Residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto said they are expecting eviction letters any day now since the Palo Alto City Council voted on Tuesday to allow the owner to close the property. But amid the worry and tears, they are still hopeful that they can work out a deal with the owners, the Jisser family, despite more than two years of difficult and sometimes bitter battling.
The overall mood at the park this week was sad -- but also optimistic with an undertone, for some, of defiance.
"It's the start of a new phase," Melodie Cheney, a board member of the Buena Vista Homeowner's Association, said one day after the city's verdict. "Hopefully, we can get everyone to the bargaining table."
The Jissers have twice rejected residents' offers to purchase the park, which is home to 400 residents, including dozens of children. But circumstances change. Prometheus, the Jissers' development partner, pulled out of an arrangement that would have given the family an estimated $30 million if 180 high-end apartments for tech workers were permitted there.
"He has not said what he wants or even if he wants to sell it," Cheney said of patriarch Toufic Jisser, adding that she is hopeful a deal to purchase the park might be worked out with the help of funding from Santa Clara County, the City of Palo Alto and nonprofit groups. County Supervisor Joe Simitian has been working to find funding and to approach the Jissers. So far, $19 million has been identified, including $11 million in county funds and $8 million from the City of Palo Alto.
Now is the time for everyone to regroup, Cheney said.
"Mr. Jisser, please come to the table. Please let us know what you want. Then we can have some kind of stability," she said.
Buena Vista board member Mary Kear agreed. The Jissers' hopeful plans to get the property rezoned to allow for the denser development might now be snagged by neighborhood opposition, considering how the Maybell project, also in Barron Park, was soundly defeated by opponents in 2013, she said.
If Kear and Cheney are evicted, they fear losing work or having to make hard choices over basic necessities due to sky-high rents elsewhere, they said.
"Three quarters of my paycheck would go to rent. I'd have to decide between food, rent or medical care," Cheney said.
Kear could move in with her sister, but that would be three hours away from her job, she said.
Maria Martinez, who lives in one of the 12 studio apartments that are rented -- not owned like the mobile homes -- will get no compensation under the park closure plan. (The owner of an average two-bedroom mobile home would receive about $60,000 as a lump-sum payment, according to figures provided by the Jissers' attorney in March.)
Martinez isn't sure if, when the eviction notice comes, she will even get the six months the mobile-home owners will receive. Under state law, anyone who lives in a rental unit for more than a year gets two months, she said.
"I've lived here for seven years. I help babysit for my sister who lives here too in a mobile home. There are six in her family, and she is the sole provider," she said.
Losing her home will mean also losing her family, she said. Several members live in units within the park, including nine children.
At the City Council hearing, two of the children, Angel Martinez and Elissa Guzman, cried when they heard the council approved the closure, they said.
"I felt really bad, 'cause there are tons of good memories here. I don't want to have to leave this home," Angel, 8, said.
Brother Nicolas, 11, agreed.
"I felt like my heart just tore apart. I learned to ride my bike here, and we have so many good memories -- the posadas and all the parties. The important thing is no matter where we go, we are all one family. Nothing can stop us from all being one family," he said.
But Umbelina Martinez, Elissa's mother, said she doesn't know how she will find housing. She is the sole supporter for six, including three girls, her younger brother, and her elderly mother. She has already lost everything except for her family, she said.
"After a divorce, I lost my house, I lost my credit. Everything crumbled down," she said. But Buena Vista gave the family a new chance, she said. Umbelina works as a waitress at the Four Seasons and Rosewood hotels, and is studying to become a naturopathic doctor and raises her family. Above her head, a framed picture on the wall states "Live, Laugh, Love."
"I want to be a certified doctor of natural medicine," she said, displaying two certificates for nutrition counseling she has already earned.
"When I came here, this place was just junk. It didn't have water or a way to cook. It took me eight months and $35,000. I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week to fix it up, and eight months later it was finished," she said.
"We all got full of hopes. We did everything we could do. Last night was about breaking down all of the dreams we built," she said of the council's decision.
Cheney said many people plan to stay until they are dragged out because they have nowhere else to go.
"Ninety percent of the people here say, 'I'm not going anywhere.' Let the sheriff take me out of here in handcuffs."
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.