When residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents packed into Avenidas last week for a three-day hearing on the park's future, they had plenty of company from the broader Barron Park community.
Dozens of residents from the surrounding neighborhood joined their Buena Vista residents in urging hearing officer Craig Labadie to reject the Relocation Impact Report from the Jisser family, which owns the property and which plans to shutter the park and build high-end apartments. School board officials, land-use observers and members of the group Friends of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park all offered variations on the same message: Keep the park open.
"Buena Vista should have a neon sign over it that says 'Land of opportunity,'" Winter Dellenbach, the founder of the Friends group, said during the second day of the hearing. "Because we look at it, and it's a pretty modest place, but it's a bright future to the people who live there."
Others concurred. Barron Park resident Ken Dauber told Labadie: "As a resident, I know that our community will be greatly diminished by the loss of Buena Vista."
A new survey administered by Stanford professors Donald Barr and Amado Padilla suggests that the speakers at the hearings spoke not only for themselves, but also for hundreds others in Barron Park who were not in attendance. The survey, which was mailed out to every address in the neighborhood, indicates support for keeping Buena Vista residents in Palo Alto. It also shows that Barron Park neighbors believe that Palo Altans should work together to assist the overwhelmingly low-income and largely Hispanic residents of the mobile-home enclave at 3980 El Camino Real.
The survey -- mailed out to about 1,706 homes -- sought to gauge whether Barron Park residents are aware of Buena Vista's pending closure and whether they support converting the city's sole mobile-home park into high-end apartments. More than 550 people responded to the survey, with the vast majority signaling both awareness and concern.
One survey question posited: "If the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is closed, the Palo Alto community should work together to assist the families who wish to remain in Palo Alto to be able to do so." In response, 47.7 percent said they "strongly agree" and 28.8 percent said they "somewhat" agree. Another 11.9 percent said they "disagree somewhat," while 11.6 percent chose "strongly disagree." The results led Padilla and Barr to conclude that it is "ready apparent that there is broad support among Barron Park residents for this concept."
The residents' views are even stronger when it comes to schools, a recurring topic during last week's public hearings. A prior survey of Buena Vista by Barr and Padilla showed that the mobile-home students have a drop-out rate around zero (defying the far more troubling county and state figures) and that Buena Vista parents regularly attend school meetings and remain engaged in their children's education.
When the new survey posed the statement, "If the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is closed, the Palo Alto community should work together to assist the children who live there to be able to attend Palo Alto schools," 57 percent of the respondents said they "strongly agree" and 24.2 percent said they "agree somewhat." The number for "disagree somewhat" and "strongly disagree" were 8.3 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively.
On Monday, as Barr delivered the study's findings to the City Council, he said: "We have a real good clue that the Barron Park neighborhood is very aware, supports the idea of keeping the Buena Vista residents in Palo Alto and has a fairly wide support for the idea of a redevelopment of the park as rental apartments so long as a substantial share is low income and made preferentially available to the current residents of Buena Vista," Barr said.
The survey presented respondents with three scenarios for the Buena Vista property: redevelopment as proposed by the Jissers and their partner, Prometheus Real Estate Group; the purchase of the mobile-home park by its residents (a $15 million proposal that the Jisser family had rejected); and a new development that combines affordable housing with market-rate apartments. The latter two options proved far more popular than the former.
When asked about the potential for park closure and resident relocation, 19.6 percent said they "strongly support" this option and 18.6 said they "somewhat" support it. Meanwhile, 24.5 percent said they "somewhat" oppose this option and 37.3 percent said they "strongly oppose it."
The scenario in which the residents purchase the park drew support from 70 percent of the respondents, with 25.7 percent saying they "strongly support" it and 34.9 percent saying they "support his option somewhat." Twelve percent said they oppose the option somewhat, while 17.4 percent say they "strongly oppose it."
The option in which residents and the Jisser family collaborate to the redevelop the park drew support from 68 percent of the residents (29.2 percent of whom said they "strongly support this option) and opposition from 32 percent (with 17.6 percent of the respondents strongly opposing).
The survey's findings led Barr and Padilla to two conclusions. First, Barron Park residents view Buena Vista and the people who live there "as an important part of the broader Palo Alto community." Second, the survey respondents "widely support policy options that would allow current Buena Vista residents to remain as part of the neighborhood, even if it means redevelopment of the Park as rental apartments, so long as a substantial portion of those new apartments are made available to current Park residents on an affordable basis."
With the hearing concluding last Wednesday, Labadie will now await written responses from attorneys for both the Jisser family and the Buena Vista residents. He is expected to issue a decision on whether the Relocation Impact Report offers adequate compensation to the displaced residents in August or September. Each side will have the ability to appeal Labadie's decision to the City Council.