Simitian Proposes $8M County Funding for Buena Vista

SAN JOSE – County Supervisor Joe Simitian today proposed that the County use $8 million from its affordable housing fund to help prevent the closure of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto.  “If the park closes,” said Simitian, “that’s 400 low-income folks who are out on the street. And God only knows if and when, and at what cost, we’ll ever be able to replace that supply of affordable housing.”

Supervisor Dave Cortese, President of the Board of Supervisors and Chair of the Board’s Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee (HLUET), joined Simitian in making the referral to the full Board, which will hear the proposal on Tuesday, January 27.

Simitian’s proposal, if approved by the Board, would direct County staff to:

  • Enter into discussions with the City of Palo Alto, local housing organizations, the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association, and other interested parties for the purpose of securing the long-term viability of the mobile home park as deed-restricted affordable housing.
  • Set aside up to $8 million from the County’s Stanford GUP Affordable Housing Fund (established to create and preserve affordable housing within six miles of the University) to provide a portion of the necessary funding.

“The conversation about Buena Vista to date has been almost exclusively about compensation for tenants upon closure,” said Simitian. “I’m hoping to start a new conversation about what it would take to keep the park open for the foreseeable future.”

Buena Vista, located on El Camino Real at Los Robles Avenue, is the last mobile home park in Palo Alto. It provides an affordable home to about 100 mostly low-income Latino families, about 400 people in total. The property is privately owned, and the owner is currently trying to sell the property for market-rate development, which would displace these 400 residents and permanently remove a rare source of affordable housing in an extremely expensive part of Santa Clara County.

“Mobile home parks are an important part of our affordable housing stock in this County,” said Board President Dave Cortese. “We need to take a stand for those dependent on these homes by pulling existing resources together.”

“I know it’s a big lift. I know it’s a complicated issue,” said Simitian. “I know that mobile home park law is a quagmire. But my hope is that some significant County funding – and I think $8 million is significant – might prompt others to step up and ask how they can be part of the solution.”

“I doubt that any single agency or entity can pull this off alone; but maybe if everybody takes a piece of the problem, we might find a solution,” added Simitian.

Local advocates already working to find a way to keep Buena Vista residents in place welcomed the potential County support.

“A pledge of this kind of funding from the County could make a huge difference in preserving the Buena Vista residents’ affordable housing,” said Kyra Kazantzis, directing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which represents the park’s residents. “We hope this pledge will leverage other funding sources to help get us closer to a viable solution.”

Simitian emphasized in his referral to the Board that he is not proposing that the County either own or operate Buena Vista. “My hope is that the commitment of County funds will spark other agencies or organizations to step up and put together a deal with partial but significant funding from the County.” He said has an “open mind” as to what a successful outcome might look like.

“But,” he added, “the clock’s ticking.”

Read Letter to Board of Supervisors

Developer Drops Plan to Buy Buena Vista

Prometheus Real Estate Group has backed away from its plan to build high-end apartments on the Palo Alto site of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, adding a fresh layer of uncertainty to the park’s future.

The San Mateo-based real estate company last month submitted a quitclaim deed with the Santa Clara County Clerk-Recorder, effectively nullifying its 2012 agreement with the Jisser family, which owns the mobile-home park at 3980 El Camino Real. The proposal has been heavily criticized by residents of Buena Vista, a low-income community of about 400 people in Palo Alto’s Barron Park neighborhood.

Despite the decision by Prometheus to back out of the deal, the Jisser family is proceeding with the closure process, their attorney, Margaret Nanda, said Monday. “The application is not withdrawn,” Nanda told the Weekly, referring to the plan to close Buena Vista. “We have not withdrawn it.”

Winter Dellenbach, founder of community-support group Friends of the Buena Vista, said “Prometheus dropping its option to buy Buena Vista opens the door for a different plan for the property that allows BV residents continuing to live there on all or part of the 4 acres. The residents, a non-profit housing provider, or a consortium of public and private entities and funding sources, with city participation, needs to fill the vacuum.” On May 13, 2014 at the Administrative Law Hearing on the closure of Buena Vista, Winter suggested to the owners that there could be alternative paths for the disposition of the property.

[Read full story]

A Closer Look at Buena Vista

by Donald Barr and Amado Padilla

As social scientists who are part of the Palo Alto community, the proposal to close the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park raised a series of questions for us. Who are the people who live in Buena Vista? How would the park closure impact their lives? How do we balance the rights of the property owner with the human impacts of closure? Finally, what do other residents of Palo Alto, in particular the neighbors who live close to Buena Vista, think about the prospect of park closure? Continue reading

Buena Vista Residents

Who Lives at Buena Vista and Why We Care?

bvresidents02Seldom has a Palo Alto land use issue had the power to move nearly 400 people out of Palo Alto, redefining our neighborhood and city in the process. Yet this may happen to Barron Park. The 86-year old Buena Vista Mobile Home Park (BV) is in the early stage of closure, to be sold by the owner. Continue reading

Stanford Research Study

Study sheds light on Buena Vista children

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

(by Gennady Sheyner/ Palo Alto Weekly / Mar 18, 2014)

Trailer homes at the Buena Visa Mobile Home Park. Photo taken Sept. 12, 2012, by Veronica Weber/Palo Alto Online.

Trailer homes at the Buena Visa Mobile Home Park. Photo taken Sept. 12, 2012, by Veronica Weber/Palo Alto Online.

While more than a quarter of Hispanic students in Silicon Valley drop out of school before graduation, not a single high-school-age student of the dozens who live in the 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, a Barron park community where Mexican-American residents make up the largest ethnic group and where residents are now preparing for possible displacement Continue reading

The History of Buena Vista

A History of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park

From auto camp to neighborhood, the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park has an 86-year history

(by Sue Dremann / Palo Alto Online / June 17, 2008)

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This advertisement for the Buena Vista Auto Camp is from the 1930s. (Image courtesy of Beth Bunnenberg and Doug Graham.)

Buena Vista began as a tourist camp for travelers, part of a 5,392-acre property purchased by R.E. Ashley in 1926. A historical photograph of the Buena Vista Auto Camp shows a row of tiny wooden cabins built on raised platforms with narrow spaces built between them, ostensibly for parking, according to Doug Graham a Barron Park neighborhood historian. Continue reading