Buena Vista redevelopment advances with council support

Posted on: June 25, 2024

Source: Palo Alto Online; Author: Gennady Sheyner

After a hard-won fought against displacement, mobile home residents will be guaranteed a place to live

The proposed redevelopment of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park includes a 61-unit apartment building and 44 mobile homes. Courtesy Santa Clara County Housing Authority.

A community-led effort to preserve and enhance Palo Alto’s sole mobile home park reached a critical milestone Tuesday when the Palo Alto City Council unanimously backed a redevelopment plan for the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park.

The June 18 vote authorizes the Santa Clara County Housing Authority to transform the mobile home park by constructing an apartment building with 61 affordable units on one side of the property at 3980 El Camino Real while reserving the other side for 44 mobile homes. The two areas would be linked with park space, a shared community room and other amenities.

With the approval in hand, the Housing Authority is hoping to kick off construction in summer of 2025 and to complete the project by winter of 2026, said Preston Prince, executive director of the Housing Authority. He called this week’s vote a “historical moment” for the Buena Vista community, which was on the verge of displacement a decade ago when the park owner submitted plans to replace it with a luxury condominium complex.

That plan was averted when residents and Buena Vista residents rallied to save the park and persuaded the City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to each contribute $14.5 million in 2017 to purchase it from the Jisser family.

The Housing Authority, which took ownership of the park and which is contributing about $24 million in funding, called the redevelopment plan an “extremely rewarding” experience. Its proposal guarantees all current residents the right to return to Buena Vista and provides relocation assistance for families during the construction process.

“We think we have the best possible plan and we are ready to bring people back to the new home in Buena Vista,” Prince said.

Winter Dellenbach, a Barron Park resident who has advocated for the park’s preservation, lauded the milestone and the efforts by the Housing Authority to save the park and accommodate its 200 residents.

“To successfully save a mobile home park is nearly unheard of, let along keeping it affordable, let alone with residents being able to remain, let alone with a 75-year affordable deed restriction,” Dellenbach said.

But even despite its recent progress, the Housing Authority is still working on its plan to accommodate the needs of the Buena Vista community. During a March hearing, several residents complained about the options that they were presented with. Liney Barrera, who has lived at the park for 21 years, said the prospect of moving has created stress for her and many of her neighbors, some of whom are unhappy with their options.

“I know as a fact that a lot of neighbors at Buena Vista are not getting clear answers from BV advisors,” Barrera said, referring to consultants that the Housing Authority had hired to work with residents to help them plan for the future.

Homes inside the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto on Feb. 14, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Homes inside the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto on Feb. 14, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Another resident, Pepe Ramirez, said he was disappointed to learn that his family would not qualify for a three-bedroom unit in the new apartment building. Ramirez, who lives at Buena Vista with his wife and three kids, said he was told that he would only qualify for a two-bedroom unit.

Flaherty Ward, the Housing Authority’s director of real estate, told the council this week that 76% of the households have affirmed their housing decisions, up from about 66% in March. She said she expects the percentage to climb higher in the coming weeks as the agency resumes one-on-one meetings with households and updates its offers based on new appraisals.

“During those meetings, people will also get additional details on relocation impacts of their households, what phase they fall in and how long we anticipate them to be onsite,” Ward said.

The proposed redevelopment of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park includes a 61-unit apartment building and 44 mobile homes. Courtesy Santa Clara County Housing Authority

The Housing Authority is still working to secure housing for the temporarily displaced residents. While the agency typically tries to secure housing about 90 days before residents have to move, it is expanding it to 120 days because of Palo Alto’s tight rental market.

While the council broadly supported the redevelopment of Buena Vista, council members had a few cavils of their own. They urged the Housing Authority to consider design changes that would limit the need for tree removals, particularly along Los Robles Avenue. The current plan calls for removing 60 trees and planting 65 new ones. Council members suggested that this could create a “heat island” at the mobile home park during the period before the new trees mature.

“What we want is for this community to look just like any other in Palo Alto, lush with trees,” Council member Julie Lythcott-Haims said. “When you’re starting from scratch, those trees are going to be smaller and what have you, but our goal should be to have a lovely tree canopy just as we would expect anywhere else.”

Council members also suggested that the project architects reconsider the color palette for the new apartment building, which was modified based on feedback from the Architectural Review Board. The new color scheme strayed from the preferences that had been expressed by Buena Vista residents earlier in the design process, according to Dellenbach. The council agreed that the colors should be reviewed.

On the whole, however, the council was happy to support the project. Council members Pat Burt and Lydia Kou both said they were excited to see the redevelopment proposal advance after years of planning.

“It’s been a long road but I’m really happy to see where we are,” Kou said.

Read the full article here.

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