UPDATE: San Jose reconsiders homeless housing at park
San Jose Councilmember David Cohen speaks about stopping the city from building a tiny home site on Noble Avenue. Photo by Jana Kadah.

San Jose may pause plans to construct tiny homes in the north part of the city, following fervent backlash from neighbors.

On Wednesday, the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee unanimously approved potentially stopping plans for homeless housing at a park on Noble Avenue. The full San Jose City Council will weigh the decision at a later date. The city attorney’s office also needs to determine if the parkland can be repurposed for housing.

Councilmember David Cohen, who represents the area where tiny homes are proposed, believes there are at least 10 other places in his district that would better accommodate homeless housing instead of a park.

“We’re asking to do additional outreach, to pause work on this site while we really look into the history of this and whether we want to set the precedent of converting park land into other uses,” Cohen said.

The city council approved the site in June without any public hearings or community outreach, leaving residents in the dark. Cohen and Councilmember Matt Mahan voted against it.

Residents and former councilmembers said the park deserves protection.

“It’s unbelievable that this site was considered in the first place,” former Councilmember Margie Mathews said. “If this park is not technically zoned as a park, not aligned with the way it’s been used for the last 45 years, then that’s a loophole and that’s not a loophole that you can drive a project through and stay honest about it.”

This is not the first time the city has tried to build a homeless housing site on Noble Avenue. In 2015, residents fervently rallied against an interim housing proposal and San Jose listened. Cohen said for that reason, the city should’ve been sensitive to neighbors and done additional outreach again.

“The community had this battle before and the city moved it to somewhere else—therefore they deserved an additional level of communication,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “This site is also unique because while yes, other sites are near some neighborhoods, they are also near major highways or other kinds of infrastructure that this site is not near. This is a different kind of site than the other sites across the city and therefore it requires a different kind of effort from the city.”

With increasing homelessness, San Jose has an ambitious goal to construct 1,000 tiny homes in the next year—100 in each district. San Jose already has 397 tiny homes at five locations. Tiny homes are much faster—and cheaper—to build compared to a traditional home.

Cohen said while he fully supports tiny homes for the unhoused and wants to welcome more into his district, the Noble site isn’t a good fit between two elementary schools and being steps away from the Berryessa Branch Library.

His biggest qualm is that the site is at a park, one the city has already invested in maintaining and improving over the last 20 years.

“People use these trails around the ponds to hike, to walk their dogs. There’s people who go fishing there,” Cohen said. “In fact, at the school across the street, some of the teachers bring their students here during their classes to experience the open space and be away from the normal classroom environment.”

Dozens of San Jose residents protested the proposed tiny homes site on Noble Avenue. Photo by Jana Kadah.

At a news conference led by Cohen on Monday, residents shared concerns about having homeless housing near an elementary school and in the park where many of their children play.

“It is a safe and quiet neighborhood now where children walk to the library without supervision,” resident Zhulin Peng said. “We don’t want to put them at risk.”

He said he is sympathetic to homeless residents and is not opposed to tiny homes in general. He just doesn’t want one across the street from where his 6-year-old goes to school. Peng said he drove through his district to help identify other places he believes may be better suited for tiny homes. He found four that he shared with Cohen.

He and other neighbors hope the city will change direction with Cohen’s push, but understand it’s an uphill battle. If the city council votes to move forward with plans, neighbors say they are prepared to sue.

“This is not a dictatorship, this is democracy,” said Xin Wang, a resident for 20 years. “There was no public hearing. All the residents in this neighborhood did not even know this was happening until we saw the news. But we do not want it. It’s our neighborhood—not theirs.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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