Editorial: Interests collide over Buena Vista's future

Vulnerable residents of Palo Alto's only mobile-home park need and deserve support as redevelopment plans evolve

There has been a certain inevitability to the situation now unfolding at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, located behind El Camino Real in the Barron Park neighborhood.

For more than a decade, the city has anticipated that the owner would eventually convert the property into something else, and when he did would want to evict the nearly 400 residents who live there.

With a recovering economy and the high value of Palo Alto real estate, the Buena Vista owner has a deal in the works with a development company to build multi-unit housing on the site.

So the anticipated nightmare is coming true for more than 115 low-income families, many with school-aged children and others who are disabled, following the owner's notice last month that he wants to clear out the vintage mobile homes and replace them with 180 rental apartments.

State law provides some protections from eviction to those who live in mobile-home parks because the homes aren't really mobile and the residents are largely low-income families or seniors. When these parks disappear it completely uproots the residents and the tight community they generally form.

Palo Alto has an ordinance that goes beyond state law and is aimed at ensuring relocation assistance is provided for the residents at Buena Vista specifically.

The city and the owner of the property have an obligation to do everything possible to help park residents make a move to a "comparable" mobile-home park or "comparable housing." The Mobile Home Park Conversion Ordinance passed in 2000 by the council defines "comparable" as having "similar access to community amenities such as shopping, medical services, recreational facilities and transportation."

In addition, a section of Palo Alto's comprehensive plan includes more specific guidance, saying that, "Any redevelopment of the site must be consistent with the city's 2000 ordinance which addresses ways to help preserve existing units. To the fullest extent possible," the plan says, "the city will seek appropriate local, state and federal funding to assist in the preservation and maintenance of the existing units in the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park."

If the closure and redevelopment of the property comes to pass, it would constitute the largest one-time eviction of residents in Palo Alto since the 1942 internment and eviction of 184 of the city's Japanese Americans. And it would be a tragedy for the Buena Vista families, who lack the means or education to cope with Palo Alto's high tempo housing market, and whose children are already dealing with the stress of knowing that they soon might be leaving their classmates at Barron Park Elementary, Terman Middle and Gunn High school. More than 10 percent of the students at Barron Park Elementary are Buena Vista residents.

Support for the residents is coming from many directions, including the Palo Alto PTA Council, the Community Working Group and the newly formed Friends of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. These and other local affordable housing groups promise to be strong advocates for the residents, pressing for other possible options besides relocation assistance for the residents.

The PTA Council's engagement was bolstered by a vote of support for the residents by all 17 of the local school PTAs, which believe correctly that evicting the residents will cause a huge loss of diversity within our schools.

Certainly the park's owner, Joe Jisser, has the right to seek another use for his property, which has been in his family since 1986. Jisser had already redeveloped the portion of his property that fronts on El Camino, once occupied by the All American Market, which has since been replaced by Jamba Juice and Baja Fresh franchises.

Jisser has said for a number of years that increasing maintenance problems led to his decision to finally arrange a redevelopment deal. The poor condition of utility connections on the property have led to ongoing sewage back-ups and other problems, and making the necessary major infrastructure repairs without displacing the residents infeasible.

While no one is really the "bad guy" in this situation, Jisser and the Prometheus real-estate company with which he is working have a major legal and moral responsibility to propose and implement options for the residents. And the city of Palo Alto has plenty of leverage in the matter, since a redevelopment proposal will surely be asking for development rights that exceed what current zoning allows on the property.

Simply trying to save the park for its current residents, however, seems a long shot. The conditions are approaching unsafe and whether the park is merely repaired or entirely redeveloped, the current residents would need to move regardless.

A better approach is to vigorously pursue replacement-housing options for the residents and to work with the current owner to ensure he provides the time and resources needed for them to make successful transitions.

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Like this comment
Posted by Mobile-Homes-Were-Made-For-Moving
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 9:44 am

> A better approach is to vigorously pursue replacement-housing
> options for the residents and to work with the current owner to
> ensure he provides the time and resources needed for them to
> make successful transitions.

