Who Lives at Buena Vista and Why We Care?
Seldom 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. The closure process will go well into 2015 or beyond. The largest residential developer in California quietly waits in the wings for the residents to leave. BV Residents will be the collateral damage of redevelopment and will lose everything. Many of us know little about our Buena Vista neighbors. This is an introduction to the people and issues these neighbors face (names changed for privacy).
Why Live at Buena Vista?
For most of the same reasons we live here. The low-income residents can afford the space-rent for the homes they own. They prize living in a safe community. One Terman student, Miguel, found refuge at Buena Vista after his family suffered a violent home invasion in East Palo Alto by men with guns. Our high quality medical care is valued by the many elder residents, but most prized are our good schools for the 104 PAUSD students living there.
To Quote Bruce Springsteen ~ We take care of our own.
There are over 60 elders at Buena Vista, several of whom are disabled and dependant on extended family’s support and care. An example is Angela, a Gunn graduate who moved to BV when she was 14. She now owns a home there, as does her sister, and both help support their elderly parents, longtime BV residents. Angela works at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and her husband is a produce manager at Whole Foods, while their son attends Barron Park Elementary. Angela’s brother is able to pay college tuition because he lives with their parents, sharing expenses. Everyone helps with childcare. BV’s affordable housing makes this critical mutual support possible, but it will be lost and families broken apart if alternative affordable housing is not found in Palo Alto.
Residents Consider Buena Vista to be A Land of Opportunity.
Of the 125 children living at BV, 104 are students attending Gunn, Terman, Juana Briones, and Barron Park schools. They comprise 12% of Barron Park Elementary enrollment. Two autistic students are thriving in high quality programs – a boy at Terman and a girl at Gunn.
Stanford professors and students are working with BV families. An education professor and pediatrician cite studies that repeatedly show the quality of a child’s educational experience is a principal determinant of that child’s life course as an adult, including both socioeconomic wellbeing and health status. Losing the opportunity provided by Palo Alto schools could irreversibly alter the trajectory of these children’s entire lives.
What Faces Buena Vista Residents if They Have to Leave?
Legally required relocation payments will not go far to mitigate the loss of homes left behind that can’t be moved – nearly all at BV. For those that are moveable, area mobile home parks have few empty spaces. Like many Palo Altans, most BV residents can afford our below-market-rate rents but not market-rate rent. Residents will lose everything – homes, jobs, good schools, elder and medical care, friends, community, and a safe neighborhood – as they are forced to leave the Bay Area.
What Impact Will Job Loss Have on Residents and Us?
Residentsâ€™ loss is our loss. Buena Vista residents in part, provide the services we need and enjoy. Fifty-five work in our Palo Alto stores, construction sites, health clinics, and restaurants. They are our home care providers, gardeners, office administrators, and small businesses owners. Lisa is a custodian at Juana Briones, Rose cleans houses, Alberto works with immigrants at a local church, and Marie helps to support her three children and elderly mother by making sandwiches at a Barron Park market.
How Does Palo Alto Recover from the Loss of 108 Units of Affordable Housing?
Not well. The City’s Housing Element recognizes Buena Vista’s affordable housing as “essential”. ABAG tells us to build ever more affordable housing, yet the developer currently has no plan to build any, adding to our deficit. Losing 108 Buena Vista homes cancels all the effort and gains made in the last decade to add to our affordable housing stock.
What Value Do We Gain from Economic and Ethnic Diversity?
There is a rich mix of resident ethnic origins at BV, mostly Latino, but also European, Tongan, and Chinese. Most residents are low-income. Sociologists stress that economic and ethnic diversity makes a community smarter and more agile in adapting quickly and effectively to changing circumstances. Our Palo Alto bubble of affluence is a blessing and a curse to overcome. We will be poorer as a neighborhood and city if we lose Buena Vista residents.
Is There an Answer?
Yes, if there is the will. Our Housing Element states the City has a duty to mitigate loss of affordable housing and do all that is feasible to preserve Buena Vista. We have a lot of smart, experienced people working on a solution – BV residents and supporters, Community Working Group (Opportunity Center, 801 Alma), non-profit housing developers, City staff, and elected officials. The owner and developer have the responsibility and the resources to help to solve the problem. You can too – email Friends of Buena Vista.
By Winter Dellenbach, Friends of Buena Vista