Battle to save Palo Alto's only mobile home park

About 400 residents, including more than 100 children, live at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park on El Camino Real in Palo Alto. The owner of the property - the Jisser family - has been trying to close the park for about four years.

The Palo Alto City Council is expected to approve a partnership between the city, county and housing authority at a council meeting Monday night to help keep those residents in Palo Alto. The Housing Authority of Santa Clara County is expected to do the same Tuesday. Under the plan, the city and county have earmarked $14.5 million each in affordable housing funds to try to buy the park. The Housing Authority would cover millions in additional costs.

"The council had already set aside money, which can only be used for affordable housing. And we've pooled and partnered with the County of Santa Clara and the housing authority in order for the housing authority to own and operate, potentially, the mobile home park," said Claudia Keith, spokesperson, City of Palo Alto.

Before the meeting had begun, about 30 residents had already gathered in front of City Hall, many wearing shirts that said, "Save Our Homes."

Blanca Fonseca was one of the them.

She said she knows her mobile home is modest by many standards. But for her, it's home, and she values the tight-knit community there that helps each other out.

"We really want to stay because Silicon Valley very expensive, and we are mostly low income," said Fonseca, who's lived in the park for more than two decades. "We (have known) each other for so long. We don't really know where we're going to go."

For resident Jennifer Havens, she hopes to be able to stay long enough to keep her son in the Palo Alto schools for three more years, until he graduates.

"I want to see him graduate, and I know that Gunn (High School is) a great school. I want to see him succeed, you know, be more than I was," said Havens.

The Housing Authority has the power to buy and develop land for the purposes of affordable housing.

If it ultimately decides to try to acquire the park to preserve it as affordable housing, it may consider the use of eminent domain to make that happen. But many things would have to happen before that, including a property appraisal and public hearings.

Katherine Harasz, the executive director of the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara, said via email:

"If the Housing Authority Board decides to acquire the Park in order to preserve as affordable housing, the agency will make an offer to buy the property from the owners.  If the owners do not accept the offer, the Housing Authority Board may consider the use of eminent domain, which requires that we pay just compensation, as determined by a neutral third party (judge/jury). The Housing Authority Board's decision to exercise its power of eminent domain (determining public purpose and determining that the acquisition is necessary to achieve that public purpose) will have to be made at an open, public meeting of the agency's board."

Lawyers for the property owners said the property is not for sale, and the owners wish to close the park.

A federal lawsuit filed by the owners challenged the city's decision requiring $8 million in relocation assistance to displaced residents if the park closed. The lawsuit was dismissed Friday.

Larry Salzman, of the Pacific Legal Foundation, represents the family in that case. He called the amount "excessive," and appealed the ruling Monday.

"The Jissers sought no money from the City. They have simply asked the federal court to stop the city's unconstitutional shakedown before the harm is done," said Salzman in a statement emailed to KTVU.