2 weeks ago

A just end to property rights battle in Palo Alto

By Larry G. Salzman Senior Attorney

Today PLF dismissed its appeal of a case involving the Jisser family, owners of a small mobile home park in Palo Alto, Calif., who were being forced to pay millions of dollars by the city as a condition of getting a permit to close their mobilehome park business. Tim and Eva Jisser, who bought the park in 1986, wanted to retire from the business and allow younger family members to put the land to another use.

The City said the Jissers should be made to provide the money as financial assistance to their tenants, who would have been required to move when the park closed, citing the region’s sky-high housing costs. PLF brought a major federal constitutional challenge, seeking to strike down the extortionate permit condition. At one point, in response, the City threatened to take the mobilehome park by eminent domain.

In the end, the Jissers neither lost their property to eminent domain nor paid the nearly $8 million dollars demanded of them. While PLF’s case has been winding its way through the courts, the City came under political pressure to avoid the closure of the park and stepped forward with an offer to purchase most of the land on which the mobile home park sits in a market-priced transaction. The Jissers will retain a portion of their land for future commercial use and a non-profit organization working on behalf of a coalition of public agencies is likely to rehabilitate the aging mobile home park and operate it.

PLF brings cases to win judicial rulings that set important precedent protecting not only the rights of our clients but the rights of others in their shoes. Sometimes, however, the politics and the pressure of a lawsuit simply causes government to rethink its actions and seek a more lawful course, effectively terminating the litigation before a judicial ruling. That is what has happened here—and we are pleased to see a just result for the Jisser family. A settlement allows Tim and Eva Jisser to retire in peace, avoiding many years of litigation. Even in such a case, by standing up for property rights, PLF succeeds in putting governments everywhere on notice that violating the constitution risks legal action.

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Jisser v. City of Palo Alto, California

The Jisser family owns the last mobile home park in super-expensive Palo Alto, California. They wanted to retire, leave the business entirely and close down the park, but the city demanded that the Jissers pay $8 million to the tenants to obtain the required permit. Representing the Jissers, PLF sued on the ground that the city’s demand was nothing more than extortion prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. A federal district court judge dismissed the case because he erroneously believed that the Jissers had to pursue state court remedies first. While the appeal was pending, the city agreed to give up the fight and purchase the mobile home park itself. The appeal is stayed pending resolution of the settlement.

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