Eminent Domain for Preservation? It's Possible for Palo Alto Mobile Home Park

The city of Palo Alto, the county of Santa Clara, and the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County have joined forces to acquire the 4.5 acre Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, thus saving 117 low-income families from eviction.
June 22, 2016, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The owner of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, wants to close the facility but is unwilling to sell to the city or county. 

"The county Board of Supervisors and the City Council had already committed $14.5 million each in county and city funds, respectively, to purchase Buena Vista from the Jisser family [the property owner], which has been trying to close it since 2012, wrote Gennady Sheyner on June 14 for the Palo Alto Weekly.

Funds from both county and city would be affordable housing funds dedicated for the purchasing or preservation of properties for low income housing.

"If the new offer is not accepted ...., the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County could invoke eminent domain to compel the sale, the agency's executive director Katherine Harasz said at a briefing conference [on June 15] at Palo Alto City Hall," writes Sheyner on June 15.

Spearheading the effort is Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who also served as mayor of Palo Alto, and state assemblyman and state senator as well, and Mayor Pat Burt of Palo Alto.

The city is facing lawsuits from the property owner "contesting the relocation-assistance package that it is required to provide to Buena Vista's roughly 400 residents" and the residents "alleging that officials should have done more to protect the mobile-home park from closure," adds Sheyner.

Sheyner's paper, the Palo Alto Weekly, opined June 17 on the threatened use of eminent domain:

While some object to this as a government "taking" of private property, it has a long history and is an important tool for achieving public benefits when a property owner declines to negotiate. (Eminent domain, for example, was used by the Housing Authority more than a decade ago in acquiring the land on which the Opportunity Center** was developed.)

The genius of the city-county-housing authority partnership is that it solves several problems that were blocking a clear path to preserving this important low-income housing asset.....

** "A project of the housing authority and the nonprofit Community Working Group, the Opportunity Center has 88 units of permanent housing with the help of rental subsidies such as the [Section 8] voucher program," wrote Mark Emmons for The Mercury News when the center opened in August 2013.

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Published on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 in Palo Alto Online
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