With a cloud of uncertainty looming over their homes, residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and hundreds of their supporters rallied at City Hall on Monday to express support for the park's preservation and to thank Palo Alto officials for recent contributions to that cause.
Holding signs and wearing yellow stickers of support, more than 400 people attended the rally at Kings Plaza on late Monday afternoon. After about 30 minutes of pizza, photos and camaraderie, the tidal wave of Buena Vista supporters then spilled into the Council Chambers, filling every seat and spreading out against the Chamber walls and vestibules for the first few minutes of the meeting. The crowd included children, seniors and every age group in between; neighborhood leaders and school volunteers; staunch slow-growth "residentialists" like Bob Moss and Lydia Kou and board members of Palo Alto Forward, a citizens group which favors more housing and a vibrant downtown.
The high spirits didn't change the fact that Buena Vista, the city's only mobile-home park, remains in peril. The park, which houses about 400 people, has been threatened with closure since 2012, when the Jisser family announced its plan to shutter the park and build luxury apartments at the Barron Park site. The closure process scored a victory last fall, when an administrative judge approved the Jissers' plan to compensating residents who would be displaced. The decision from Craig Labadie has been appealed by the residents and the City Council is set to hear the appeal on April 13 and 14.
Yet the rally also underscored the recent development of a silver lining. In late January, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agreed to allocate $8 million out of its affordable-housing fund for the preservation of Buena Vista.
Last month, City Manager James Keene followed suit and set aside $8 million of the city's money, pending the council's approval after the appeal hearings.
Supervisor Joe Simitian, a former Palo Alto mayor who led the push to set aside county funds for saving Buena Vista, said the rally was put together to thank city staff for its allocation of funds.
"We're here for two reasons: because we want to prevent the eviction of 400 folks from Buena Vista and because we want to preserve the site as a source of affordable housing in perpetuity," Simitian said, before the crowd made its way inside City Hall.
In addition to allocating the funding, the county Board of Supervisors directed county staff to engage nonprofit developers and other interested parties to discuss the prospect of preserving Buena Vista. Simitian told the Weekly that the board has already heard from two nonprofits Caritas Corporation and Millennium Housing Corporation that specialize in mobile-home parks and that have impressed interest in preserving Buena Vista. Other nonprofits, including the Housing Trust of Silicon Valley, have also been engaged in the conversation.
Simitian noted that the county only really became engaged in the conversation about saving Buena Vista about eight weeks ago. Much has been accomplished since then, he said, even though much remains to be done.
For Buena Vista residents, anxiety now has a tinge of hope. Melodie Cheney, who lives at Buena Vista, noted that when residents received their notices in 2012 about the planned closure of the park, they were "supposed to be out in six months." Even though the council has yet to hear the appeal, Cheney said the momentum now seems to be on the residents' side. She saw the strong showing at the Monday rally as a good sign.
"It's nice to know the community is really behind us," Cheney said.
Winter Dellenbach, founder of the group Friends of Buena Vista and one of the event's organizers, voiced a similar sentiment.
"One of the purposes was to show the breadth of support," Dellenbach said. "There can never be, from this point on, any doubt that this town supports Buena Vista."
After the rally, several speakers addressed the council to emphasize their support for Buena Vista and encourage the council to approve the $8 million allocation as soon as possible.
Nancy Krop, representing the Palo Alto Council of PTAs, told the council that Buena Vista includes about 100 children, many of whom attend the Barron Park Elementary School.
"We're talking about one of eight students at Barron Park Elementary School losing their homes," Krop said. "What's behind those numbers is a child. A child who dreams. A child who believes that adults can fix things."
Erika Escalante, president of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association, also addressed the council. Escalante, a longtime Buena Vista resident who graduated from Gunn High School and became her family's first college graduate, called the mobile-home park an "affordable and safe place to live and to raise our children."
"I want my son and all the children at Buena Vista to have the same access to education and opportunity I had," Escalante said. "Buena Vista residents are an important part of Palo Alto and the support we've gotten reflects that."
Members of the council have remained tight-lipped about its next moves on Buena Vista, not wishing to express leanings in either direction before the appeals hearing.
Vice Mayor Greg Schmid, who served as mayor in the absence of Karen Holman, acknowledged the crowd and thanked them for attending the council meting.
"Each one of you deserves our grateful thanks for coming," Schmid said, before reminding the group about the upcoming appeals hearing. "The council has an obligation to remain neutral, fair and open-minded during that appeal."
To watch a video of the rally, visit the Weekly's YouTube channel.