Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Owners Sue City of Palo Alto

Owners of a Palo Alto mobile home park have filed a lawsuit claiming that the city violated their constitutional rights by requiring them to pay for tenant relocation as a condition of closing the business.

The case filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court calls the $8 million in relocation fees a “shakedown,” a “staggering financial demand” that flouts the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Buena Vista, home to about 400 mostly low-income Latino residents, lies in the thick of one of the priciest real estate markets in the nation. The Jisser family, which has owned the property for decades, has fought for years to redevelop the land and retire from the mobile home park business.

But the park is one of the few remaining enclaves of affordable housing in the region, let alone Palo Alto. Housing advocates rallied around the cause, defending the tenants against mass eviction. For background on the case, read the Palo Alto Weekly's timeline on Storify.

In May, the City Council agreed to let the Jissers close the mobile home park, as long as they compensated residents for the move. Relocation help included the fair market value of each home as well as the difference between average rents in Palo Alto and average rents in Buena Vista for a year.

An appraisal in 2014 brought the total to $8 million, though that amount could increase.

The Jisser family spoke about their reaction to that ruling in a YouTube video uploaded by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm representing them in this case.

“It was really shocking—and frustrating, to say the least—that it would cost in the several millions of dollars to get out of the rental business,” the owner’s son, Joe Jisser, said in the video.

Toufic and Eva Jisser moved to Silicon Valley from Israel in the 1970s and got into the grocery business, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation. The family saved up some money and bought Buena Vista in 1986. A few decades later, the family decided to develop the property and retire from the business.

By asking for millions of dollars in relocation fees, however, Palo Alto is asking the Jissers to solve a housing crisis that the city caused, the family’s attorney Larry Salzman said.

The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park Residents Association has also sued the city, claiming the relocation assistance isn’t enough. The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which has been representing tenants, said the Jisser’s legal challenge puts the possibility of resolving the matter out of court “disappointingly farther out of reach.”

“The lawsuit comes as a surprise since it seems to challenge the city’s approval of a relocation plan that the park owner himself advocated for,” according to Law Foundation attorney Kyra Kazantzis.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

15 Comments

  1. The Jisser’s are complaining that the City of Palo Alto created the steep rise in housing costs by not allowing development, thus increasing the cost they must pay to residents to relocate. What the Jisser’s aren’t acknowledging is that it works both ways. Because of the steep rise in housing costs that supposedly the City of Palo Alto created, they then have made the Jisser’s land worth a fortune. It works both ways Jisser’s. Pay up, make your millions on the development of your land and quit crying.

    • Private citizens who own private property are NOT social welfare agencies.

      If the community (i.e. the city government) decides that the tenants deserve an EXCEPTIONAL benefit that no one else gets, then “the community” MUST pay for it.

      Reach into your wallet, FW, and pay YOUR share of the community’s obligation.

      • You missed my point. The Jisser’s are going to get an EXCEPTIONAL payout. Why don’t they pay the people they are displacing and move on. I am not a business owner that went into business leasing my land out, otherwise I would be responsible for this and yes, I would have to pay up.

        And by the way, it would be a whole lot easier to take the Jisser’s sob story seriously if they had at least cleaned the cob webs off of their sign before making a promotional video on behalf of being such great landlord’s for so many years.

        • > You missed my point. The Jisser’s are going to get an EXCEPTIONAL payout.

          I didn’t miss your point. I thought about it long ago when I was seven years old and concluded it was a dumb point.

          If the Jisser’s were going to get an EXCEPTIONAL loss, would you have the tenants contribute to them to “be fair” to them for all of the services they provided over the years to the tenants?

    • FW, under your logic, all property owners must be made to pay a tax upon sale or conversion of their property to support affordable housing. Let’s start with your property.

      • No, with my logic it would just be land-lease owners that must pay a tax. Business owners that go into business allowing citizens to place a home that the citizen paid for on their land, are the people I was talking about. Business owners like the Jissers. By the way, that’s a good idea to tax landlords each time they displace a resident. Cities could make a bundle for affordable housing! Keep the ideas coming!