Why is this a better option than to expect these residents to deal with their own problems like other people who might be in the same situation—such as having their rental unit being converted to a Condo? What makes the owners of “mobile homes” different, in the eyes of the City, than anyone else? Didn’t they purchase “mobile homes” because they are “mobile”—allowing them to move whenever, and wherever, they wanted to? The tone of this editorial seems to be that a great tragedy has befallen Palo Alto because these folks are now going to use their “mobile homes” in the way that they were intended to be used.

Moving is always annoying, but it is not so traumatic that people keel over and die because having to change locations where they call “home”. This newspaper’s editorialists need to get a grip, and turn their attentions to really pressing problems.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2012 at 10:28 am

The city staff has known about this for quite a while; there have been several new low income housing projects developed/or are being developed since the plans for this mobile home park have been known. Will the city should have been working with the mobile park residents to have move to these housing projects (Tree House & low income housing being built at 801 Alma, and the project that will be built at Maybell).

All of these projects are being financed by the city, so the city council can push for this.

Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2012 at 11:50 am

"The PTA Council's engagement was bolstered by a vote of support for the residents by all 17 of the local school PTAs.... "

This statement is incorrect and should be retracted. A check with the PTAC or the presidents of the school PTAs would confirm the fact that it is incorrect.

Ms. Krop was quoted as saying the same in a related article. It is unclear if she was mis-quoted or simply misled the reporter. But there is no doubt that it is not a true statement.

Like this comment
Posted by barron park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Relieved to learn that the PTA statement is incorrect. Will the editor ever retract the statement? When I read this "false" statement about the pta endorsement, i was very disappointed, but just considered it another error by the schools... My kids attended Barron Park and I gave my time and financial support to many families in need, usually from Buena Vista. My kids education suffered due to Principal Howard lowering standards so that all kids "felt" equal. I had to take my own time to teach my kids what they needed. Howard permitted Buena Vista students to remain in Barron Park after they moved from the district. It was years of this attitude that forced many Barron Park families to the alternate programs at Hoover, Ohlone, Spanish Emersion.
If Barron Park school is permitted to serve the neighborhood in a legitimate fashion, the school can finally prosper. The PTA does not need to worry about the kids who leave from Buena Vista. There are many new Barron Park families and some older families that might return to Barron Park School. It should be the school district jobs to ensure the school is managed properly.

The above comments are all reasonable and show common sense.

Re: mobile parks meant for moving
Agree, if you live in an area that is developing you run the risk of being priced out. My parents (who never owned a home) had to relocate due to increasing rents.... I did not cry to the city council for help.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2012 at 9:01 am

The 801 Alma affordable housing project is adding 50 units, and the Maybell project has planned 60 units (senior affordable housing). In addition, the redevelopment of the Palo Alto bowling alley site will probably have another 4-5 units. Then there is the Alma plaza redevelopment which has another 15 below market rate units, and the Hohbach development on Park Blvd, (82 apartments, of which around 15%- 12 or more units, should be below market rate rentals).

The existing inventory of affordable housing includes 652 below market rental units and 257 below market ownership units. But very few move out of these units, but it does happen.

Like this comment
Posted by w. dean
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Wow, I was once proud to say I was a former resident of Palo Alto.Hmmm, I wonder now.

Some have criticized Buena Vista a below par or an eyesore, or words to that effect.

Have these folks seen trailer parks in large cities that are far more "run down" than these? I would not describe these as run down in any manner (as seen in the posted photos)...maybe a bit dated, but offering affordable housing to folks probably not willing or able to move.Certainly now able to relocate elsewhere in Palo Alto to live the Palo Alto "dream".

If any of you remember moving from (and I suppose back) to Palo Alto, you'd agree moving is one of the three or most stressful events in life.

While Palo Alto may have few or no other mobile home parks, come on, pull you hands out of your deep wallets Palo Altoans and leave this non-threatening anachronism be. After all, Barron Park proper (or at least what remains of the pre-1970 housing stock there) is a true anachronism.

Leaving these folks alone is the progressive thing to do.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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