With the Palo Alto City Council's final vote a month ago confirming that the Jisser family had met all the legal prerequisites to close the mobile-home park they own in the Barron Park neighborhood, efforts to raise public and private funds to buy and preserve the property have now kicked into high gear.
Thanks to the initiative and hard work by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian over the last six months, during which time the City Council was carrying out its quasi-judicial role in assessing the adequacy of the closure plan, there is significant progress and real optimism that saving Buena Vista may actually be within reach.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to allocate another $6.5 million in county housing funds to the potential acquisition of the park, contingent on it being matched by the City of Palo Alto, bringing the total county commitment to $14.5 million.
Next Monday night, before adjourning for its summer break, the City Council will hopefully follow the county's lead and agree to provide equivalent dollars, which would establish a $29 million fund, enough to demonstrate both serious interest and financial capability to the Jisser family.
While the Jissers have publicly remained closed-lipped about both their willingness to sell the park to a qualified nonprofit and the price they believe it is worth, there is little reason to believe that they would not entertain a fair, market-rate deal that could avert the complex and expensive eviction and relocation process, expected to cost well in excess of $5 milllion.
Under the most likely scenario, should the Jisser's entertain a deal, the park would be purchased by the Caritas Corporation, a southern California nonprofit that specializes in owning and operating mobile-home parks for the purpose of preserving affordable housing.
Caritas would buy the park and make needed improvements using a combination of public funds, additional contributions from foundations and other philanthropic sources, and money from revenue bonds that would be secured by the cash flow from future space rentals.
An unprecedentedly diverse group of political, community and school leaders have come together to throw their support behind the efforts to preserve Buena Vista, with not a single past or current public official opposing the goal of purchasing the park.
With 117 units of affordable housing units at stake, and with the cost of replacing those units far greater than the expected cost of acquiring Buena Vista, only those who do not place a value on maintaining diversity in Palo Alto are arguing against this initiative, and virtually all of them are doing so anonymously online.
As Palo Alto's market-rate housing becomes increasingly unaffordable to all but the wealthy, any semblance of diversity is rapidly drifting away and increasingly only exists through publicly supported or subsidized housing programs. Unlike neighboring communities like Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley, Atherton and Woodside, which were never affordable to working class families, Palo Alto has a long history of both economic and ethnic diversity because of the diversity of its housing supply and the welcoming and progressive values of the community.
This enabled at least some lower-paid service workers to live here and enroll their children in our public schools, creating a community that attracted people who were looking for a more diverse place to raise their families.
Contrary to the belief of some who object to the efforts to save Buena Vista, the primary goal is to protect in perpetuity these low-cost housing units that enable lower-income residents to be part of our community and school system, not to simply help the residents that happen to occupy these units today.
There are many other misconceptions about the efforts to save Buena Vista, including that the city or county would own and operate the park, that the mobile homes would be removed and new affordable housing built, and that current residents would receive financial benefits other than being able to remain in their units.
None of these are true under the plan being pursued. Public funds already committed to the development of affordable housing would be used, but the property would be owned, upgraded and maintained by a nonprofit experienced in the operation of mobile-home parks. Current residents would receive nothing other than the continuing opportunity to live and raise their children there for rent set by the nonprofit owner.
Palo Alto can and should seize this opportunity to collaborate with the county to preserve these units of very-low-income housing and the unique community that has formed around them. While home sales and rental rates skyrocket, we should use any means possible to keep what little diversity we have. With a fair offer, we hope and assume the Jisser family will help to make this a reality.
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.