  2. One of the sparks that ignited The American Revolution was the British government forcing the colonists to house and board British soldiers at the colonists’ expense. The government forcing landowners to pay $8million to sell THEIR OWN LAND is the same thing in principle. Such a rule is a constructive taking of private property by The City of Palo Alto. Such a taking is prohibited by The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Much like the colonists, the Jissers came here from abroad seeking a new life. They worked hard, saved their money, bought land. Now Palo Alto seeks to impose a tax of $8million upon them as a condition of selling the land they worked hard to buy. Their lawyers at The Pacific Legal Foundation have a phenomenal record of victory over unconstitutional land grabs by government entities. Hopefully this case will be over with a victory for the Jissers before the next land bubble bursts; but given the propensity of government at all levels to resist in the hope that plaintiffs will give up or die, I fear that will not be the case.

    • I see the the colonists being like the residents of the mobile home park. They have paid for their homes and put them on the Jissers land, just like the colonists put their homes on the Kings land. Just who did those pesky colonists think they were, getting all comfortable on the land that the King had allowed them to dwell on! Just who do those pesky residents think they are getting all comfortable in their homes on the Jissers land? Those colonists had just about enough of the King bossing them around! But in fact, the King had sovernty over the land! Why aren’t you arguing now for the King? You are arguing for the Jisser’s? It makes no sense. The colonists were tenants of the King. The colonists got this idea in their head that just maybe they had some rights that superseded the King’s land ownership rights! Imagine that! The colonists had the feeling inside of them, that they were being oppressed!!! Hmmmmm……..sounds like the tenants of the mobile home park! And Mr. Jisser sounds like the King. The colonists (tenants) are saying to the King (Jissers) “hey screw you! We don’t care if you own the land. We actually LIVE on this land. We have for a while. We are living our lives here. We don’t want to leave. Just because the laws appear to be on your side, doesn’t mean we can’t fight for a change if we feel oppressed! We too have worked incredibly hard to pay for our home here.”

      Perhaps one of the sparks that will ignite a new revolution in this country will be that tenants are getting sick and tired of being displaced at the whims of money to be made by landlords (and please spare me the “they work hard” bit.) I know a lot of people that work REALLY hard and will not ever be able to buy land to exploit others with. And I know pleanty of people that have taken loans out on their home to purchase another home just to rent out to make money off people. Perhaps when enough renters have been oppressed it will be the spark to say, “down with the king! (landlords of america)!!! If someone wants to “own” land, they must actually live on it rather than it is now (“own” it but live somewhere else and rake in the big bucks). I for one am sick of this country turning into a nation of landlords (private investors, wall street investors, foreign investors) that live off the backs of people that are actually doing the work, while they reap huge ridiculous rents. Start a real business!!! Do something to better our world! Going into business to make money off people needing a roof over their head is turning out to be one of the sleaziest ways I can think of to make money. Every time someone talks about how the colonists revolted against oppression of the King of Britain, they inadvertently reveal that every man can only take so much oppression.The colonists decided that maybe they were willing to fight to live on the land they actually physically lived on, unlike the King that did in fact “own” it but didn’t live on it. So the Jissers and the King are more like each other too. They think for certain they are in the “right” and have the law on their side. But think about it – the colonists were breaking the law – they were just tenants of the king. Just tenants that finally said, “enough of being oppressed”.

      One last thought. The original reason private property made its way into our constitution was so government could not oppress private citizens. It is sad and ironic that now landlords are using the constitution as a way to oppress others.

      • FW: the flaw in your argument is like the flaw in your spelling. “Sovernty”? Seriously? Nice try college girl, but that dog won’t hunt. It wasn’t the king’s land that the colonists built their houses upon. The colonists owned the land their houses were built upon and they owned the lands they farmed. Check out your facts before you go all ivory tower on us.

        • Please educate me: From whom did the colonists buy the land? Or….how did they come to be land owners?

