Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 21, 2014

Study shows Buena Vista children buck norms

Research by Stanford professors explores the value of living in Palo Alto

by Gennady Sheyner

While more than a quarter of Hispanic students in Silicon Valley drop out of school before graduation, not a single high school student of the dozens who live in Palo Alto's Buena Vista Mobile Home Park has chosen to go this route.

While children of Mexican immigrants are three times less likely than other children to have good access to medical care, this trend is also conspicuously absent at Buena Vista, the Barron Park neighborhood community where Mexican-American residents make up the largest ethnic group and where residents are now preparing for possible eviction. The property owner is seeking to sell the El Camino Real land to a developer of luxury apartments.

These two findings were the result of a study published this week by Stanford University education professors Donald Barr, a long-time housing advocate, and Amado Padilla, a former member of the Palo Alto Board of Education. As part of the research, Barr, Padilla and a group of graduate students spent the past year interviewing Buena Vista residents, which included 67 families with at least one child 18 or younger (other families confirmed that they had no children living with them). The study authors believe 100 percent of families with children participated.

Barr, who summarized the study's findings at Monday's City Council meeting, said the research was prompted by his and Padilla's realization that very little is known about the children of Buena Vista, a community that rarely made headlines before the proposed closure.

The new study focuses exclusively on the children and aims to illuminate overarching questions looming over the park's closure: What is the value of living in Palo Alto? And what is fair compensation for that loss of value?

Though answers are impossible to quantify, the Stanford study indicates that residents of Buena Vista are essentially immune to the problems of inadequate health care and high drop-out rates experienced by Silicon Valley's broader Hispanic population.

The study determined that there are 129 children living in Buena Vista with an average age of 9.5 years. More than 90 percent of the families are Hispanic, with the largest ethnic group being Mexican-American. Of the 67 families with children, 52 (or 78 percent) requested that the survey be administered in Spanish.

Of the 129 children, 101 are currently enrolled in Palo Alto schools, which includes 36 in Barron Park Elementary School; 19 in Terman Middle School and 28 in Gunn High School (along with one in Palo Alto High School, one in Alta Vista High School and one in Beacon School). Four others attend college.

In the study, the professors note that they "were unable to identify any of the children (18 or younger) as having dropped out of school."

"This is in contrast to the high school drop-out rate of 29.3 percent among the Hispanic high school students living in Silicon Valley, and 26.7 percent among Hispanic students statewide," the authors wrote, citing a 2011 report by the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley.

"The results showed that every child of school age was enrolled in school, with several having moved on to enroll in local colleges," the study stated. "In addition, nearly half of school-aged children were getting extra assistance from the schools through enrollment in special programs."

The Stanford study suggests that the types of services offered by the local school district may have contributed to Buena Vista's nonexistent drop-out rate. Research indicated that 43 percent of the children in kindergarten through 12th grade were enrolled in some kind of special-education program, with the English Learner program as the most common example. In an overwhelming majority of cases (90 percent), parents of these children said they have met with the children's teachers within the past year. The report notes that parents "appreciated the schools' effort as well in making them feel comfortable — for example, a number of parents indicated that the school had provided for a translator."

"Generally, parents were very happy and appreciative of the education that their children were getting in Palo Alto," the report states.

In a statement, Barr and Padilla said that living near the schools, which are rated as among the best in the state, "helps parents gain familiarity with the classes and teachers." It thus keeps them engaged in the children's schoolwork.

"I did not meet a single parent who didn't know what was going on with their kids," Padilla said in the statement. "If you went to some other school districts, you likely wouldn't find the same thing."

When it comes to access to medical care, Buena Vista residents also defy the norm. A 2009 study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that children of Mexican immigrants are "three times more likely than children of U.S. born whites to have no usual place to obtain regular medical care" (13.8 percent versus 3.9 percent). At Buena Vista, 97 percent of the families with children said that they had a usual source of medical care for their children. The largest plurality of the responders, 28 percent, said they used Stanford's medical facilities (Stanford Hospitals and Clinics and the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital). Others identified the Mayview Community Clinic (25 percent); Kaiser-Permanente (15 percent) and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (13 percent) as their usual sources of care for their children.

"Overall, these data suggest that medical care is generally quite available to the children in Buena Vista, despite the relatively low income of their parents," the report states.

Numbers were less positive when it came to dental care. Responses from Buena Vista residents indicated that 80 percent of the families couldn't afford to pay for their children's needed dental care. The survey also found that one third of the children have not visited a dentist in the past 24 months.

The study concluded: "The children living in Buena Vista, despite being raised in a low-income family and despite the problems often faced by Hispanic families in California, are benefiting from a strong educational experience and the local availability of health insurance and health care providers."

"These benefits stand in stark contrast to low-income Hispanic children living in less affluent communities than Palo Alto, communities that do not enjoy the same educational and health care resources," the authors wrote. "It remains an open question how the life course trajectory of these children would be affected were the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park to be closed, necessitating relocation of these families to communities without the same level of resources and amenities."

The closure of the park is currently pending the approval of a "relocation impact report," which includes proposals to financially compensate Buena Vista residents who would lose their homes. After about two years of revisions and amendments, Palo Alto finally decreed last month that the report is complete. The report will be evaluated by the city's hearing officer, Craig Labadie, who will determine whether the Jisser family has complied with the city's park-closure ordinance.

The compensation offered includes "startup costs" for each Buena Vista family, based on the types of housing to which the residents would be relocating. This includes rent for the first and last month, a security deposit and 12 months of rent subsidies that would cover the gap between what residents pay at Buena Vista — the average rent last year was about $675 per month — and what they would have to pay in their new locations. For one-bedroom apartments, the compensation would range from $12,000 to $16,300; for three-bedroom apartments, it would range from $20,000 to $30,600.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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