Palo Alto, CA; November 19, 2015: Should retiring rental property owners be forced to pay millions of dollars to solve a city’s affordable housing problem, merely for the right to close their business? That is the question confronted by a major constitutional case filed today in federal court against the City of Palo Alto by the Jisser family, owners of the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park.
The Jissers are represented by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), the nation’s leading legal watchdog organization for property rights. Donor-supported PLF represents the Jissers without charge, as with all its clients.
The Jisser family’s mobilehome park has provided the lowest cost housing in Palo Alto for more than 30 years, but the family has been mired in a dispute for years over their right to withdraw the property from the rental market. Earlier this year, the city determined that the Jissers may close their business, but only on the condition that they pay millions of dollars to tenants as “relocation” costs aimed at ameliorating the city’s notorious affordable housing crisis. Presently that price tag is about $8 million, but the cost to the Jissers may rise if neighborhood rents or other costs go up between now and the date of the park’s closure.
PLF’s lawsuit on the Jissers’ behalf charges that this staggering financial demand violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment limitations on taking private property for public use, and also violates a California state law prohibiting conditions on the closure of mobilehome parks that “exceed the reasonable costs of relocation” of a park’s tenants. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that government may not force individual property owners to bear the costs of public benefits which, in fairness, should be paid for by the public as a whole.
“No one should be forced to carry on a business that they want to close,” said PLF Attorney Larry Salzman. “The city is treating the Jissers as an ATM to solve a problem they didn’t cause — the lack of affordable housing in Palo Alto. That’s not just wrong, it’s unconstitutional.
“The way to make housing affordable in Palo Alto is to build more housing,” Salzman noted. “The city has for decades refused to permit enough housing to be built to meet the skyrocketing demand, and it is now shamefully scapegoating the Jissers for its own failure.”
Palo Alto is ground-zero for California’s affordable housing crisis, where the median home price is a blistering $2.46 million dollars (compared to $448,000 statewide and $180,000 in the U.S.). A May, 2015, report by California’s Legislative Analyst office blames the state’s high housing costs on overly restrictive land use policies, particularly in coastal cities like Palo Alto.
The Jissers immigrated from Israel in the 1970s and opened the All American Market in a building adjacent to the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park. Tim and Eva Jisser purchased both the building and the park when the previous owner decided to sell the property in 1986, and they have owned and operated it since then. Their son, Joe Jisser, now manages the property.
“My parents came here as immigrants with nothing and built a successful business,” said Joe Jisser. “They were pursuing the American dream. But now the city is trampling on the promise of freedom that drew them to this land.
“Our family has worked hard for 30 years to provide safe and affordable housing here,” he continued. “Now we’re told by the city that providing that service is not enough, that we have to pay a staggering amount of money just to close our business. It’s not fair for the city to force us to pay our tenants millions of dollars as the price of my parents’ retirement.
“It is terrible that there is so little affordable housing in Palo Alto, but we didn’t create that problem,” he noted. “This fight isn’t really between us and our tenants; it’s with a city that has failed everyone.
“We just want to close the business and use our property for something new in the future,” he concluded. “We were shocked when the city told us we have to pay $8 million to close this business. It’s just not right. That’s why we have joined with Pacific Legal Foundation to fight back.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is the leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, individual rights, and free enterprise, in courts nationwide. PLF represents all clients free of charge.
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