With the fate of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park still up the air, Palo Alto's city manager announced on Friday that he will set aside $8 million to assist with the effort to preserve the park.
The future of the city's lone mobile-home park has been in jeopardy since 2012, when the Jisser family announced its plans to shutter Buena Vista and build a condominium complex at the Barron Park site. The effort to close the park advanced last September, when hearing officer Craig Labadie ruled that the Jissers has offered sufficient relocation benefits to the roughly 400 residents who currently live in the El Camino Real park.
The City Council is set to consider in April the residents' appeal of Labadie's decision. Meanwhile, Santa Clara County and Palo Alto officials are making contingency plans for preserving one of the city's few hubs of affordable housing.
City Manager James Keene's announcement on Friday follows a similar action by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which last month committed $8 million in affordable-housing funds to preserving Buena Vista. The city's decision, which is subject to the council's approval, raises the pot of money for preserving Buena Vista to $16 million. The funds committed by the city are generated by development-impact fees and are pegged specifically for affordable-housing.
In announcing the $8 million allocation, Keene pointed to the concerns expressed by the community about "potential impacts to the residents and the loss of affordable housing."
"It is my hope that this action following on the County's recent pledge of an equal amount will inspire those who are concerned about the future of affordable housing in Silicon Valley and Palo Alto specifically, to come together and work toward a solution that will work for all," Keene said in a statement.
While members of the City Council have been advised not to comment on Buena Vista before the April appeal hearing, Keene said he has directed staff to reserve the $8 million in funds "for Council action at a future time." Keene also said that he intends to reach out to the county for "continued assistance on options related to the future of the park."
"Their staff's experience with mobile-home parks and affordable housing can be helpful to all concerned parties, especially during this period prior to Council's decision on the appeal," Keene said.
County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who along with Supervisor Dave Cortese made the proposal to devote county funds to preserving Buena Vista, applauded Keene's decision Friday. The city, he said in a statement, "has really stepped up." He added that the city funds are "key to generating additional support."
"This is a community that has long supported affordable housing, and that support is reflected in the actions of City leaders," said Simitian, a former Palo Alto mayor.
Keene's announcement was hailed as "terrific news" by the attorneys representing the residents of the largely Hispanic and working-class neighborhood. James Zahradka, supervising attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, noted that as recently as a month ago the effort to preserve the mobile park had no financial support from the public sector.
"Today we're looking at $16 million and a meaningful commitment from both the County and the City," Zahradka said in a statement. "It's extraordinary progress in a very short period of time."
Even so, the $16 million in reserves is unlikely to be sufficient to purchase the park from the current owners. Until last year, the Jisser family was under contract with Prometheus Real Estate to convert the land to a 187-unit market-rate development. Before Prometheus withdrew from the agreement, the deal was expected to net the Jisser family about $30 million. Furthermore, the family has not been receptive to prior efforts by Buena Vista residents to purchase the park.
In his statement, Simitian acknowledges the remaining challenges in preserving the park.
"What once seemed like a longshot is starting to look like a real possibility," Simitian said. "But we've still got a big hill to climb."