Palo Alto seeks to toss mobile-home park lawsuit

Jisser family asks federal court for an injunction from conditions placed by City of Palo Alto

Attorneys for the City of Palo Alto and the Jisser family squared off in federal court on Thursday over whether the closure plan for the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is unconstitutional.

Owners Toufic and Eva Jisser and their trust filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in San Jose in November 2015 claiming that the $8 million they must pay to compensate the mobile-home owners and for relocation costs far exceeds state law, and it prevents the family from closing the park and replacing it with an undisclosed project. The Jissers have owned the mobile-home park for 30 years, which is home to about 400 low-income residents.

Last year, the Palo Alto City Council approved the family's application to close the mobile-home park, where most of the residents are Hispanic or low-income families. The $8 million would giving tenants money not just for moving costs, but also for rent subsidies for alternative housing in the area, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges the city's large financial requirement went beyond "reasonable costs of relocation" as outlined in state law and violates the family's rights under the Fifth Amendment, which states that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation, as well as similar rights under the 14th Amendment. The family had applied to close the park in November 2012.

The Palo Alto City Council held a two-day hearing in April 2015 on appeals residents made that the appraised values of the properties was too low. The council then approved the closure on May 26, 2015, with the condition to pay the $8 million.

Buena Vista residents filed a lawsuit against the city in Superior Court on Aug. 24, 2015, challenging the city's application approval. Shortly thereafter, the Jissers withdrew from negotiations with nonprofit organization the Caritas Corporation to purchase the property, which made an initial offering that included $29 in subsidies from Palo Alto and Santa Clara County.

Although the city agreed to set aside $14.5 million to help try to buy the mobile-home park, lawyers for the residents said they had an ethical obligation to protect their clients' legal rights. If the sale to Caritas didn't happen and the park is closed, filing the lawsuit by the statute of limitations deadline gave the residents the best chance of preserving their right to adequate relocation assistance, their attorneys said at the time. The Jissers then filed their lawsuit on Nov. 19, 2015.

But attorneys for Palo Alto said that the Jissers could have challenged the city ordinance in 2001 and many times thereafter. Any challenge to the ordinance, which set the conditions for the park's closure, should instead be heard in Santa Clara County Superior Court before being addressed by the federal court. But the Jissers failed to seek relief in the lower court within 90 days after the city approved the closure plan, said Kevin D. Siegel, an attorney representing the city. That failure means that the plaintiffs cannot now seek legal remedy because the statute of limitations has expired, he said.

U.S. Supreme Court precedent also rejected a similar claim that California's Mobilehome Residency law and local regulations are per se "taking" of private property that does not depend on the extent of the alleged take, the city told Judge Edward J. Davila.

The city properly required relocation assistance as a condition of approval under state law, Siegel said. Many of the mobile homes, which are either too old to be moved or are secured to foundations, are not truly mobile, and thus residents are in need of assistance in securing new housing, he said.

The Jissers' attorney, Lawrence Salzman, said the ordinance's permit conditions amounted to extortion. The city transformed state law into an unconstitutional command forcing the Jissers to pay a massive monetary demand to satisfy the city's desire to mitigate its own lack of affordable housing, he said.

California's Mobilehome Residency Law allows a city council to require a property owner to "mitigate any adverse impact of the (park closure) on the ability of the displaced mobile-home park residents to find adequate housing in a mobile-home park" and that the conditions "shall not exceed the reasonable costs of relocation," he noted.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davila took the arguments under submission and didn't indicate when he would issue his decision on the city's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

About 20 mobile-home park residents and supporters, many who wore matching shirts and pins, were in court for Thursday's hearing.

The Jisser family had multiple opportunities to complain about the city ordinance surrounding mobile-home parks and "vigorously" defended their case to the City Council last year, said Winter Dellenbach, founder of Friends of Buena Vista.

The Jisser family's federal lawsuit could head to higher courts and lead to decisions that can affect the country, where about 20 million people live in mobile homes, Dellenbach said.

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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41 people like this
Posted by John b
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 27, 2016 at 7:16 am

Is this guy really still trying to close down? Hasn't it been three years. By now the people should have left on there own

38 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2016 at 8:40 am

Why would they leave on their own when they have a huge windfall cash handout waiting for them.

20 people like this
Posted by John B
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2016 at 9:01 am

Because this is the USA, a place where we fight for our guns more than we fight for our property rights. Many renters have to leave their homes because the owner wants to reuse the property.

