Eminent Domain Issues In The Silicon Valley

“The city and the county’s actions have now put off the closing of the mobile home park for four years at this point and still, there is no real end in sight,” said Joe Jesse, whose father purchased the property back in 1986.

Recently, in the midst of the Silicon Valley, there’s a different spin on an ongoing turf war that is raising eyebrows among some property rights and government officials in the Palo Alto area.  They are now threatening to utilize “eminent domain” to stop the long-time owners of a local mobile home park from building the property into condominiums.

Jesse’s family now wishes to take advantage of the current red-hot California real estate market but repeatedly has declared that it does not want to sell off the property.  Over the summer season, city and county officials have partnered with a local housing authority to attempt to acquire the mobile home park via eminent domain, which is the power that allows governments to seize property in particular circumstances.

Harasz also argues that the public’s intention is to the welfare and wellbeing of about 400 low-income residents, most of whom are older and disabled and say they cannot afford to move out.

They now defend this move as a fair and reasonable compromise. “Eminent domain is an elegant solution,” said Katherine Harasz, executive director of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority. “It does acknowledge the owners’ rights to fair compensation if the public’s purpose is reasonably established to utilize this property for a public benefit.”

“We have nowhere else to reside,” said California low cost auto insurance expert, Gerry Brown, who additionally serves as secretary for the homeowner’s association.  “There is simply no way, for 95% of us, to be able to live in this area, let alone Silicon Valley.”

But Jesse, whose family is now protesting the move in court, say the lack of low-cost housing is no fault of his own, and that he should be able to redevelop his property.

Jesse’s lawyer calls that extortion and does not buy the government’s “public good” argument either.

But to near the park, the city says he must pay tenants moving costs. And in high-priced Palo Alto, an appraisal calculates these costs at approximately $8 million.

“It is certainly one thing to seize property for a school or a road or an essential public building,” said Larry Salzman, with the Pacific Legal Foundation. “In this case, they’re talking that Jesse’s private property is for the benefit of other private individuals. That is just outright  unconstitutional.”

If the government can utilize eminent domain to stop their redevelopment plans, then the reality is that no property owner is safe.

Officials are currently evaluating the park, as well as several lawsuits are now pending, in a situation being observed carefully by property rights groups as well as tenants’ advocates.

Claudia Cowan currently serves as Fox News Channel’s (FNC) San Francisco-based correspondent. She joined the network in 1998.