The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto, whose owners want to sell to developers of luxury housing. (Francesca Segre/KQED)
The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto, whose owners want to sell to developers of luxury housing. (Francesca Segre/KQED)

Low-income residents of Palo Alto’s only mobile home park are rallying tonight with some of their better-off neighbors to keep open this rare source of affordable housing in the city. The owners of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park want to sell the 4.5-acre parcel to developers who plan to build luxury housing.

Most of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents are Latino and low income. If they have to move, it’s unlikely they could afford to stay in Palo Alto. They pay about $700 to rent a space in the development in a city where the median home price is roughly $2 million.

The mobile home park is surrounded by single-family homes, and many neighbors say they don’t want to see the residents leave.

“It’s horrible, losing 400 neighbors,” says Winter Dellenbach who organized tonight’s rally and the group Friends of Buena Vista. “They are a big part of economic and ethnic diversity, which adds to the richness in the city. There’s more than one way to be rich — it’s not all counted in shares.”

The Friends of Buena Vista has the support of 10 churches and synagogues, the League of Women Voters, the Palo Alto school board and many other groups. “We are now a town of millionaires and billionaires. We have such pride. We can’t get enough of ourselves and our ability to invent and engineer — but if we can’t figure out how not to dispossess 400 of us, then I think we’re bankrupt,” Dellenbach says.

What’s on the Table?

The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Homeowners Association has twice offered to buy the property so the residents could stay, but the property owners, the Jisser family, have yet to entertain the offer. “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.

The owners have focused on how much they would have to pay residents to move out, which they are obligated to do under Palo Alto’s Mobile Home Park Conversion Ordinance. Nanda points out that under state law, “Mitigation assistance cannot exceed the reasonable cost of relocation.”

Tonight a city-appointed hearing officer, Craig Labadie, will consider the relocation packages that the Jisser family is offering residents. The amounts vary depending on the age, size and condition of the mobile home and whether the residents would be moving to another mobile home or an apartment. On average, the owners are offering about $15,000 to buy each mobile home and up to roughly $5,000 in moving expenses.

The offers are not enough, says Melissa Morris, an affordable housing lawyer with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley who represents the Buena Vista residents. She will be calling an expert witness, Kenneth Baar, to testify in the hearing. He has found that the real cost for these residents to move will be closer to $100,000 per home. Morris says she hopes the hearing officer will find that the relocation packages proposed are not adequate, and “perhaps then the owner will realize his best bet economically is to come to the table (about selling to the residents.)”

Now What for Buena Vista?

Labadie will listen to both sides of the argument over the next three nights but has not said when he will make a determination on whether the relocation packages on offer are sufficient. Both sides have an opportunity to appeal his decision to the City Council and then to the courts.

“We welcome the beginning of the process. We hope it’s an orderly hearing and that everyone has the opportunity to air their view,” says owners’ attorney Nanda. “We hope it’s not an adversarial hearing like a trial.”

Residents’ attorney Morris says there’s a lot of political will to preserve the park. “There are a lot of people and dollars who want to save the park,” Ms. Morris says, “but the owner has not been willing to play ball.”

Meanwhile, Winter Dellenbach is trying to appeal to the Palo Alto she believes still exists. “People think of us as a go-go tech community. But under that is a college town with good values. We pride ourselves on taking care of each other.”

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