With one month left until the final verdict, Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents and their supporters on Monday night made a plea for more city action to prevent the park's closure.
The City Council last month affirmed the adequacy of the closure application for the sprawling park that is home to a largely Hispanic and largely lower-income community of about 400. The decision, which is set to be finalized on May 26, will clear the way for the Jisser family to close Buena Vista and to begin the six-month eviction process immediately after.
On Monday, Don Anderson and Gail Price from the group Friends of Buena Vista urged the council to take action in the next month that would help avert the park's closure. They were joined by a group of Buena Vista residents, which included Nicolas Martinez. The message was clear: We need help and time is running out.
"We want to make sure that council members are aware that Buena Vista residents are exploring all possible options and we are heavily relying on the council and the City of Palo Alto to do all that is within their power to preserve Buena Vista," Martinez said. "We are extremely concerned, especially about Buena Vista children and how quickly families will have to act in order to get them into new schools in August, or the latest September, of this year.
"Time is running out but we, the residents, are hoping for a better outcome," Martinez said.
Price, who served on the City Council before concluding her sole term in December, urged three specific actions. The council, she said, should add more money to the $8 million that City Manager James Keene had already set aside for potential purchase of Buena Vista from the Jisser family. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has also designated $8 million for Buena Vista preservations, though supervisors indicated last week that they may add another $3.3 million to the pile from the county's affordable-housing fund.
The group launched its presentation by showing a video of various council members talking at the April 21 meeting about how much they'd like to preserve Buena Vista. Councilwoman Liz Kniss urged the residents at that meeting to stay hopeful and Councilman Marc Berman talked about how important Buena Vista residents are to the community.
Both Anderson and Price urged the council to back this talk with action. Anderson said the vote, and the subsequent newspaper headlines about the council authorizing Buena Vista's closure, was "devastating to the residents of the park." Time is of the essence, he said, to save the Buena Vista residents.
"Please imaginr yourself in the following situation: at the end of May, you're served with a notice to vacate your home no latter than Thanksgiving or Christmas or be forcibly escorted from the premises by the sheriff. In less than three months from the end of may, your children will start the new school year. What do you do?"
Anderson implored the council to "be proactive between now and then" so that after it completes its deliberation of the closure application, it can take immediate steps to avert the closure. Even though the council mandated on April 21 that the Jisser family increase the relocation-assistance package offered to Buena Vista residents, even the increased assistance isn't enough to keep the residents in the area.
"I think we all understand that no relocation package is really going to allow residents of Buena Vista to live long-term anywhere anything like 35 miles from Palo Alto," Anderson said.
Price urged the council to consider policy changes as soon a possible that would allow the city to tap into more revenues for Buena Vista's preservation. The council should also direct city to staff to do "whatever advance work" needs to take place so that the city can act on a possible alternative to the park's closure. The city should also try to secure additional funds by seeking contributions from the business community and relevant state and federal programs. Events, she said, are quickly unfolding and it's time for the council to "move from rhetoric to action."
"As our elected officials, your deliberations and actions must reflect your commitment to Palo Alto residents, affordable housing and economic and ethnic diversity all that Buena Vista is and represents." Price said. "You can oppose and prevent displacement by taking action. Only by doing so will you protect Palo Alto's reputation as a caring community."
For more on the history of and latest news about the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, view the Weekly's Storify page: The fight for Buena Vista