What is sad is that someone will say these are mobile homes and cant be moved.... they are not homes they are travel trailers that are personally property. what a sad day for property rights in America

8 people like this
Posted by reality check
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Why doesn't a Jisser family member try and rent a home in Palo Alto? Just try and see what kind of crappy house you can get for oh, say $5,500 a month. Yes, Jisser family members. RENT is more than you can imagine and landlords routinely raise rents 10% a year.

11 people like this
Posted by Re-check Reality
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Actually, there are small, crappy dumps resting for $7,000/month in Palo Alto. If the landlord makes so much as on small improvement (such as a new toilet), a month later the rent goes up 205 with no warning. God forbid the landlord paints the house.

Our shower was leaking, so the landlord decided to rip it out and put in a new one, plus a new toilet and sink to match. The bathroom floor was ruined from years of leaks, so once that was completed, we got an almost immediate rent increase of 33%!

THIS is why we need rent control!

19 people like this
Posted by Time to stir the pot
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 27, 2016 at 3:44 pm

[Portion removed.] From what have read, he has been a pretty good landlord, keeping rents low etc. now in his elder years, he wants to close the park and sell the property. [Portion removed.] Now they are trying to extort from him an exorbitant amount of money.
The residents are getting back advise -- they will end up with the short end of the stick in the end.

15 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 27, 2016 at 3:56 pm

"Why doesn't a Jisser family member try and rent a home in Palo Alto?"

Why on earth would they rent a home in Palo Alto?

"THIS is why we need rent control!"

This is why we need more housing, not rent control. Rents are function of three things:
- Housing supply
- Wages paid
- Size of the workforce

To moderate rents, the wages can be decreased, employment can be reduced or the housing supply can be increased. Reducing wages and employment in Palo Alto would be pointless because it would do nothing to change those factors in surrounding communities. There would still be an impact on PA rents. Believe it or not, Palo Alto does not exist in a bubble. I am sure that some folks would like to pretend otherwise, though. That leaves one realistic option - increase the supply of housing, both in Palo Alto and in the rest of the Bay Area.

One Man Compiled 68 Years of Data To Find Out Why Rents Go Up
Web Link

A mobile home park is one solution, but a very inefficient one because it is only single level. Not to mention all the money being wasted on it. Build an affordable housing high rise (or better yet a mixed-income housing high rise with plenty of affordable housing). Put a supermarket and some other retail shops on the ground floor to minimize traffic and make things more convenient for the residents.

5 people like this
Posted by Time to stir the pot
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 27, 2016 at 4:16 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by No rent control
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2016 at 4:24 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2016 at 6:05 pm

I would just like to comment to the above posters that this isn't a simple rental situation. Most BV residents own their homes and rent the land, so the folding of the park also costs many people their only significant asset, and property they could have sold, too. Even in poor condition, mobile homes can go for many tens of thousands of dollars in this high demand area. The residents are losing their investment, too, and when gone, they may have no other opportunity if they are not realistically compensated, that's why the laws go to those lengths to protect mobile home owners.

That's irrelevant to this suit. There is a lot of precedent in the law in regards to "exhaustion of administrative remedies". People have gone to high courts with legitimate claims where the decisions even said they were right, and lost because they did not pursue the remedies they had before suing in federal court. If Jisser didn't like the ordinance, he had every chance to push back within available statutes and in the appropriate venues. He chose not to. Regardless of whether the courts think he has a case, it's hard to see how Jisser could get around the exhaustion of administrative remedies precedents. That's what is being argued here, whether Jisser can pursue a federal case or not. There has been such wealth and bigtime legal firepower on the side of developing that whole field of exhaustion of administrative remedies, I would be really surprised if the insurance industry and similar interests etc will let it be weakened should Jisser somehow prevail at this level.

Kazu, there is no evidence that building more in a place of such high global demand will lower housing prices, but plenty of evidence that rampant development increases costs and displaces low-income residents. Another potential solution has been proposed lately, which is to simply provide planned, carefully considered incentives to move some of the jobs to another place that wants the development. As has also been pointed out, intense urbanization is a new global trend that geographers say is likely to continue, people are cramming into existing cities and smaller localities suffer. A more holistic solition would be to identify a location that would be desirable if better developed and that would welcome an influx of jobs. In light of urbanization trends, it makes sense in a vast nation like ours to encourage more urban centers. It's far cheaper for the City to even provide incentives for some of the companies to move - it makes the most sense if they move together to create a planned urban center somewhere that needs the development. It could end up bing a place where Palo Altans go to retire, too. It would be the most rapid way to take the pressure off of existing housing stock, and a better longterm solution is the urbanization trend will likely continue worldwide for decades, I've read.

