Valley Water is shelling out millions for San Jose to clear out homeless residents living along Coyote Creek.
The $4.8 million contract with the city comes as the water agency prepares to build out mandated flood protection measures along a nine-mile stretch of the creek following the devastating 2017 floods. The nearly 120 to 200 homeless people living along the waterway will have to move before construction starts on June 5 for safety reasons, city officials said.
The contract, approved unanimously by the San Jose City Council on Tuesday, will fund clearing people out, cleaning up blight and supportive services to help unhoused residents move into housing. San Jose officials said they’ve struck a deal with Valley Water because the city doesn’t have the money, but has the know-how—and the water agency doesn’t have the manpower, but has the dollars.
“If we do this right, we have an opportunity to reduce immediate environmental impacts, prepare ourselves to reduce flood risk in the future, make sure we’re not blocking the important work of the Anderson Dam (retrofit project) and get people housed,” Mayor Matt Mahan said. “There’s a potential for this to be a great win all around, including for our most vulnerable residents.”
Valley Water’s flood protection project comes after a February 2017 storm breached the Anderson Dam and flooded neighborhoods near Coyote Creek. It caused an estimated $100 million in damages and displaced roughly 14,000 residents. Valley Water dispersed $8.25 million to flood victims following a four-year lawsuit. Valley Water committed to building flood walls and other improvements to prevent water from topping over again.
The water agency needs to expedite the flood protection project between Montague Expressway and Tully Road in order to complete its Anderson Dam retrofit mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2020.
Part of the retrofit project includes constructing a bypass tunnel which puts people downstream of Coyote Creek at risk of flooding during construction. That means the flood walls need to be built first to protect residents before opening the bypass tunnel. The larger retrofit project cannot be completed without the tunnel.
To start construction by June, the city plans to begin clearing homeless encampments along the creek starting May 15. That gives the city about two months to find another place for those residents to go—a daunting, if not impossible task, some councilmembers said.
“I’m particularly concerned about work that will take place for this project considering the incredibly short timeline,” Councilmember Peter Ortiz said. “Ultimately, without a clear understanding of where folks will go, we may get stuck in a situation where we are essentially pushing our unhoused residents into the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Deputy Housing Director Ragan Henninger said she plans on getting homeless residents housing by referring them into interim housing, providing rental assistance for temporary housing and giving residents a one-time payment to help them get back into shelter or reconnect with family.
“I think when you offer a meaningful housing option, people are not resistant (to move and be housed),” Henninger said. “What we’re trying to do with this agreement is provide some meaningful options for people, not a traditional shelter bed in a congregate setting.”
Councilmember David Cohen isn’t convinced the plan will work. He said delays in opening several interim housing sites means there isn’t enough shelter for the 120 to 200 homeless residents living along the creek.
“So I know what’s going to happen,” Cohen said, nothing the problem will continue until the city finds alternative solutions. “They’re gonna go down the creek and just east into Penitencia Creek which is also a Valley Water property that has been (cleared) twice and keeps getting re-encamped.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
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