It’s all about sports at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds on March 31, 2020 as officials work to make a temporary homeless shelter on the site during the COVID-19 outbreak. File photo by The 111th Group aerial photography.

Santa Clara County has big plans for its 160-acre piece of land at the fairgrounds, but if it doesn’t include a ball, bat or hurdles, well then—no deal.

Since January, county officials have entered into three negotiating agreements with various organizations that envision a new future at the fairgrounds. Supervisor Cindy Chavez announced this week the county’s agreement with San Jose State University for a track and field facility at the site. The county also has agreements with San Jose Earthquakes and Major League Cricket. Combined this would comprise 40 acres.

The county is considering a long-term lease of nine acres to SJSU that would be developed into a track and field facility. The fairgrounds facility would be used by the university and the public.

“It will be an honor to to host the legacy of San Jose State’s iconic track program and the Olympic Project for Human Rights,” Chavez said Monday.

As the county eyes new multi-million-dollar sporting facilities and stadiums, a group of residents continues to push for a plan to open the fairgrounds for RV safe parking sites and prefabricated housing for homeless individuals.

“There should be an open public discussion with the public about the fairgrounds,” Todd Langton, executive director of homeless advocacy group Agape Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight. “Let the public decide what needs to be done.”

The plan, which has received support from nonprofits such as Loaves and Fishes and Downtown Street Team, could lift 800 people off the streets and save the county roughly $23 million annually, members of the group estimated.

Located along Tully Road, the fairgrounds has been underutilized for years. It’s home to the annual county fair, off-track horse race betting and a paintball arena. The site also has a shelter that serves 50 to 80 homeless people per night. Part of the area also serves as the county’s largest COVID-19 testing and vaccination site.

The group of homeless advocates, called the Coalition for the Unhoused of Silicon Valley, wants the county to carve out 13 acres to host 160 RV safe parking spaces and 240 tiny homes to create multiple small communities, each with 40 people. The plan envisions case workers and wraparound services available onsite to help people quickly transition out of homelessness and into permanent housing.

“We want this to show people that various communities can coexist peacefully together,” Virginia Becker, a coalition member, told San José Spotlight. “There isn’t any reason why the sports park can’t be built alongside this.”

Homeless problem persists

The proposal comes as the South Bay continues to grapple with its homeless crisis that has exploded in the last few years. Santa Clara County saw an increase of 31% in its unhoused population the last time it did a tally in 2019. A new count is being conducted and analyzed, but advocates and officials predict the issue has only gotten worse.

For every person getting off the streets, two more fall into homelessness in Santa Clara County, according to the county’s estimation.

A homeless encampment near Columbus Park in San Jose has grown to become one of the largest camps in the Bay Area, where a few hundred people are living in squalid conditions and fear as the city is under a tight federal deadline to clear the area by June 30. City officials started posting notices of an upcoming sweep last week but have not provided a clear path forward for this population.

Chavez, a San Jose mayoral candidate whose constituents are in the fairgrounds district, said the county is focusing on other county-owned lands to expand its homeless services and affordable housing inventory.

“We have four pieces of properties that we’re bringing forward,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “We’re not sitting around.”

Chavez also said she wants to see other districts in the county step up to help address the homeless crisis. In San Jose, the district where the fairgrounds is located accounts for roughly 18% of all affordable rentals  in the city, San José Spotlight previously reported.

“Neighbors around here are saying, ‘we did our part, now everybody else help,'” Chavez said. “And I think that’s a fair request of them.”

The county declined to comment on its plans at the fairgrounds.

Claudia Rossi, a county Office of Education trustee running to replace termed-out Supervisor Mike Wasserman, said she is supportive of the proposal and would consider exploring transitional housing at the fairgrounds if elected.

“Every municipality has to contribute to the solutions,” Rossi told San José Spotlight, pointing to a local school district proposal to subsidized housing for teachers. “What’s attractive to me about this plan is it’s only asking for a portion of the fairgrounds.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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