Palo Alto changes fee rules to support Buena Vista purchase

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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.

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