive to RAZE far more affordable housing in order to mostly benefit a developer (at the expense of the community and affordable housing). In Los Angeles, just such an abuse allowed residents to contest and overturn the local density bonus law. (Something Palo Altans might at some point emulate here.)
3. The property is in the same neighborhood as the Maybell property, and with the resounding defeat of Measure D (and the fact that those who voted For Measure D are also mostly in favor of saving the mobile home park, too), and the way residents' quality of life has already been impacted by the thoughtless overdevelopment (and more in the pipeline to create even greater impacts soon), you can believe me when I tell you that there is NO WAY residents are going to allow the City to upzone that property. Period.
***In the wake of Measure D, residents are more connected than ever, and City Council may as well accept that as fact right now or they will put us through yet another expensive debacle. And no, Mayor Scharff, an 18-month delay will not change that.***
4. PAHC has publicly announced their intentions to sell the property at Maybell, which means the nearly $6 million the City loaned for that property could be applied at Buena Vista. About half of that comes from the now totally drained affordable housing fund, and the rest from the Stanford funds which are supposed to mitigate the impact of development: all of it is perfectly appropriate to apply to save the affordable housing at Buena Vista (as opposed to adding far fewer and far more expensive "affordable" units the majority of which will likely be inhabited from people coming from outside Palo Alto anyway, given the historic pattern, not by long-time Palo Altans).
Back of the envelope calculation:
The residents have rustled up $14.5million to offer for the property. Add $5.8million gives $20.3 million total. I believe the idea is that Prometheus would pay $30million after the mobile home park is razed? If the landlord takes the $20.3million now instead, they could write off almost $10million as a donation to the nonprofit, essentially making the offer worth almost $24million. If they take what is essentially $24million, it's a bird in the hand TODAY, and they don't have to go through the trouble, expense, and risk of evicting the residents, which easily could cost $3million or more when all is said and done. So now it's essentially a weighing of essentially $27million+ now versus $30million in the future for a developer who won't get to build what they offered $30milion for. And the landlord would be able to go to sleep at night knowing they both got rich AND didn't evict their longtime tenants.
The City's input wouldn't be a gift to the residents, it would be a long-term low-interest loan, just like the City made to PAHC at Maybell. Instead of paying rent to the Jissers, residents could service the loan. And the City could impose a regulatory agreement as part of that loan to keep the property affordable, just as they did at Maybell. Residents would retain their independence and autonomy, running the park like a Co-op.
This is the only scenario for the money that would be guaranteed to directly benefit existing long-time Palo Altans in affordable housing, as the pattern is that other affordable properties benefit people coming from outside to live in Palo Alto. If the City is concerned about this arrangement not satisfying its ABAG numbers, I strongly assert (in the wake of Measure D, as someone involved) we citizens would rustle up SIGNIFICANT citizen energy to change that this situation is the poster child for what is wrong with the rules and how they lead to thoughtless densification, congestion, boondoggles for bigtime developers, and the LOSS of real affordable housing (and neighborhood cohesion), not the creation of it.
5. Just to clarify for posters above, PAHC does not have to be involved their professional ambitions ostensibly conflict with what would best save BV anyway. PAHC is not some kind of affordable housing God. The property at 801 Alma is not a PAHC property, it was built and will be run by Eden Housing. Terman Apartments, another large affordable development in the Maybell vicinity, isn't a PAHC property either. There is no reason other than bolstering PAHC's professional ambitions to turn BV into a PAHC property. Residents living there are independent and at least own their residences, and are not beholden to anyone as they are as part of some program.
The residents have legal help and have formed a nonprofit with whom the City could directly enter into a regulatory agreement to keep the property affordable.
6. Even very right-wing residents I know who live in the vicinity are in favor of saving the mobile home park over a high-density development there. If the park is saved, the residents' nonprofit/coop could apply for funds for improvements. If the property face on El Camino were made attractive, and improvements made to the park infrastructure, that alone would satisfy most of the current neighborhood detractors. If residents of the park have more control and ownership, as they would under such a scenario, that will also help foster greater care of the property.
There is a REASONABLE path to helping these long-time neighbors maintain the mobile home park as an affordable enclave in Palo Alto.
If you agree with me, please join me in telling the City Council: email@example.com