Palo Alto trailer park owners lose case, must pay to relocate
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.
A judge ruled Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents in Palo Alto must be paid by the owners if the park is closed.
Buena Vista Mobile Home Park residents are entitled to payment for relocation costs if the park closes, a judge ruled.