Eminent domain floated to save Palo Alto mobile home park

Government officials are rolling out a dramatic new approach in their effort to save Palo Alto’s Buena Vista Mobile Home Park from closure: Eminent domain.

The tool could be used if the Jisser family — which owns the 4.5-acre property and has been trying to close it since 2012 — doesn’t accept a new offer to buy the park funded by Santa Clara County, the city of Palo Alto and the county’s Housing Authority, officials said Wednesday. That’s because the county and city have now joined forces with the Housing Authority, which has eminent domain power and signaled it’s agreeable to using it.

The move is likely to set off alarm bells among property-rights activists. Eminent domain is among the most controversial powers governments can employ. While it was once used in massive redevelopment projects (such as razing San Francisco’s Western Addition), today it’s mostly used to acquire property for public works projects such as roads, bridges or transit lines.

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The Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the Jissers, blasted the proposal in a blog post on Wednesday. Attorney Larry Salzman called it “outrageous” and “a shockingly immoral and unconstitutional threat.”

“The Jissers’ property is not for sale,” he wrote, adding later that “taking the Jissers’ private mobile home park and using that land to benefit private mobile home park tenants is not the kind of ‘public use’ that can authorize eminent domain under the California or U.S. Constitutions.”

The county and city had previously offered $14.5 million each to purchase the park, Palo Alto’s sole mobile home park. Those efforts never went anywhere.

“We know, of course, that last fall, negotiations to buy the Park stalled,” Katherine Harasz, executive director of the Housing Authority, said in a news release. “Once we have an appraisal and have finished due diligence, the Housing Authority Board will consider acquisition of the Park in an effort to keep these 400 families in their homes, including negotiation and, if necessary, eminent domain.”

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