Buena Vista youth are resilient, optimistic, study finds

Stanford research shows mobile-home park teens' strong connections to school, community

The youth and teenagers who live in Palo Alto's last mobile-home, Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, report high levels of resiliency and optimism and low levels of depression despite living for more than three years with the possibility that they could lose their homes and have to relocate away from their schools and community, a new Stanford University study has found.

Stanford released Wednesday a new report that researcher, psychologist and former Palo Alto Unified School District board member Amado Padilla conducted to assess the impact of the threat of the closure of Buena Vista on the lives of the mobile-home park's younger residents, all of whom attend Palo Alto Unified schools.

Padilla surveyed 58 young men and women, 34 females and 24 males, who live in the mobile-home park on El Camino Real.

The study comes at a time of continued uncertainty for the park's 400 mostly Hispanic and low-income residents, about one-third of which are under the age of 18. The Palo Alto City Council approved the park's closure last May, and both the Buena Vista residents and the Jisser family, who owns the park, subsequently filed lawsuits against the city.

The Buena Vista Residents Association asked the Santa Clara County Superior Court to bar the property owner from issuing eviction notices, and the Jisser family accused the city of imposing "unconstitutional" conditions in exchange for permission to shut down the park.

Despite this, the majority of the 58 youth and adolescents Padilla and a Stanford graduate student surveyed said they feel optimistic about their futures and reported high levels of self-esteem, according to the study. More than 80 percent said they hoped to attend at least two years of college following high school graduation, with 58 percent of girls and 75 percent of boys hoping to attend four or more years of higher education.

The majority of youth said they received a high level of support from their schools and that they cared about their school, underscoring the argument that closing the mobile-home park would mean cutting children and teenagers off from a high-quality education and community ties. The report notes that "while the Buena Vista students are a marginalized population in Palo Alto because of their low-income status, the adolescents nonetheless have a strong sense of belonging to their school community, which is known to correlate highly with future academic achievement."

Ninety-two percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that their teachers care about them and the same percentage said their teachers "push for my best." Eighty percent said they feel their classmates care about them and 71 percent believe that Palo Alto cares about them.

Sixteen- and 17-year-old students, however, reported the lowest level of overall community support (25 percent), especially from their classmates and Buena Vista adults.

"My belief is that living in Palo Alto has made a huge difference for the educational outcomes of children living in Buena Vista," Padilla said in a Stanford News Report interview that accompanied the release of his study.

"We have college graduates living in Buena Vista, we have a Stanford student who grew up in the park, we have children with special needs who are attending schools here and receiving services they might not have gotten at less resourced schools," Padilla said. "Our research is showing that children coming from low-income households, where many of the parents are immigrants, is not an impediment to completing a K-12 education in Palo Alto."

Buena Vista's young adults also reported low levels of depression and sadness, particularly compared to their peers in Palo Alto. None of the younger Buena Vista residents (12- to 15-year-olds) reported feeling sad or depressed in the last month, the study found. For the older respondents, 12 percent of girls and 8 percent of boys said they had experienced sadness or depression most or all of the time in the past month.

In a 2010 school district survey, 30 percent of Gunn High School students of a similar age reported feeling sad or depressed most or all of the time.

While almost all Buena Vista youth surveyed strongly agreed or agreed that they can "find positives, even in the worst situations," the future of their home still weighs heavy on some, Padilla found. About one-third said they "have been stressed because of the possible park closure."

The study found that the potential closure has spurred some Buena Vista teens to civic engagement: About half of both girls and boys surveyed said they had participated in rallies and attended meetings to protest the closure.

More than half of the young adults surveyed also said they had already searched or helped their parents search for new housing, should the park close, but only 20 percent said their families know where they would move if they had to.

The new study follows several others Padilla has conducted at the park in recent years, including one in 2014 that looked at Buena Vista students' dropout rates, access to health care and other factors.

Buena Vista students continue to fare better than most Hispanic students in Silicon Valley. While the current dropout rate among Hispanic students in Silicon Valley is approximately 20 percent, Padilla has found in his work that nearly all the Buena Vista students remain in school, graduate and often continue on to a community college or university.

"The schools certainly have much to do with this success, but we also have to give a lot of credit to their families," Padilla said in the Stanford interview.

Many parents "say they have remained in Palo Alto because of the quality of the schools and the value they place on education for their children," Padilla added.

To not include education as part of a potential relocation package if the families are evicted, Padilla argues, would be "grossly unjust."

"They are fighting to keep their homes here because they value the education their children receive. They could have quietly left and moved elsewhere, but fighting to keep their homes shows they care about quality of life and education for their children which are the same values that bring so many of the rest of us to Palo Alto," Padilla said. "These families are no different and a mere relocation package that does not include some regard for the intangible value of living in Palo Alto would be grossly unjust."

The Jisser family has been trying to close Buena Vista since the the fall of 2012, and they reached a milestone last spring when the City Council unanimously approved the fifth iteration of the Relocation Impact Report -- a legally required document that lays out the Jissers' compensation to residents who would be evicted.

The report was also the subject of a three-day public hearing in front of an administrative judge, who in October 2014 signed off on the document despite emotional testimony from Buena Vista residents and their supporters. They argued that shutting down Buena Vista would not only displace hundreds of residents but also deal a heavy blow to the city's stock of affordable housing.

The council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors have each committed $14.5 million to the purchase of Buena Vista from the Jissers and last year tapped nonprofit developer The Caritas Corporation to negotiate a purchase with the Jisser family. In September, shortly after the Buena Vista residents filed their own lawsuit against the city, the Jissers declared that they would no longer negotiate the sale.

The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.

Staff writer Gennady Sheyner contributed to this story.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


18 people like this
Posted by Zalltime
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2016 at 10:37 am

Zalltime is a registered user.

