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.