Palo Alto’s Last Mobile Home Park Faces Shutdown: Where Will Residents Go?

Erika Escalante, Saul Bracamontes and their son Andre live at the Buena Vista Mobile home park in Palo Alto. Andre's parents don't want to give up his enrollment in Palo Alto's top-rated public schools if the park is redeveloped into market-rate apartments. Photo: Francesa Segre/KQED
Erika Escalante, Saul Bracamontes and their son, Andre, live at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto. Andre’s parents don’t want to give up his enrollment in Palo Alto’s top-rated public schools if the park is redeveloped into market-rate apartments. Photo: Francesa Segre/KQED

By Francesca Segrè

Saul Bracamontes and his wife, Erika Escalante, know the parking spot they rent at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto is extraordinary.

“Right here — it’s the most affordable place in the Bay Area, I think,” says Escalante, who has lived in the park 14 years.

They pay $700 a month to park at Buena Vista, in a city where the median home price is around $2 million.

As long as they keep their spot, André, their 6-year-old son, will go to Palo Alto’s top-ranked schools and be surrounded by high-achieving professional families.

It’s an advantage not lost on Bracamontes, who works as an assistant manager at Whole Foods. “If you stay here, you have a chance to work for Google, go to Stanford, get a good job there,” says Bracamontes. “Anywhere in Palo Alto, you’re going to have a way better chance.”

But Escalante, Bracamontes and the 400 other mostly low-income families at Buena Vista may not get to hold onto their premium spots in Palo Alto for long. The Jisser family, which has owned the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park since 1986, wants to sell it.

“It is their right under the law to go out of business, and they have chosen to do so,” says Margaret Nanda, attorney for the owners of the mobile home park.

Developer Prometheus has expressed interest in buying the prime real estate and turning it into market-rate apartments.

Nanda, who has represented multiple mobile home conversions throughout California, says when property values rise, as they are now, more park owners want to sell.

It’s a transition that worsens the Bay Area’s shortage of affordable housing.

Residents of the Buena Vista Mobile home park in Palo Alto don't know where they'll go if the property is redeveloped into market rate apartments. Photo: Francesca Segre/KQED
Residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto don’t know where they’ll go if the property is sold. Photo: Francesca Segre/KQED

Melissa Morris, an affordable housing lawyer with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, represents the Buena Vista residents. She says closing this park may violate multiple laws, including the federal Fair Housing Act. “Palo Alto is predominately white and wealthy, whereas this park is predominately Latino and most of the residents are lower income,” explains Morris. “So if the park closes and the residents aren’t provided with a way to stay in this community, it means the closure of this park has a disparate impact on Latinos, a protected category under fair housing laws.”

On a state level, Morris points out that Palo Alto is already woefully behind on its obligation to zone for affordable housing. According to its Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Palo Also is obligated to zone for 1,200 affordable housing units by 2014. The city reports it has zoned for 200 units so far.

And there’s another significant sticking point in converting the park.

A local Palo Alto ordinance requires the seller to compensate residents for the cost of their home and the cost of moving to a comparable home in a comparable neighborhood. But what is comparable?

Morris says since schools in surrounding cities are less desirable than those in Palo Alto, the housing must be in Palo Alto. Further complicating matters? There are no other mobile home parks in Palo Alto.

“They are homeowners. They’re not just tenants. To us that means a comparable home ownership opportunity in Palo Alto; that might mean a condo, a townhouse, a single-family home,” says Morris.

In Palo Alto, the median price for a condo is around $900,000, according to the real estate information firm DataQuick.

Nanda, though, says according to state law, “mitigation assistance cannot exceed the reasonable cost of relocation.” She says, “To suggest that a home which is 475 feet and in some cases 62 years old …  to suggest that comparable housing is an $850,000 condo is not reasonable and not required by the laws.”

Ultimately, it will be up to the city of Palo Alto to decide whether to allow for the rezoning and conversion of the 4.5-acre property on El Camino Real. A hearing officer will consider the conversion after a residential impact report has been completed by the seller.

Palo Alto city planner Jason Nortz says the local ordinance does not specifically speak to schooling.  “It speaks to other amenities like medical facilities, shopping centers,” says Nortz. “It doesn’t specifically speak to schools, but we are aware that schools are an important issue and we’re working with the school district to identify how that issue can be met.”

For now, the city is reviewing the seller’s report on how they propose to compensate residents for the closure.

But Erika Escalante, whose son, André, is entering second grade, doesn’t think she can be convinced to move.

“For the kids they’re losing their homes, they’re losing their teachers, their friends, their whole community,” Escalante says. “You can’t put a price to that.”

But the sellers have.  They are currently offering Escalante and the mobile home owners a starting amount of $31,000 to move out.

The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is the last mobile home park in Palo Alto. Photo: Francesca Segre/KQED
The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is the last mobile home park in Palo Alto. Photo: Francesca Segre/KQED

  • Stuntmonkey

    The residents have been getting what is clearly a below-market rate for many years, subsidized by the current park owners. It’s unfortunate the owner is getting grief now that he’s retiring and needs to sell. I guess we all want to milk a good thing for as long as we can.

  • Dr Smith

    Meanwhile, Zuckerberck wants to flood the country with even more immigrants. I guess he’ll just expel them from his backyard though.

  • mrentropy

    It is sad when the landlord sells and you are forced to move, but that happens to quite a few people every day.

    I am wondering, though, who Melissa Morris represents. The article says she represents the residents, but then quotes her as saying that the closing would have a “disparate impact on Latinos, a protected category.” So what about the residents who had the poor taste to choose (ahem) to be born white, instead of l=Latino? Does she represent them too?

    I’m somewhat baffled by how we can help eliminate race disparity by, well, institutionalizing racism (by making protected and un-protected classes of citizens), but I do feel not just for the owners, but for all of the other mobile-home park dwellers around the Bay, who will see their rents rise. After all, the owners of this park will, no doubt, have to shell out significant money just to defend their right to do what any other property owner takes for granted: sell. And, in return, remaining owners of other mobile home parks will see this type of legal expense as yet another burden and cost of ownership, which they will fold into the rates they charge their tenants.

    So thank you, Melissa, for promoting racism and making affordable housing that much harder to find. Way to fight the good fight.

    • syradobomako

      мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт…­ ­ViewMore——————————————&#46qr&#46net/kAgk

      The residents have been getting
      what is clearly a below-market rate for many years, subsidized by the
      current park owners. It’s unfortunate the owner is getting grief now
      that he’s retiring and needs to sell. Asking the owner or the city to
      buy condos for everyone is just asking for the subsidy to continue.

  • Tired

    Interesting. How does this happen?

    median home price is around $2 million in Palo Alto, Menlo Park ca.

    median household income is around $125,000 in this area,(2009)

    I checked Zillow. Condo’s rent 5000 to 10000 a month.

    A home purchase of 2,300,000 with 1,000,000 down. finance 30 years at 3 % comes out to a payment of around 7900.00 a month.

    7900 X 12 = 94,800 a year.
    Now what happen to the idea your mortgage was 25% of your earnings
    94,800 x 4 = 379200
    They must be paying cash for these homes or someone has died and left it to them.
    Then maybe all the 2 mill + homes in this area have a household income of 400k

    The “median” family in California could not afford such a home with a income of 57,287.00 a year. That said, take a look at San francisco. Must be the top 5% are growing. Now how many homes do they have in this area. And whats the population ?

    take a look at this:

    http://www.paloaltoonline.com/com_info/by_the_numbers.php

    Best get that trailer trash out of this high dollar area. Gezzzz lovey they are ruining the property values !!!!

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