Plan in the works to save Palo Alto mobile home park residents from eviction

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) - In the latest chapter in the on-going saga of the future of Palo Alto's last mobile home park, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian announced a plan Wednesday for the county to partner up with the City of Palo Alto and a non-profit, called Caritas Corporation, to buy the Buena Vista mobile home park and save its residents from eviction.

Buena Vista resident Rene Escalante described the past several months as "extremely stressful," not knowing if he would have to leave his home.

He and his family have lived in their 3-bedroom trailer in the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park for 16 years. His two oldest kids are in college, the youngest is a student at Gunn High School in Palo Alto.

"It's thanks to this place, that is so safe, with all its benefits, that my kids were able to succeed," he explained in Spanish.

The future of the 400 people who live in the Buena Vista mobile Home Park is uncertain. Among the 400 people are 125 kids, 100 of which attend Palo Alto public schools.

The family that owns the park, wants to sell the land. If that happens, the people who rent the trailer spaces would have to leave.

Escalante knows he would not be able to find a three bedroom place in a neighborhood with good public schools, for $1,000 dollars a month, anywhere else in the Bay Area.

"It's impossible," he said.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian announced a plan to save the park.

"I'm very confident it can work. Are there still a lot of twists and turns? There are, but there's a path," Simitian said.

That path would mean having the City of Palo Alto, Santa Clara County and the non-Profit Caritas Corporation, team up to buy the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, and keep it as a mobile home park "in perpetuity."

The City of Palo Alto agreed to set aside $8 million in affordable housing funds for the project, the County of Santa Clara, another $8 million, and Simitian said the non-profit would do its part to raise at least another $10 million in tax-exempt bond funding.

Caritas Corp. would own and operate the park.

Caritas owns and operates 20 mobile home parks in California on a non-profit basis to provide affordable housing to residents. John Woolley, Caritas' Chief Operating Officer said the organization bought its first mobile home park in 1995, and it has operated all of its mobile home parks on a non-profit basis for the past 20 years.

The attorney representing the owner of the mobile home park did not return KTVU's calls and emails for comment.

Simitian said the owner of the mobile home park met with him and Woolley to tour the park but did not give any sign or indication he would be open to the idea of selling to the non-profit. The value of the land the park sits on has not been determined yet.

"We still don't know what the value of the property might be," Simitian said. "The owner has indicated he doesn't want to have those conversations until he sits down and gets through the formal process with The City of Palo Alto. I understand and respect that."

On May 26, Palo Alto City Council will decide whether to give the owner final approval to sell and they'll also decide how much money the owner will have to pay tenants in relocation fees.

Simitian said the relocation reimbursements for the Park's 400 residents could cost a total of $5-6 million. He said that gives the non-profit an advantage as a buyer.

"If somebody else buys the property they're going to have to pay those relocation allowances," Simitian said. "We won't have to worry about approvals and entitlements and what the city will and won't allow."

Simitian said what the non-profit/city/county effort has going for it is the community's support.

Simitian said at the last Palo Alto City Council meeting close to 500 residents, many of whom do not live in Buena Vista, came to show their support to keep the park from being sold. He said there is a general appreciation in the community for the socio-economic diversity the mobile home park provides.

"Part of the reason people care so much, is this is a real success story. There are 400 people, who've been able to make their home in Palo Alto, they've been able to send their kids to Palo Alto schools and on to college, to become success stories in their own right," Simitian said.

Simitian said the average family living in Buena Vista makes $35,000 a year for a family of four and the average rent is about $750 a month for a one-bedroom trailer.

Luz Maria Lopez has lived in a two-bedroom trailer in Buena Vista for five years. She shares her home with her three grandkids, her husband and another adult relative. They pay $910 a month.

"We're here for the safety and security, and the sense of community," she said of the mobile home park. "We're like family here."

She said the past several months have been an emotional roller-coaster ride, not knowing what the future holds. "I can live anywhere. I don't care if I have to live under a bridge," she laughed. "It's the kids that I'm worried about."