Nothing can stop gentrification.

7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I usually get a little snarky in my comments about studies, but not this time. I think that is so great that kids in the park, for the most part, have high self esteem, and recognize how lucky they are to have the educational opportunities and benefits they have living here. And they seem to have goals beyond a high school diploma. That is impressive and something to applaud. I'm clapping now, you just don't hear me. And credit goes to their parents as well, for sticking it out thru all the turmoil surrounding the park. It might not end well but for now, let's just rejoice.

15 people like this
Posted by Laszlo
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Buena Vista is an eye-opening example that kids from a low income migrant community can do well, better than their wealthier neighbor's kids, if exposed to high quality education and welcoming environment. I am truly impressed by their accomplishments.

71 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 2:07 pm

I'm sure all Palo Alto kids benefit from the school system. But I believe buena vista is about property rights and affordable housing. The Jisser family is not in the affordable housing business. They are simply closing down a rental business.

Padilla and the rest of his colleagues are trying to make a private business owner pay for these peoples education, or worse he is trying to make it so expensive to close down that the jissers must simple keep the business going against their will

I don't know about you but that sounds like a law suit waiting to happen. ;-)

3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2016 at 2:38 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I hope you enjoyed your siesta. Law suits are already filed, and the beat goes on.

1 person likes this
Posted by Enough already
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 3:46 pm

The Jisser family has made millions off of these people. They should be forced to keep the mobile home especially since children are involved. The city should have added schools, hospitals and other facilities to the value as well as what they added.

7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2016 at 3:55 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 4:08 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Jane doe
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 4:23 pm

[Post removed.]

65 people like this
Posted by Close BV
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2016 at 4:46 pm

"The Jisser family has made millions off of these people. They should be forced to keep the mobile home especially since children are involved. The city should have added schools, hospitals and other facilities to the value as well as what they added. "
Care to site some actual numbers for the claim that the jissers have made millions from the residents. And do we want the city to really tell property owners that they can not sell their property. And actually that ship has already sailed. The owner has Ben given the okay to close up shop.
This article seems to be another piece from the well oiled propoganda machine. Almost all of the articles in the weekly about BV have been biased and one sided against the owner and in comp,ete disregard for his property rights.

4 people like this
Posted by Zalltime
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Zalltime is a registered user.

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

110 people like this
Posted by beliefs vs actuality
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 9:44 pm

There is a difference between the adolescent BV residents' perception of how well they're doing academically and objective measures of their achievement. See p. 24 of the report. Only 10-12% of the HS students are getting "mostly As and Bs or above." 0% of HS students spent more than 3 hours per night studying, despite the fact that most said they were making their best effort. Although the students report being optimistic about their futures, most will need to perform at a significantly higher level to access higher education opportunities beyond community colleges. It is not clear from this report that they would be academically hindered were their families to move to mobile home parks in MV, SJ or one of the other surrounding communities.

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 7, 2016 at 2:25 pm

[Post removed.]

58 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 7, 2016 at 3:06 pm

We lost sympathy for the Buena Vista residents when they unilaterally filed their lawsuit against the City and it's citizens. Waiting until the last possible moment, surprising both the park owner and the City with the suit and complaining of unfair treatment in the closure process destroyed the chance spending $29 million dollars of City and County money for a purchase.

They have no one to blame but themselves.

44 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 7, 2016 at 3:07 pm

As a well known radio personality has said; "Liberalism is a mental disorder," sure seems to know what he is talking about, since this whole mess is a prime example of the illusion of freedom that has been presented by socialistic attitudes represented by the continuation of this nightmare. Simply put from day one; the owners of the property have the legal right under the Constitution to sell their property. It is a business transaction that has been twisted and turned by liberalistic do-gooders and their lawyers using shameful tactics to continue their socialistic ways. Leave the owners alone to do whatever they want to do with their property, period!

46 people like this
Posted by Shakedown_Plain_and_Simple
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Don't get fooled by this latest effort to tug at your heart strings. Yes, it is sad that families will get displaced and it is admirable at how hard these kids are doing.

However, I believe the first request to close BV was submitted all the way back in 2001. So it has been roughly 15 years and in a couple more any child possibly affected would have already passed through the PAUSD system.

The residents were offered generous allotments to buy or move the mobile homes, pay for relocation costs and provide subsidies for their new lodging. Greed intervened and they blew up the negotiation process.

The public anger should rightfully be placed at illegal and incompetent actions by the city in an attempt to punish the BV owners and restrict their constitutional rights. Further, they have mismanaged any opportunity to convert BV into a better form of BMR housing.

The pinnacle of their misguided logic was to pay $29 million for 100 mobile homes and a few studio apartments. How many BMR units could they have created if they let the BV owners sell to an apartment developer and then subsidize the rent with that kind of cash?

4 people like this
Posted by Physician and mom of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Oh, we all feel better and can sleep at night knowing that we aren't heartless beasts after all, we are just helping them to understand where their true lot lies. Nice to go back to our Eichler homes in peace.

15 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 8, 2016 at 11:24 am

Palo Alto's interference with the right of a property owner to sell his property is unlawful. BV tenants have already had compensation offers beyond what most people receive when a landlord chooses to sell property.

Many children successfully change schools when they move because of parental job changes. To use the excuse that the kids won't get to stay @ PAUSD is silly.

The people who want BV to stay as it is probably haven't driven through it lately & wouldn't want those residents as their own immediate neighbors. Some tenants have made non-code changes to the trailers, not authorized by the landlord.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Contemporary Indian restaurant, Ettan, headed to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 6,135 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,412 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 38 comments | 1,127 views

Two degrees can do all that?
By Sherry Listgarten | 3 comments | 959 views

Tame, Maim and Claim the Wild Sea Vegetable
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 574 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More