November 19, 2015

Family sues Palo Alto to stop mobilehome park shakedown

By Larry G. Salzman Senior Attorney

This morning, PLF joined with the Jisser family (Tim, Eva, and their son, Joe) in Palo Alto, Calif., to file a federal lawsuit challenging that city’s unconstitutional demand that the Jissers pay millions just for the right to close their mobilehome park business.

The Jissers are a hard-working immigrant family who moved to the Silicon Valley from Israel in the 1970s. They made their living running a small grocery store, scraping and saving their money to buy the Buena Vista mobilehome park in Palo Alto in 1986.  Since then, the Jisser family’s mobilehome park has provided some of the most affordable housing in Palo Alto for more than 30 years.

At age 71, Tim Jisser would like to retire, but the family has been mired in a highly publicized and often acrimonious dispute for years over their right to withdraw the property from the rental market and close their business. Earlier this year, the city gave the Jissers permission to close their business, but only on the condition that they first pay approximately $8 million to their tenants.  The payments include rent subsidies for alternative housing for the tenants and the outright purchase of all of the Jissers’ tenants’ mobilehomes at prices reflecting the acute housing shortage in Palo Alto.

In effect, the Jissers are being forced to remain landlords–and to accept the permanent occupation of their land by their tenants–unless they provide their tenants with enough money to ameliorate the city’s notoriously high cost of housing. But it is the city itself that has created the housing shortage that makes it all but impossible for young families and people of modest means to live there.

Palo Alto is ground zero for California’s affordable housing crisis, where the median home price is a blistering $2.46 million dollars. It is the city that has refused to allow enough homes to be built in the area to meet the skyrocketing demand during the last several decades, which has resulted in those high prices.

Represented by PLF pro bono, the Jissers’ case charges that Palo Alto’s staggering financial demand is an unconstitutional condition on the Jissers’ property rights and a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Takings clause.  The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that individual property owners should not be forced to pay for public benefits that, in fairness, should be borne by the public as a whole.

More details about the case can be read here.

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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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