Angela works at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation; her husband is a produce manager at Whole Foods; and their son attends Barron Park Elementary School. Angela's brother is able to pay college tuition because he lives with their parents, sharing expenses. Everyone helps with child care.
Buena Vista's affordable housing makes this critical mutual support possible. But Angela and her family are now faced with eviction because the owner of the land under their homes has begun the process of closing the mobile-home park.
The many benefits of living in Palo Alto have resulted in some of the highest housing prices in the nation. Our city could easily become a place where only the rich could afford to live, but we have a long-standing commitment not to let that happen. We want the teachers in our schools, the nurses in our clinics, the clerks in our stores and the janitors in our businesses to be able to live here.
We want this for a variety of reasons: to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions, to promote socioeconomic diversity in our neighborhoods and schools, and, most importantly, because the people who work here are part of our community.
This commitment is expressed in the housing element of the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan and more concretely through various affordable-housing projects developed (with the support of city government) by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, Eden Housing, the Community Working Group, and others.
One of the largest concentrations of inexpensive housing in Palo Alto is now threatened with closure. The proposal is to displace Buena Vista's nearly 400 residents to make room for what the developer refers to as "upscale units for young tech workers."
Extended families would be broken apart, and the support they provide would be lost. Families in Buena Vista would have to leave behind their homes, jobs, schools and neighbors. Required relocation payments to residents would not be adequate for them to remain in Palo Alto. Fifty-five Buena Vista residents work in Palo Alto, and more than 100 are children in the Palo Alto schools. Forcing them and their families out of Palo Alto would be an unprecedented displacement of members of our community and would significantly reduce our city's diversity.
The children of Buena Vista would be deprived of the superb education available in the Palo Alto schools, but the educational impact would be much broader. As the Palo Alto Unified School District notes, "the diversity of the student population and staff enriches the learning experience for all students" (Board Policy 0100).
Project Safety Net, a citywide collaboration dedicated to the overall well-being of young people throughout Palo Alto, promotes positive values that are highly correlated with thriving youth. Among these are the following, all of which argue for keeping the Buena Vista students in our schools:
* Caring neighborhood: Young person experiences caring neighbors.
* Caring: Young person places high value on helping other people.
* Equality and social justice: Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.
* Cultural competence: Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
There could be no clearer demonstration of our community's true commitment to these goals than support for the students and residents of Buena Vista to remain in Palo Alto. There are compelling policy, practical and moral reasons to make it possible for the residents of Buena Vista to continue living in Palo Alto and for the students to continue at their Palo Alto schools.
The most obvious way to do this would be to keep the mobile-home park open. The owner of the land on which Buena Vista sits has begun the legal process of closure so that he can sell it to the Prometheus Real Estate Group, described on their website (www.prometheusreg.com) as "the largest private owner of multi-family properties in the San Francisco Bay Area." Keeping Buena Vista open would require finding another buyer capable of spending a great deal of money for this purpose.
An alternative solution was described in the Palo Alto Weekly on May 17. A portion of the Buena Vista site could be used to build affordable apartments for the current residents, with the remainder of the site used for a scaled-back yet profitable version of the luxury apartment proposal. This could be a win-win situation, allowing the current owner and Prometheus to move forward with their plans, while at the same time providing high quality, affordable housing for the Buena Vista residents in their current neighborhood.
Palo Alto has experience with mixing high-end and affordable housing. About 15 years ago — after extensive discussion among the community, the city and the developers — the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's old site near Professorville was turned into just such a mixed-use development.
SummerHill Homes built the Woodmark, which they advertise as "the highest-end condo purchase in downtown PA," while the Palo Alto Housing Corp. built Oak Court immediately across the street, with 53 rental units affordable to low-income families. The diversity of the children and adults living at Oak Court enrich the diversity of the downtown community, while the property values and lifestyles of the families at Woodmark have not been adversely affected (as described by real estate agents familiar with the property).
If a flood or earthquake destroyed 108 homes on one block, we would pull together as a community, finding a way to rebuild — because we are Palo Altans and that is what we do. We can't control an earthquake, but we have some control over our land-use decisions. Let's pull together and find an equitable way to make sure that the residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park can remain residents of Palo Alto.