The roads they took were different, but they led to the same place: a sprawling mobile-home park in a part of Palo Alto that until two years ago stood apart in quiet obscurity.
On Monday night, with the future of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park hanging in the balance, hundreds of residents packed into City Hall with a clear message for the City Council: Save our homes.
Nicolas Martinez, a resident and father of two, said he moved to Buena Vista after living in several other cities because Palo Alto offered him a safe place to raise his kids.
"When I moved into Buena Vista, it became an ideal place to raise our two kids, to offer them the education I didn't have, to make sure they wouldn't be beat up after school like I was on their way home," Martinez said. "That is why I wanted them to stay here. If you can make that happen, it would be a dream come true for us."
Rosa Maria Garcia raised four children in the mobile-home park and is hoping to live there for long enough to have her youngest graduate from Gunn High School, where he is now a freshman. She called the $29,000 her family was offered in relocation assistance "a joke."
"The situation through which we are now going is very grim," Garcia said. "We are at risk of being made homeless."
Omar Cruz, a sixth-grader at Terman Middle School, asked the council not to take away his education.
"I don't want to lose any of my friends and I'm really planning to go to Gunn and get a good education," Cruz said.
Melodie Cheney, a Buena Vista senior, called her mobile home her "part of the American Dream." It's the first home she ever owned and she was preparing to finish making her payments in December. Now, she doesn't know if she will be living there when she pays it off. With her disabilities, she doesn't know how she'll cope without her home and its close proximity to transit, she said.
"Buena Vista is my second family," Cheney said. "I hope I'll be able to say that for the rest of my life."
Emblazoned on their T-Shirts, printed on their yellow stickers, written on their postcards, and permeating through dozens of speeches, the same message was delivered by dozens of speakers during the first of two hearings on the proposed closure of the city's sole mobile-home park. The discussion will conclude on Tuesday night, when the council is scheduled to rule on the park's fate.
Many of the park's 400 residents and their supporters attended the Monday meeting to urge the council to reject the package of benefits the Jisser family, which owns the park, offered to Buena Vista residents as part of a bid to shut down the mobile-home park.
The question of whether or not the relocation assistance offered to the residents is adequate is at the heart of the dispute between the attorneys representing the two sides.
Last fall, Hearing Officer Craig Labadie sided with the Jissers and gave the green-light to their Relocation Impact Report, paving the way for the park's closure. The Buena Vista residents are now appealing this decision to the council.
Saul Bracamontes, who works as the produce team leader at Whole Foods Market, was one of many residents to argue that the compensation package offered to the Buena Vista families is unfair.
"I ask you to reject the relocation package that owner is offering to us," Bracamontes said. "It's not even close to being fair. What's going to happen to all of our families?"
The residents were joined at the emotional, four-hour meeting by leaders from the faith community, housing advocates, school district officials and neighbors from Barron Park and beyond. With the single exception of the Jissers' attorney, every speaker urged the council to do what it can to preserve Buena Vista.
The big decision may ultimately rest on one narrow question: Did the Relocation Impact Report the Jissers submitted as part of their closure application comply with local law? More specifically, would the relocation assistance that the Jissers offered in the report allow the residents to find "comparable housing" in a "comparable community," as the local mobile-home ordinance requires?
Margaret Nanda, attorney for the Jisser family, argued that it would. The Jissers offered to pay each household the appraised value of the mobile home, startup costs for new housing (a security deposit and rent for the first month) and a year of rent subsidies equal to the difference between the residents' Buena Vista rents and what they would be paying elsewhere. The family has a right to close the park, she argued.
She also noted that Labadie had already considered the arguments from both sides and the assistance package that was offered and had agreed that it complies with the local ordinance.
"A mobile-home park owner in the State of California can exit the rental business," Nanda said. "That is the law. The family can close the park. They can close it and they do not even need to convert it to another use."
The city's ordinance empowers the hearing officer to approve a closure application on the condition that its mitigation measures "are adequate to mitigate the adverse impacts on the displaced residents." The officer may condition approval on other conditions, provided that they "do not exceed the reasonable cost of relocation."
Nanda didn't dispute the arguments from the Buena Vista residents and their attorneys that affording a new home in Palo Alto would be challenging, if not impossible. She noted that the average price for a condominium on sale in Palo Alto today is $1.25 million. Yet that is not the fault of the Jissers, she said.
"Does that exceed the reasonable cost of relocation? Yes, it does, and I don't believe anyone can disagree with that," Nanda said. "The fact that there are no affordable housing options for the residents to go to in Palo Alto, to remain in the schools and in the community that is so dear to them is (not) the fault of the park owner. It is not the park owner's responsibility to build affordable housing in Palo Alto."
Nanda made her presentation after Nadia Aziz, an attorney representing the Buena Vista residents, laid out her case for why the compensation offered by the Jissers runs afoul of the law.
Aziz, a senior attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, argued that the Relocation Impact Report should have considered the high quality of local schools in determining what constitutes a "comparable community." By failing to consider local schools, the compensation package falls short of what's required to assist displaced residents in obtaining "comparable housing" in a "comparable community."
"Palo Alto is its schools," Aziz said. "The reason Palo Alto is such a valuable place to live, the reason people want to move here, is because of its schools. Palo Alto has some of the best schools in the nation."
Aziz argued that in determining the value of a Buena Vista mobile home, one needs to consider the value of it being in Palo Alto -- "the fact that children in that mobile-home park can attend world-class schools, the fact that it's close to transit, close to Stanford and close to amenities."
Elizabeth Seifel, a real estate consultant who testified as a witness for the Buena Vista Residents Association, also cited schools as one of several amenities that make Buena Vista unique when compared to other mobile-home parks in the region. The park, which is located at 3980 El Camino Real, is also close to great medical facilities, parks, jobs and transit, she said.
Buena Vista's low-income residents are unlikely to afford comparable housing anywhere in the region, she argued, citing average housing prices throughout the region. According to her presentation, a Buena Vista family currently playing $633 for a two-bedroom trailer would find itself in a housing market where two-bedroom rents range from an average of $2,800 in San Mateo to $3,730 in Palo Alto.
"If displaced, Buena Vista residents will face an affordable housing crisis like we haven't seen in many, many years or even ever before in California," Seifel said.
Many speakers at the Monday hearing argued that preserving Buena Vista would benefit not just the park's residents, but the community as a whole.
School board members Terry Godfrey and Camille Townsend both spoke in support of Buena Vista. Ken Dauber, who also sits on the school board but who said he was speaking as a Barron Park resident, urged the council to reject the Jissers' application because it doesn't factor in schools.
Godfrey said she is very grateful that Buena Vista children attend Palo Alto schools, "not just because of the individuals they are, but because of the voices they bring."
Their parents, much like her own, came to Palo Alto so that they can better their lives through education.
"They bring value to our city today," Godfrey said. "They'll bring value to our city in the future."
The meeting will resume on Tuesday night with a 10-minute presentation from the Jissers' witness, David Beccaria of the appraising firm Beccaria & Weber.
Beccaria is expected to explain the methodology behind the appraisals his firm performed for Buena Vista and rebut recent criticisms that his appraisals had received from an appraiser who was commissioned by the residents' attorneys to review Beccaria's work. The council will then proceed with questions before making a decision on the closure application for Buena Vista.
Visit the Weekly's YouTube channel to watch videos of Monday night's hearing.
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.