An eleventh-hour plan to save Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto from closure is expected to be unveiled tonight by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who has been leading the charge by allocating funding and finding a nonprofit partner to preserve the mobile-home park.
Now, one such partner appears to have joined the effort. The Caritas Corporation, a nonprofit based in Southern California, has reportedly expressed interest in helping to buy and operate Buena Vista, a plan that could prevent the eviction of the roughly 400 residents who call the Barron Park park home.
Buena Vista's future has been cloudy since the fall of 2012, when the property owners, the Jisser family, first announced plans to close the park and convert it to market-rate housing. The park at 3980 El Camino Real includes 104 mobile homes, 12 studios and one single-family home and is the largest bastion of affordable housing in the city.
Last month, the City Council set the stage for the park's imminent closure when it tentatively approved a 2014 decision by hearing officer Craig Labadie, affirming the adequacy of the relocation-benefit package being offered by the Jissers to the residents.
On May 26, the council is expected to make the ruling final, a decision that would allow the Jissers to immediately begin the six-month eviction process.
With the clock ticking, Simitian is preparing to present what he calls a "credible plan" for preserving Buena Vista.
As the Weekly first reported, The Caritas Corporation was one of three nonprofit operators of mobile-home parks that the county has been talking to about saving Buena Vista.
Simitian will elaborate on the plan at a press conference later today, where he will be joined by John Woolley, the chief operating officer of The Caritas Corporation, and Erika Escalante, president of the Buena Vista Residents Association. The announcement will be made at 5:15 p.m. in Palo Alto City Hall, shortly before the City Council's scheduled meeting.
"With the potential closure of Buena Vista just weeks away, it's crucial that we find both partners and resources in a hurry. Otherwise, we've got 400 people out on the street," Simitian said in a statement. "We hope to use this opportunity to present a credible plan to avoid closure and to build support for that effort."
The potential purchase will likely involve contributions of public funds and a tax-exempt revenue bond that would allow the company to buy and make upgrades to the mobile-home park.
Since 1996, Caritas has acquired 20 mobile-home parks, many of them in south and central California, according to the company's website.
Santa Clara County and the City of Palo Alto have already allocated close to $20 million in funds designated for affordable housing to preserve Buena Vista.
The company's annual report for 2014 notes that the company's purchases of mobile-home parks are financed by non-recourse, tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by a public entity, including counties, cities or a joint-powers authority. The report notes that revenues from the mobile-home parks are "generally sufficient to sell non-recourse revenue bonds equal to acquisition costs."
Sellers are often willing to carry back a portion of the financing, Caritas notes, in return for a "professionally managed, tax-exempt income stream."
"If a public entity is willing to pledge housing funds or provide credit enhancement, the bond issue for the entire purchase price can be sold at a lower interest rate," the company's annual report states. "Because the seller receives all cash, the purchase price is often lower. If structured properly, these savings generally result in increased rent relief for residents and enhancements to the park communities."
The inclusion of a nonprofit in the preservation effort is seen as critical by county and city leaders, with neither county supervisors nor council members eager to get into the mobile-park-management business.
Santa Clara County Chief Operating Officer Gary Graves noted at the April 21 meeting that county officials are working to identify "who has the experience doing this and how we would arrange an agreement with them in terms of what exactly they would do so as to make sure we are at an arm's length and not in any way involved."
And members of the council, even while affirming the Jissers' right to close the park, emphasized how badly they'd like to save Buena Vista from closure.
Council members acknowledged during the April hearing that most residents would not be able to afford homes in the region, even with the relocation assistance. Councilman Greg Scharff was one of several council members to express some hope that despite the vote to affirm the closure application, it's still possible that the park will be preserved.
"No matter how the council votes today, one of the things the public should know is that it's not a vote to close the park, but really the beginning of saving the park," Scharff said.
Santa Clara County in a 'race against the clock' to save Buena Vista | April 22, 2015
Attorneys debate the value of a Palo Alto education | April 17, 2015
Lawyer: Buena Vista evictions could start next month | April 16, 2015
Buena Vista's closure hangs on new appraisal | April 14, 2015
Buena Vista residents make final plea to save their homes | April 13, 2015
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.