Hundreds to rally to keep mobile home community in Palo Alto

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Friday, March 6, 2015
Hundreds to rally to keep mobile home community in Palo Alto
The tide may be turning for more than 400 hundred people facing eviction from a mobile home park in the heart of Silicon Valley.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The tide may be turning for more than 400 hundred people facing eviction from a mobile home park in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Hundreds of community members are expected at a rally Monday as the battle to save the park turns into a symbol of the critical need for affordable housing.

This fight is attracting both government attention and money.

Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is the last community of its kind in Palo Alto. The tight knit community is made up of mostly low income Latino families who work in the wealthy neighborhoods around them.

"I like this place because it's a safe place to live and my whole family lives here," Maria Martinez said.

The 4.5 acre park is a Hodge Podge of RV's, neatly kept homes and a few studio apartments.

The rent is roughly a third of the average for the area, but the owner wants to sell.

"Everything you know, it's like all of a sudden going to disappear," Erika Escalante said.

Escalante grew up in Buena Vista. After college, she and her husband came back to work in the community and raise their son there.

Escalante says if the park closes, almost none of the residents can afford to stay in the area.

"You know people are going to lose their jobs, the kids you know, have to move schools," Escalante said.

Buena Vista has been owned by the Jisser family for almost 30 years. The family would not talk with ABC7 News, but they've been trying for three years to close the park and sell the land for luxury apartments. The property may be worth as much as $30 million.

The non-profit Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is representing the residents for free.

"It really is symbolic of how many working class families and many families of color are being forced out of Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area," Kyra Kazantzis said.

Palo Alto city regulations require the owner compensate current residents if the park closes.

But while the fight over compensation drags on, a new plan is taking shape to preserve the land for affordable housing.

"People are realizing, 'hey these folks who work in the community are an essential part of our daily success.' The city, the county, the region runs on their labor," Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian said.

Momentum is growing and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has authorized $8 million to help find a solution.

The Palo Alto city manager also set aside $8 million, but it must still be authorized by the city council.

Now, the search is on for other partners to help pay the owner a fair price.

"I don't think we know what the eventual solution looks like right now. It could be preserving the entire site as a mobile home community and upgrading it overtime. It could be some mix of what we call stick built housing as well as mobile homes," Simitian said.

"I'm very worried, but we'll keep fighting," Martinez said.

An attorney for the owner sent an email saying in part, "The city can and should build affordable housing for the residents of Buena Vista and others, but that is not the job of the mobile home park owner."

Residents are planning a big rally before the Palo Alto City Council meeting on Monday and they're asking the community to join them to show support.

Full statement from Attorney Margaret Ecker Nanda for owners of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park:

"The City can and should build affordable housing for the residents of Buena Vista and others who want to live in Palo Alto, but cannot afford market rate rents within the City. The City's decision in this regard has no bearing on the merits of the decision of the Hearing Officer, chosen by the City Attorney, who found the Park Owner had in fact offered reasonable mitigation assistance to the residents of Buena Vista and could therefore close the park. It is the Hearing Officer's decision which is the subject of the appeal to the City Council. The willingness of the Park Owner to sell the Park to the residents or to any government or non-profit housing provider is not before the City Council. Efforts such as those of the city manager to direct the council's attention away from the issue of whether the Hearing Officer's opinion should be upheld are prejudicial to the park owner. The park owner has the constitutional right, like every other property owner in Palo Alto to sell the property to whomever it wants, at a price it finds acceptable and at a time it decides is advantageous to sell it. I suggest that city officials stop pressuring my client to sell the park and instead direct their attention to a fair and impartial resolution of the appeal in this matter. The hearings before the Hearing Officer were held in May 2014, thus when the council finally hears the matter in April, it will have taken 11 months for the council to hear an appeal of a decision by a city appointed hearing officer. The fact that it has taken the city 11 months to hear the appeal more than supports the maxim, 'justice delayed is justice denied.' In those intervening months, more and more pressure is being asserted against the park owner to sell the park to the residents, the city or the county and thereby right the wrong of the lack of affordable housing in Palo Alto. For 29 years, the owner of Buena Vista has done nothing but provide the least expensive, non-subsidized housing in the city of Palo Alto. Righting that wrong is not the job of a mobilehome park owner in the state of California."

Produced and written by Jennifer Olney.