The owner of Palo Alto's sole mobile-home park suffered a defeat in federal court Friday when a judge dismissed his lawsuit against the City, deeming it "not ripe for adjudication."
The Jisser family, which owns the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, contended in a lawsuit filed in November that Palo Alto acted in an unconstitutional manner when it approved a closure application for Buena Vista Mobile Home Park that requires the family to pay approximately $8 million in relocation assistance to the roughly 400 low-income residents who would be displaced.
The family has been trying to close the park since the fall of 2012. The relocation payments, which it included in its closure application, include the costs of the each mobile home, moving costs, start-up costs for new housing and rent subsidies (the difference between their rents at Buena Vista and at their new locations).
In the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court, the family contended that these requirements are "oppressive and unreasonable" and claimed that the city's ordinance for the closure of the mobile-home park "forces the Jisser family to either bear the unconstitutional conditions imposed on them ... or to suffer the permanent physical occupation of their property by tenants that they now want to exclude from the land."
"In effect, the Jisser Family has been told that they must choose between an unconstitutional taking of their money and an unconstitutional taking of their land," the brief filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the Jisser family, stated.
But in reviewing the claim, Judge Edward J. Davila sided with the city's position that the suit's challenge to the mobile-home ordinance was "not ripe for adjudication" because the ordinance was adopted in 2001. This makes the challenge to the ordinance "time barred" pursuant to the statute of limitations.
Nor was Davila convinced by the Jisser family's criticisms about how the ordinance was applied. The Jissers' claims on this matter were also deemed "unripe" because the family did not seek a judgment from a state court before filing its challenge in a federal one. As Davila note in his ruling: "Failure to exhaust an as-applied takings challenge in state court is grounds for dismissal in federal court."
"It is undisputed that Plaintiffs did not pursue any remedy through the state procedures," Davila wrote.
The decision hands the City a decisive victory in one of two legal challenges it is facing as a result of the pending closure of Buena Vista, a tendentious process that began more than three years ago and that reached a milestone in May 2015, when the City Council approved the Jisser family's closure application.
In addition to the challenge from the Jisser family, Palo Alto is also facing a lawsuit in the Santa Clara County Superior Court from the Buena Vista Residents Association, which is challenging the City Council's approval of the closure application.
While Davila's decision affirms the legality of the council-approved closure application, the issue could turn out to be moot thanks to the latest effort by city and county officials to preserve Buena Vista and its 117 units of low-income housing. Earlier this month, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian announced a partnership between the county, the city and Housing Authority of Santa Clara County to purchase Buena Vista from the Jisser family, with the city and the county each paying $14.5 million and the Housing Authority paying the balance.
The purchase, which could be compelled by eminent domain, would render moot the relocation assistance because, under the terms of the partnership, displacement of current residents "shall be avoided to the maximum extent allowed by law," according to the memorandum of understanding between the three agencies. The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the partnership last week.
The City Council is scheduled to adopt it on Monday, June 27, while the Housing Authority's board is set to vote on it on Tuesday, June 28.
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.