          • So FW, you have confirmed by your own words that you have no knowledge about property rights in the colonies. Yet you spewed forth your views about property ownership and rights. Surely you must be a college girl. Thus, one would think you know how to use the internet to acquire knowledge. Perhaps you could do us all a favor and acquire some knowledge on a subject before you express an opinion about it. I’ll give you a very brief history of property rights in colonial America. From the time the first colonists came to our shores, land ownership was established by the simple act of claiming a piece of land and describing it by a system of meets and bounds. Almost 150 years later, in late 1763, King George III proclaimed that all land west of the Appalachians was the property of the crown. The colonists scoffed at this notion and the system of merely staking a claim remained in place de facto in the British colonies. At The First Continental Congress held in Philadelphia in 1774, it was declared that all men are equally “entitled to life, liberty, and property.” A few years later we were a new nation. The system was a bit different in the Southwest and much of California, where the King of Spain and the Governor of Mexico issued land grants. However, all other land remained there for the mere claiming. In 1803, President Jefferson completed The Louisiana Purchase, which more than doubled the size of our nation. Only after The Louisiana Purchase did the concept of federal land take hold in America. However, the federal government was quite liberal in allowing people to simply claim the land as long as they worked the land. Have you heard of The Oklahoma Land Rush?

          • > From whom did the colonists buy the land? Or….how did they come to be land owners?

            Actually, a fair and fundamental question.

            The answer is probably long and controversial, but I will give you my net explanation.

            At the time of the first European contact with North America, the continent was populated only be tribal peoples.

            Tribal people do not have a concept of private property. In contemporary terms you can probably say that they thought of all land as part of a great “commons”.

            Tribal peoples were hunter gatherers and made their living by foraging, undoubtedly in a part of the “commons” that provided a good living. If multiple tribes foraged or hunted in the same part of the commons, the stronger tribes ran off or killed and ate the weaker tribes.

            When the Europeans came to North America, they brought modern concepts based on capitalism: private property and rule of law.

            European regents “claimed” various portions of the “commons” as parts of their dominion and subject to the rule of their aw.

            From the perspective of the tribal peoples, a stronger tribe had just moved into their part of the commons and run them off. Really nothing unusual in the history and experience of tribal peoples.

            The only thing different is that the new incumbent European origin tribes had a more advance concept of how to organize, manage, and maintain control over a part of the commons which they regarded as their “permanent” territory.

  3. If being required to move after living in one place for a long time qualifies a non-owner to a relocation payment, then will the City of Palo Alto be applying that rule to the parents of newly-emancipated children?

    Or do mobile home residents require more protection than do wet behind the ears 18-year-olds?

  4. Mobile home parks are disappearing all over Santa Clara County as the park owners decide to sell or redevelop the land. From the article “Relocation help included the fair market value of each home as well as the difference between average rents in Palo Alto and average rents in Buena Vista for a year.”

    Mobile home owners are in the unusual situation of owning their mobile home but having to rent the space in a mobile home park. Having the mobile home park close means trying to find somewhere else to relocate their mobile home. How many homes in Buena Vista are owner occupied, and how many are tenant occupied?

    I can see the mobile home park owner compensating the owners of the mobile homes for fair market value for their mobile homes if they are unable to find another mobile home park for relocation of their mobile home. People who bought mobile homes should be able to recoup their investment at market value for a used mobile home.

    But requiring the park owners to make up the difference between average rents in Palo Alto and average rents in the mobile home park for a year implies that people have a right to live in Palo Alto rather than in any other community. I do not see how a judge could find that demand reasonable.

    What about all of the other people who have been priced out by rent increases in Palo Alto? What about all of the children who grow up in Palo Alto and then can’t afford to live there as adults? No one provides compensation to them to live in Palo Alto.

  5. “Going into business to make money off people needing a roof over their head is turning out to be one of the sleaziest ways I can think of to make money.” — FW

    “Going into business” — the decision to invest one’s energy and capital — and absorb all associated risk, in a venture designed to gain profit by providing others with something of value.

    “people needing a roof over their head” — a sheltering roof can be had in any of three ways: through purchase (requires accumulation of considerable savings and a high level of credit worthiness), through rent (possible only if someone else has purchased the property), through charity (friends, churches, governments).

    “one of the sleaziest ways I can think of to make money” — were it not for landlords putting shelter on the market (at monthly rates set by local conditions) everyone now renting would be faced with either buying a home or finding a charitable source, guaranteeing that the homeless population of San Jose would be in the hundreds of thousands.