New hope emerged this week for residents of Palo Alto's Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, who since 2012 have been fighting their landlord's attempt to sell the El Camino Real property and close their community. On Tuesday, Santa Clara County Supervisor and former Palo Alto Mayor Joe Simitian proposed to the Board of Supervisors that the county use $8 million from an affordable-housing fund to help prevent the mobile-home residents from being forced out of the city.
Supervisor Dave Cortese, president of the Board of Supervisors and chair of the board's Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee, joined Simitian in making the referral to the board, which will hear the proposal on Tuesday, Jan. 27.
"If the park closes, that's 400 low-income folks who are out on the street," Simitian said in a press release. "And God only knows if and when, and at what cost, we'll ever be able to replace that supply of affordable housing."
If the board approves Simitian's proposal, it would direct county staff to enter into talks with the City of Palo Alto, local housing organizations, the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association and other interested parties, for the purpose of securing the long-term viability of the mobile-home park as deed-restricted, affordable housing.
Up to $8 million would come from a housing fund tied to Stanford's general-use permit, established to create and preserve affordable housing within six miles of the university.
Winter Dellenbach, founder of the group Friends of Buena Vista, said Simitian's proposal is "logical, and (it's) frankly rather touching that he is making this effort."
"We've been at this for two and a half years, working on this issue. This is the first concrete action that's been taken," said Dellenbach, who lives in Barron Park, the neighborhood that includes the mobile-home park.
Affordable housing isn't an issue that is solely affecting Buena Vista; it's of concern to the city and county, she said.
"Affordable housing is like a spotted owl or any endangered species: If you don't take action to protect it, you won't have it anymore and you won't get it back," she said.
Dellenbach said the proposal is a tangible catalyst for local municipal and community organizations to work together. Nonprofit housing groups, including Palo Alto Housing Corporation, Eden Housing and MidPen Housing, have the funds and resources to preserve and steward affordable housing, she said.
Melodie Cheney, secretary of the Buena Vista Residents Association, also praised Simitian's proposal, calling it "a step in the right direction."
For Cheney, who has lived at Buena Vista for 14 years, the battle is not only to keep their homes but also to preserve the community.
"This is my first home. No matter where I go, it's not going to have the same feeling," she said. "This is where I, my friends, my neighbors -- my second family, as I call them -- can live and pay our bills. This is where the kids can have a great education. ... We want to stay together, we want to be active members of the society."
Buena Vista's future has been in jeopardy since the park's owners, Joe Jisser and his family, announced their plan to sell the property to a developer. Though the developer who initially intended to redevelop the site, Prometheus Real Estate Group, has pulled out of the deal, the Jissers are moving along with the park's shuttering. Residents have been battling the closure every step of the way, mounting street-side protests and testifying at hearings and before the Palo Alto City Council.
Last May, the Jissers received a boost when Administrative Judge Craig Labadie approved the Relocation Impact Report, a document that details the compensation that the park owner will provide to residents as part of the closure. The relocation package includes three months of rent, moving expenses, the appraised values of the mobile homes and a one-year rent subsidy equal to the difference between Buena Vista rents and those charged at residents' new homes.
The residents' group has appealed Labadie's ruling, and the Palo Alto City Council last week scheduled the appeal hearing for April.
In the supervisors' announcement this week, Cortese called mobile-home parks "an important part of our affordable-housing stock in this county."
"We need to take a stand for those dependent on these homes by pulling existing resources together," Cortese said.
Though it's far from clear whether the supervisors' proposal will do anything to prevent the Jissers from selling the park, it could offer Palo Alto some new resources to develop affordable housing.
Located at 3980 El Camino Real, Buena Vista is Palo Alto's sole mobile-home park. Approximately 100 low-income families, mostly Latino, live there.
Kyra Kazantzis, directing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which represents the park's residents, said in a statement that a pledge from the county "could make a huge difference in preserving the Buena Vista residents' affordable housing."
"We hope this pledge will leverage other funding sources to help get us closer to a viable solution," Kazantzis said.
Despite their proposal, Simitian and Cortese in their memo to colleagues on the Board of Supervisors stated that they are not envisioning the county's long-term involvement in Buena Vista.
"To be clear, we are not proposing that the county either own or operate the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park," the memo states. "Rather, we believe that the appropriate use of these existing funds might provide the impetus necessary to turn the current conversation away from enabling the conversion ... to determining if and how the property can be preserved as a long-term supply of deed-restricted affordable housing."