Santa Clara County, the City of Palo Alto, and the local Housing Authority have come together to acquire the Buena Vista mobile home park from its current owner, the Jisser family, in an effort to save the mobile home park from closure. According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, the mobile home park contains the homes of 400 or so mostly low-income residents. The Jisser family has been trying to close the mobile home park since 2012 to prepare for future redevelopment of the site. If the Jisser family refuses the government’s latest offer to purchase the mobile home park, the trio of government entities may use the power of eminent domain to acquire it. Supervisor Joe Simitian said “the Housing Authority is the one governmental entity in Santa Clara County that is actually responsible for creating and providing affordable housing . . . and they can use all the tools and resources at their disposal (including the power of eminent domain) to move forward with funding, acquiring, improving and preserving the Park as affordable housing in perpetuity.”
Before the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California, private property had been acquired by the government for private redevelopment and revitalization. However, today, eminent domain is mostly used to acquire property for public works projects, such as transportation projects and public utilities. Using eminent domain to acquire the mobile park home for continued use as a mobile park by private citizens may bring criticisms from private property-rights activists. The Pacific Legal Foundation represents the Jisser family and has called the proposal to use eminent domain “outrageous” and “a shockingly immoral and unconstitutional threat.” The government agencies will argue that keeping the affordable housing for the many low-income residents is a public use for which eminent domain may be used. The President of the Buena Vista Residents’ Association said in a news release about the potential acquisition: “We’re encouraged, excited, and thankful for everyone involved for coming up with a plan to preserve the Park and help the 400 Buena Vista Residents stay in Palo Alto.”
If this case does go to eminent domain, the owner of the property will most likely challenge the government’s right to take the property and the public use of the property. We will keep an eye out on this interesting case over the Buena Vista mobile home park and provide updates.