In a strong show of support for residents of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed on Tuesday to allocate $8 million for the mobile-home park's preservation and directed county staff to reach out to other potential partners in the nonprofit community with the purpose of halting the park's pending closure.
The 5-0 by the county board followed the recommendation of board President Dave Cortese and Supervisor Joe Simitian, who last week unveiled their proposal to use $8 million from a county affordable-housing fund that is restricted to projects within six miles of the Stanford University campus. The board also directed staff to enter into discussions with Palo Alto officials, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Housing Trust Silicon Valley and Buena Vista residents about "securing the long-term viability" of the Barron Park neighborhood community.
The board's vote was prompted by the ongoing effort by the park's owner, the Jisser family, to close Buena Vista and redevelop the site at 3980 El Camino Real. The closure process received a boost last fall, when an administrative judge concluded that the Jissers' offer to compensate Buena Vista residents for relocation is reasonable. The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association has appealed this decision, and the City Council is scheduled to consider the appeal in April.
But while the appeal centers on the questions of compensation for displaced residents, Simitian's and Cortese's proposal seeks to avoid the eviction altogether. The $8 million would come from a fund set up by Stanford University about 15 years ago as part of Stanford's "general use permit" agreement with the county. Simitian noted that because money is pegged specifically for affordable housing and will not come from the county's general fund, "the fit couldn't be more perfect."
"Candidly, members, $8 million is not going to solve this problem," Simitian said. "But I have felt that too much of the conversation has been about an orderly march toward eviction rather than how to avoid eviction. I'm hoping to change the conversation."
Simitian said that the proposal seeks to do two things: prevent the displacement of nearly 400 residents and retain an important source of affordable housing that once gone is unlikely to be replaced.
"Let's protect the residents who are an integral part of the community, and let's hang on to an increasingly scarce source for affordable housing," Simitian said.
Cortese said the $8 million allocation is intended to provide leverage for other funding sources, a common method of funding affordable-housing projects. The allocation, he said, is "setting up the possibility of making a fair market value to the owner so they're not left short-handed."
The vote came after testimony from several Buena Vista residents and their supporters, including members of the school community and the group Friends of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. The Palo Alto Council of PTAs issued a statement thanking the county board for its proposal and called on other local entities to joint the county in the preservation effort.
"Preserving Buena Vista, with its culturally and economically diverse population, enriches our schools and our community," the statement reads. "As PAUSD school board policy emphasizes, 'The diversity of the student population and staff enriches the learning experience for all students.'"
Melodie Cheney, a Buena Vista resident who serves as secretary of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association, presented a petition signed by more than 200 residents thanking the supervisors for their show of support. She talked about the importance of remaining at Buena Vista, where she owns her first home.
"I can actually say I have a piece of the American Dream," Cheney said. "This is where my second family and I can afford to live, pay our bills and be productive members of the society and the community as a whole."
The county's vote directed staff to return in late February with a report about procedures for disbursing the affordable-housing funds.