Good luck to everyone involved.

16 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2016 at 7:23 pm

> If Jisser didn't like the ordinance, he had every chance to push back within available statutes and in the appropriate venues. He chose not to.

No, that's completely untrue. Find and read the owner's complaint. The owner didn't file suit to attack the City's closure ordinance, or prolong an administrative appeal of the settlement terms. The owner doesn't care if the City's closure ordinance is valid or invalid, or that his family was denied a fair administrative hearing (unlike the lawsuit the resident's filed against the City in state court).

The owner is simply saying that, now that the City has determined the compensation for the Buena Vista residents, the amount he must pay to close the mobile home park is unreasonable and violates his rights under the US Constitution. The state law that supports the City ordinance uses the term "reasonable cost of relocation" for mobile home park closure compensation. That was the point the City needed to make in federal court.

Instead, the City made the mistake of arguing about appropriate legal venues and deadlines. That would be a good case for the City, but that's not the owner's complaint and not grounds for dismissing the owner's federal lawsuit.

24 people like this
Posted by GoneOnTooLong
a resident of Barron Park
on May 28, 2016 at 6:25 am

I want to thank "Reality Check" of Midtown for reminding us that while every other property owner in Palo Alto is free to raise their rent at market rates and charge high prices for their rentals, the Jisser family operates the only rental business in Palo Alto that is rent controlled.

In fact, the Jissers have never noticed a rent increase that reached the rent control cap Web Link

The average rent at Buena Vista in 2013 was $685.00 per month. If the Jissers had raised the rent as much as they were allowed under the rent control limits, that rent would have been $1,550 per month. For the 119 units over a period of 1 year, that loss of rental income amounts to over $1.23 M per year that the Jissers have foregone to the benefit of the renters.

Making this even more ironic, having put an additional $1.23M per year in the collective pockets of the Buena Vista renters each year, the Jissers must now pay that additional $1.23M more in rental offsets to the renters per the closure plan (simply because they voluntarily kept their rents down while other Palo Alto businesses raised their rents).

The Jissers could probably teach our Midtown friend a thing or two about Palo Alto free market rents and the extreme lengths the Jissers have gone to keep their rents down and help the low income residents of Buena Vista.

The Jissers have done more to help low income residents of Palo ALto than anyine, including the city. I want to thank them for their efforts. Its time foe the City, and the residents to do their part now and stop vilifying and bullying the Jissers.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2016 at 8:37 am

Mobile Home Parks are having problems all over the Bay Area. There is one in Mountain View near Google where the residents feel they are fighting to remain. The pressures being put on the homeowners to keep their property fixed up as well as huge rent increases is scaring them.

Anyone thinking that a mobile home in a nice park is a great place for retirement around here should think again.

12 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 28, 2016 at 5:33 pm

"The Jissers could probably teach our Midtown friend a thing or two about Palo Alto free market rents and the extreme lengths the Jissers have gone to keep their rents down and help the low income residents of Buena Vista."

So the Jissers were good to people and in return they got kicked in the shorts? That sounds like pretty rotten and unfair treatment to me.

5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 29, 2016 at 3:47 pm

"No good deed goes unpunished."

8 people like this
Posted by time to move on
a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2016 at 6:12 pm

$80,000 per mobile home is high, but not unreasonable IMO. The Jissers will undoubtedly make much more than this by closing the park and selling the land. It's time for them to bite the bullet and move on. And, fortunately, it looks like due to a technicality (statute of limitation expiring) their lawsuit against the city is unlikely to succeed.

5 people like this
Posted by Ben Rumson
a resident of College Terrace
on May 30, 2016 at 9:50 am

There is no statute of limitations on a violation of constitutional rights.

Why is Palo Alto always spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers defending itself in federal court for violating the constitutional rights of its citizens (from school kids to property owners) ?

I predict the city will get clobbered on this one just like they did when they stole Foothills Park overlook land.

2 people like this
Posted by rico
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 11, 2017 at 2:27 pm

park closing

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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