Members of a Palo Alto, California, family have filed an appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a district court refused to tell the city to back off its demand for some $8 million before the family will be allowed to close its aged mobile home park.
The money, city officials say, is to ease the city’s affordable housing crisis, which through official policies has triggered a median home price of “a blistering $2.46 million,” far above the $448,000 for the state and $180,000 for the nation.
The Pacific Legal Foundation asserted this week the federal judge who rejected the family’s claim simply misapplied the law.
“The crux of the decision is that the Jissers should have litigated all the way through California state courts before bringing their federal constitutional claims to federal court,” said PLF lawyer Larry Salzman.
“With due respect to the court, it has misapplied a rule that applies only to cases seeking money damages against the government for a taking of private property. The Jissers seek no money from the city. They have simply asked the federal court to stop the city’s unconstitutional shakedown before the harm is done.”
The city has demanded the $8 million as the price the family must pay to their mobile home park tenants to close the business.
“Property rights are among the most important civil rights protected by the Constitution,” Salzman said. “Federal courthouse doors must remain open to people who have had their property rights violated, just like they are open to every other class of federal civil-rights plaintiffs.”
The foundation reported the mobile home park has provided the lowest cost housing in Palo Alto for more than 30 years, but the family has been wanting to close it down.
Last year, the city said the Jissers could close their business, but only on the condition that they pay millions of dollars to tenants as “relocation” costs aimed at mitigating the city’s notoriously expensive housing.
The lawsuit explains this “staggering financial demand violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment limitations on taking private property for public use, and also 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 foundation said the U.S. Supreme Court has stated a government may not force individual property owners to bear the costs of public benefits which, in fairness, should be paid for by the public as a whole.
See an explanation of the case:
Salzman, in a blog post, explained the family’s patriarch, Tim Jisser, is retiring, and so the family wants out of the business.
“The city says the money is needed so that the tenants can get expensive alternative housing in the area; in effect, the city is holding the Jissers uniquely responsible for solving the city’s severe housing affordability problem. That’s not just wrong, it’s unconstitutional.”
The family moved to the U.S. from Israel in the 1970s and purchased the site in 1986.
Their son, Joe, who manages the site, said in a statement released by PLF: “My parents came here as immigrants with nothing and built a successful business. They were pursuing the American dream. But now the city is trampling on the promise of freedom that drew them to this land.”
He said his family “has worked hard for 30 years to provide safe and affordable housing here.”
“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,” he said. “It’s not fair for the city to force us to pay our tenants millions of dollars as the price of my parents’ retirement.”