A proposal to buy and save Palo Alto's sole mobile-home park scored its first victory Tuesday when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposal to enter a partnership with the city and the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County for the preservation effort.
Under the terms of the partnership, the county and the city would each contribute $14.5 million for a potential purchase of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park from the Jisser family, which has been trying to shut down the park since fall 2012. The Housing Authority would pay the balance of the price and conduct the needed feasibility study to make the purchase possible.
In addition, the Housing Authority has expressed a willingness to use the power of eminent domain to compel the sale of Buena Vista and avert to potential displacement of about 400 low-income residents.
The agreement still has to be approved by the Palo Alto City Council and the Housing Authority's board of commissioners, which will be considering the agreement on June 27 and June 28, respectively.
The agreement effectively caps the funding that both the County and the City had already committed for the preservation effort. In each case, the $14.5 million would be drawn from fees specifically devoted for affordable housing, with the goal of maintaining Buena Vista as an affordable mobile-home park (or equivalent housing resources) for the foreseeable future and avoiding the displacement of current residents. The Housing Authority would also invest at last $10 million in needed infrastructure improvements at the mobile-home park.
Supervisor Joe Simitian, who has been spearheading the preservation effort, advocated for the agreement, noting that it both caps the County's contributions and ensures that the County will not be in the business of owning or maintaining a mobile-home park. Rather, the park would owned by the Housing Authority, a public agency that he noted exists "for the exclusive purpose" of owning, operating and providing services for affordable housing.
"It just makes all the sense in the world," Simitian said.
The supervisors also heard from several speakers, including Buena Vista residents and their supporters. Erika Escalante, president of the Buena Vista Residents Association, thanks the supervisors for their support and told them that life has been very difficult for the residents over the past four years, since the effort to close the park was launched.
"Please vote yes to save Buena Vista and preserve 117 units of affordable housing," Escalante told the board.
Every other speaker made the same point, with each citing the impact of displacement on Buena Vista's families. Erwin Morton, member of the Sixth District PTA board of directors (which advocates on behalf of PTAs throughout the region), focused on the students in making his case.
"More than 100 of our children are in danger of losing their homes, their friends, their very special community and their schools," Morton said. "They are very much our kids."
Winter Dellenbach, founder of the group Friends of Buena Vista, submitted to the board a petition with 1,420 signatures, urging the county to approve the agreement. Her group, she said, is working to preserve the park to avoid "the tragedy of dispossession and displacement in which many ae certain to become homeless."
Amado Padilla, a Stanford professor who has been researching the impact of the closure process on Buena Vista's children, said that if the mobile-home park closes, there will be "another 400 adults and children on our streets or nearby on our streets, including infants of all age ... and senior citizens who are disabled in various ways."
"All 400 of these people will probably be on the streets if Buena Vista closes," Padilla said.
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.