• Tim and Eva Jisser, who have owned a mobile home park in Palo Alto for 30 years, would like to retire, but the city of Palo Alto is asking for $8 million for them to do so.
  • At issue is the closure of Buena Vista Mobilehome Park, which would take away the lowest-price rental property now available in the city.
  • The family has filed a Federal lawsuit.

A family-owned business in Palo Alto has filed a federal lawsuit so that the owners can retire after 30 years in business. Problem is, that business is a mobile home park that’s been providing the lowest cost rental housing in the Palo Alto area for 30 years.

The Jisser family, Tim, Eva, and their son Joe, is challenging Palo Alto’s demand, which the family’s lawyers call unconstitutional, that the Jissers pay millions for the right to close their mobile home park business.

Artik234 / Shutterstock.com

Artik234 / Shutterstock.com

At issue is the city’s decision to allow the Jissers to close the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park at a cost to the family of $8 million. The city is requiring that sum to assist the families who now reside in the mobile home park to relocate.

The payments include rent subsidies for alternative housing for the tenants and the outright purchase of all of the Jissers’ tenants’ mobile homes at prices reflecting the acute housing shortage in Palo Alto. That amount could increase, too, if housing costs continue to rise between now and the time the matter is settled.

“It is terrible that there is so little affordable housing in Palo Alto, but we didn’t create that problem,” said Joe Jisser in a statement. “This fight isn’t really between us and our tenants; it’s with a city that has failed everyone.”

The Jissers moved to the Silicon Valley from Israel in the 1970s. They then opened the All American Market in a building adjacent to the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park. Tim and Eva Jisser purchased both the building and the park when the previous owner decided to sell the property in 1986. Their son, Joe Jisser, now manages the property.

According to the family’s attorneys at the Pacific Legal Foundation, Buena Vista Mobilehome Park has provided the lowest cost housing in Palo Alto for more than 30 years. Palo Alto, they said, is ground-zero for California’s affordable housing crisis, where the median home price is $2.46 million (compared to $448,000 statewide and $180,000 in the US). A May, 2015, report by California’s Legislative Analyst office blames the state’s high housing costs on overly restrictive land use policies, particularly in coastal cities like Palo Alto.

In effect, said the legal team, the Jissers are being forced to remain landlords–and to accept the permanent occupation of their land by their tenants–unless they provide their tenants with enough money to ameliorate the city’s notoriously high cost of housing. But it is the city itself that has created the housing shortage that makes it all but impossible for young families and people of modest means to live there.

The lawsuit charges that this financial demand on the family violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth and 14th Amendment limitations on taking private property for public use. In addition, they claim the action violates a California state law prohibiting conditions on the closure of mobile home parks that “exceed the reasonable costs of relocation” of a park’s tenants. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that government may not force individual property owners to bear the costs of public benefits, which should be paid for by the public as a whole.

“Our family has worked hard for 30 years to provide safe and affordable housing here,” said Jisser. “Now we’re told by the city that providing that service is not enough, that we have to pay a staggering amount of money just to close our business. It’s not fair for the city to force us to pay our tenants millions of dollars as the price of my parents’ retirement.”

To learn more, check out the family’s video and a podcast.

Email Kimberley Sirk.

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