Palo Alto trailer park own­ers lose case, must pay to re­lo­cate

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Bob Egelko

A fed­eral judge says 400 res­i­dents of Palo Alto’s only trailer park are en­ti­tled to re­lo­ca­tion pay­ments of about $20,000 each if the own­ers go ahead with their plans to close the park down.

Tim and Eva Jisser, who have owned the Buena Vista Mo­bile Home Park since 1986, filed suit in fed­eral court in Novem­ber, ar­gu­ing that the $8 mil­lion in pay­ments or­dered by the city to cover the res­i­dents’ costs of mov­ing else­where amounted to an un­con­sti­tu­tional con­fis­ca­tion of their prop­erty. But in a rul­ing made pub­lic Mon­day, U.S. District Judge Ed­ward Dav­ila in San Jose said that the Jis­sers were re­quired to first file their ar­gu­ments in state court — and that the dead­line for such a fil­ing has long since ex­pired.

Un­der es­tab­lished fed­eral court doc­trine, Dav­ila said, prop­erty own­ers who con­tend a state or lo­cal govern­ment has vi­o­lated their rights must turn first to the state court sys­tem, un­less they can show it would be fu­tile. Only af­ter the state courts fail to re­move the al­leged bur­den on prop­erty rights or pro­vide ad­e­quate

com­pen­sa­tion can the own­ers take their con­sti­tu­tional claims to fed­eral court, Dav­ila said.

The own­ers filed an ap­peal late Mon­day.

“The fed­eral courts are the right place to go if you’re seek­ing to have your con­sti­tu­tional rights vin­di­cated,” said at­tor­ney Lawrence Salz­man of the Pa­cific Le­gal Foun­da­tion, a prop­er­tyrights or­ga­ni­za­tion. He said the Jis­sers weren’t seek­ing dam­ages from the courts, just a rul­ing bar­ring Palo Alto from en­forc­ing its re­lo­ca­tion-pay­ment or­di­nance against them.

Palo Alto City At­tor­ney Molly Stump de­clined to com­ment.

The Jis­sers ap­plied to close Buena Vista in Novem­ber 2012 so they could sell the prop­erty, pos­si­bly to a de­vel­oper. As they were look­ing for a buyer, Palo Alto and Santa Clara County jointly pro­posed keep­ing the trailer park open by ac­quir­ing the prop­erty, through con­dem­na­tion if nec­es­sary, and have each pledged $14.5 mil­lion for the pur­chase.

Buena Vista, on Los Robles Av­enue near one of Palo Alto’s main thor­ough­fares, El Camino Real, has 117 trailer units on about 4½ acres and has been open since the 1950s.

As of last fall, the av­er­age rent, in­clud­ing util­i­ties, was $1,000 to $1,200 a month. Most of the res­i­dents have lim­ited in­comes and couldn’t af­ford to live else­where in a city where one-bed­room apart­ments rent for $2,500 a month.

Cal­i­for­nia law al­lows lo­cal govern­ments to re­quire mo­bile home park own­ers to pro­tect res­i­dents from the im­pact of a shut­down.

Af­ter the Jis­sers an­nounced their plans to sell, city of­fi­cials held a hear­ing and then gave their ap­proval in Septem­ber 2014 on the con­di­tion that the own­ers com­pen­sate res­i­dents for the value of their home, the mov­ing costs, and the dif­fer­ence be­tween their trailer rent and the av­er­age apart­ment rent in Palo Alto and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

The city wound up or­der­ing pay­ments of about $20,000 per res­i­dent, which would al­low them to move their mo­bile home to an­other site, if pos­si­ble, or pay for rent else­where.

Leah Mil­lis / The Chron­i­cle 2015

A judge ruled Buena Vista Mo­bile Home Park res­i­dents in Palo Alto must be paid by the own­ers if the park is closed.

Leah Mil­lis / The Chron­i­cle 2015

Buena Vista Mo­bile Home Park res­i­dents are en­ti­tled to pay­ment for re­lo­ca­tion costs if the park closes, a judge ruled.

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