After making a pledge in June to contribute $14.5 million toward the preservation of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, the City Council on Monday changed its guidelines for affordable-housing fees to make the funds available for the park’s purchase.
The council voted 8-0, with Greg Scharff absent, to change the city’s rules for expending the fees that the city collects from commercial developers to support affordable housing. The change will allow the city to use $7.7 million from its Commercial Housing Fund to pay for the purchase of Buena Vista. Before, the funding was earmarked specifically for construction of new affordable housing, rather than the preservation of existing affordable housing.
The city also looks to tap into $6.8 million in its Residential Housing Fund, which similarly supports the rehabilitation, acquisition and construction of affordable housing.
The council’s move comes at a time when the future of the city’s sole mobile-home park remains cloudy. The park’s roughly 400 residents have been facing the possibility of eviction and departure from Palo Alto since the fall of 2012, when the Jisser family announced its plans to close the aging mobile-home park and redevelop the Barron Park site, at 3980 El Camino Real.
Though the Jisser family’s initial agreement with the Prometheus Real Estate Group to build luxury apartments at the site fell through after Prometheus pulled out, the family proceeded with its closure application and ultimately won the City Council’s green light for the closure in May.
Now, in a last-ditch effort to preserve the mobile-home park, officials from Palo Alto, Santa Clara County and the nonprofit Caritas Corporation are making a bid to buy Buena Vista.
Caritas, which was charged by the county with making an offer for Buena Vista, submitted an informal offer to the Jisser family earlier this month. The city and the county have pledged $14.5 million each for the purchase of the park, which would be managed by Caritas if the offer is accepted. Caritas also plans to raise additional funds through tax-exempt revenue bonds issued against the rental stream and, if needed, rely on philanthropic contribution to make up the balance.
Winter Dellenbach, founder of the group Friends of Buena Vista, on Monday thanked the council for its pledge and urged it to make the change in the guidelines for the housing fund. She reminded the council that there is now a preliminary offer on the table.
“We need you guys to come through because if something … should happen, we’re going to need access to those funds,” Dellenbach said. “We need you to vote on this, approve this tonight, and make those funds accessible ASAP.”
Mary Kear, vice president of the Buena Vista Residents Association, also addressed the council and in her brief comments urged the council to move ahead with the revision.
“We, the residents of Buena Vista, are relying on you to approve these changes to the housing funds so the money you approved for purchase of Buena Vista can be freed up,” Kear said.
The council made the change with little debate and no dissent. Just before the vote, Councilman Cory Wolbach suggested that the council undertake broader conversations about affordable housing and displacement.
“For all of us, staff, community and council, the unanimity with which the community and the City Council have supported, taking great steps to prevent displacement in Buena Vista … suggests that at some point we need to have a much more serious and broad discussion about what we’re going to do to prevent loss of affordable housing in general in Palo Alto and to prevent tenants from displacement in Palo Alto.”
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.
Cities like Palo Alto are trying to reduce the number of cars commuting. Santa Clara County, on the other hand, has plans to widen expressways, counter to the cities’ efforts to decrease cars on the road. Palo Alto City Council members recently recoiled against the $98 million plan to widen Page Mill Road near Highway 280. They argue that such a plan will only promote that the road can handle more cars. The council believes the only expansion plan should be the addition of more carpool lanes.
In 2014, the Transportation Management Association (TMA) was created by Palo Alto. The TMA’s purpose is to reduce the number of automobiles carrying only the driver by 30 percent over three years. Benefits will be offered to commuters such as Caltrain passes or employee shuttles provided by employers. A similar program is used at Stanford University and has proven to alleviate traffic while being much more cost efficient than adding roads and parking.
Santa Clara County planner Dawn Cameron stated to the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission that the county didn’t take into account local transportation management programs, such as Palo Alto’s, because the county doesn’t fund or operate such programs. These programs were not accounted for, as a result, when creating the Expressway Plan 2040. This plan will cost $3 billion.
Cameron further commented that the county’s responsibility is to operate expressways. She went on to say, “The kind of TDM programs that you’re discussing are typically implemented locally, by employers… We can’t require them to operate shuttles, or to provide passes to their employees.”
A $20 million reconstruction of the Page Mill at the Highway 280 interchange is included in the $98 million project along with adding two lanes to Page Mill from Highway 280 to the Foothill Expressway for $17 million, a grade separation at the Foothill intersection for $50 million, and “lane modifications” on Page Mill at Hanover Street at El Camino Real for $5 million. “Interim” green bike lanes at the Page Mill and Highway 280 interchange are also earmarked with $200,000.
Palo Alto council members stated to staff from Santa Clara County’s Roads and Airports Department that transportation demand management programs should be considered over any road expansion plans. The Roads and Airports Department prepared the Page Mill study. A resolution to only study an expansion to the Page Mill carpool lanes was passed by the City Council.
Council member Cory Walbach stated, “The question isn’t how do we fit more cars. The question is how do we get more people to work.”
County planners were pressed to place precedence on transit improvements and transportation demand management programs first by the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission. Caltrain GO Passes, Highway 280 commuter bus services, and carpool lanes up the Peninsula on Highway 280 were identified for funding for more employers. A formalized effort to reduce car commuting to Stanford Research Park was also identified.
Santa Clara County, across South Bay, is seeking more than $900 million for road expansions included in Envision Silicon Valley that is considered “high-priority.” Envision Silicon Valley is a spending plan based on a transportation sales tax measure that could appear on the November 2016 ballot.
The proposed Page Mill Road projects will be reviewed again on August 17 by the Palo Alto City Council. At that time, the council may recommend that any of the county’s road expansion or transportation projects be included in the sales tax spending plan.
The members of the Palo Alto council have voted in favor of grabbing itself a bigger share of any future revenues from transportation taxes. The council believe that they should have gained more money from the first two rounds of transportation taxes to offset the cost of workplace injury. Eight other towns have also stated their intentions of taking a bigger cut of any such taxes if they are raised again in the future.
The two previous transportation taxes were put into affect by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and they are seriously considering the next round of transportation taxes, which Palo Alto Council and other councils within the valley reckon that could raise around $25 million. They believe that they are entitled to a bigger cut.
However these councils do not want a bit bigger slice of the tax to be greedy, they believe the extra money is urgently needed to improve their own transport systems as a matter of urgency.