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.