Palo Alto Forbids Mobile Home Park Owners from Closing

Buena Vista Mobile Home Park (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
Eric Risberg / Associated Press

Tim and Eva Jisser started a mobile home park in Palo Alto, California, in 1986. Now the family wants to move on, but the city told them they must pay $8 million to do so. The Jissers believe that the right to own property includes the right to close a business you no longer want to operate, so they’re suing in federal court.

Tim and Eva Jisser immigrated to America in the 1970s from Israel. In 1986 they created Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, which is now mostly run by their son, Joe. Tim is age 71, and wants to retire from the business entirely.

There are much more productive uses for their prime real estate now, so the Jissers are trying to close their park and have the land rededicated to more profitable uses. But Palo Alto claims the right to make them pay $8 million resettlement costs and subsidized housing for all their tenants.

Housing costs in Palo Alto are staggering. California homes are much more expensive than the average home in the United States. While an average American home costs $180,000, California’s statewide average of $448,000. But that pales in comparison with a typical home in Palo Alto, which runs an eye-popping $2.46 million.

“No one should be forced to carry on a business that they want to close,” says Larry Salzman, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), representing the Jissers. Salzman noted that for decades the city has refused to issue permits to build more housing, and the resulting shortfall in available houses is what has led to Palo Alto’s astronomical prices.

PLF is a public-interest law firm that represents clients in property-rights and free-enterprise disputes. Its complaint in federal court argues that the city is violating the Jissers’ rights under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. The Takings Clause permits the government to take a person’s property only for a “public use,” such as building a highway or military base, and only if the government gives the owner “just compensation” (which generally means fair market value).

The city should take this challenge seriously. In 2012, DLF’s Damien Schiff dealt the Obama administration an embarrassing defeat, with a 9-0 victory in Sackett v. EPA regarding the right of homeowners to sue in court against the federal government’s finding that the owners’ personal home lot was a federally protected wetland that had to be restored at the owners’ expense.

PLF’s new lawsuit in Palo Alto could be the most significant Takings Clause case since Kelo v. New London, where the Supreme Court held 5-4 that “public use” includes taking property to give it to a private strip-mall developer which will give the government more tax revenue from the property.

Kelo is regarded by many conservative constitutional scholars as perhaps the worst private-property decision in American history (aside from the infamous Dred Scott decision, where the Supreme Court indicated that slaves were property), since an individual’s right to own property was a cornerstone of the American Revolution.

In light of that, it should be no surprise that Breitbart News reported that conservatives were deeply alarmed when Donald Trump said earlier this year that he continues to support the Kelo decision, so long as the government will allocate the property in a manner that creates jobs.

If the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit side with the Jissers, that might be the end of it. If not, this case could go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.


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