Parking battles highlight East San Jose’s struggles
Mark Garcia looks out onto the street full of cars in his East San Jose neighborhood on Oct. 10, 2022. Garcia regularly parks his SUV on his home's faux lawn because of the lack of parking in the area. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    With the sun setting over East San Jose, Rabia Khan pointed to the maintenance hole cover in the street she and her friends used as a makeshift pitcher’s mound as children, running freely along the street’s curbs.

    “I used to play on this street all the time,” she told San José Spotlight on a recent weeknight.

    That was roughly 40 years ago, when most homes on Cooley Drive east of Highway 101 were occupied by one family, with cars tucked neatly into the attached garages.

    Now, as the Bay Area’s housing affordability crisis has deepened, with skyrocketing rents forcing some families to double or triple up in working class neighborhoods, every inch of curb space is packed with cars. For some, it has become nearly impossible to find a parking spot close to home.

    Residents of the East Side — an area with some of Santa Clara County’s highest rates of poverty and overcrowding — said the area’s many woes, including parking, are often ignored by elected leaders.

    Rabia Khan looks out onto Cooley Drive from her home’s driveway in East San Jose on Oct. 10, 2022. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Colin Heyne, a spokesperson for San Jose’s transportation department, said the city receives thousands of complaints about parking issues and abandoned cars. In recent years, Heyne said San Jose has tried to be more proactive on the East Side, with city staff combing streets looking for abandoned and inoperable vehicles, and get them towed.

    “We can’t make more curb space appear for vehicles to park on,” he said.

    Unfortunately, the other solutions the city is working on to address a lack of parking won’t fix the problem overnight.

    Through the city’s VisionZero traffic safety program, it’s trying to “reverse engineer” wide, fast roads to be narrower and slow down car traffic, making them more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly. San Jose is also working with VTA to make transit better, so people can be less dependent on cars.

    “It’s a tall order and it’s something that takes a long time,” Heyne said. “It’s a very difficult problem to untangle.”

    Residents and city officials say the housing crisis in combination with wealth disparity, the region’s car-dependent culture due to suburban sprawl and a lack of dependable transit options has led to a longstanding problem that has dramatically changed the daily life of East Siders.

    Today, Khan won’t let her 8-year-old daughter Zosia play outside the driveway of her home. It’s become unsafe with so many neighbors driving up and down the street looking for parking.

    There are barely enough parking spaces right now, she said, but it will only take a few more vehicles to tip the scales.

    Cars jam every inch of the curbs along East San Fernando Street off King Road in San Jose on Oct. 5, 2022. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Some people must park their cars on their lawns right up against their homes, like Mark Garcia, who lives in a home on East San Fernando Street in Little Portugal with four family members, a roommate and a baby.

    “It’s like a car lot,” Garcia told San José Spotlight about his neighborhood. “It’s complete bulls–t.”

    No end in sight

    With no quick solutions from the city, residents are taking matters into their own hands.

    Some are using orange traffic cones and delineators to block off spaces in front of their homes to park when they return from work. Cones can be seen leaning against trees or mailbox posts, stacked up in driveways or bookended around parked cars. Though the cone system isn’t technically legal, it’s effective.

    “The cone is respected, usually,” Garcia said. “People respect it who live on the block.”

    Heyne said the city is confiscating illegal cones though it’s not his department’s top priority.

    “There have been extreme examples where entire neighborhoods are basically having parking battles with not just cones, but trash cans and chairs,” Heyne told San José Spotlight. “We’ve seen people have their children sit on items or furniture out in the street to hold a parking spot while they move their car.”

    Trash cans have been left out all week to block curb spaces, Garcia said. Some residents said their full trash cans have been moved onto the curb by others seeking a space, and their trash goes uncollected.

    Garcia and others say the parking problem is another example of underinvestment by City Hall in marginalized communities, many of which were victims of redlining, gentrification and disproportionately affected by crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “(Officials) want to pile the hood people. They don’t give a f— about the poor people. This is a super low-income area,” he said.

    Unclear parking solutions

    Some residents or politicos have suggested parking permit programs as a possible solution, but Heyne said those are best reserved for neighborhoods near large sports arenas or universities, where non-residents take up spaces from locals.

    If a permit program is put in place in a neighborhood where there are simply too many residents, many would likely end up getting denied a permit.

    “So you’re basically creating a situation where people don’t even get to deal with the luck of the draw,” Heyne said. “They are forced to park outside of their own neighborhood.”

    Garcia agrees that permit programs won’t work.

    Cones used for reserving parking spaces are seen along a residential street in East San Jose on Oct. 5, 2022. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    “I would like to see them try to enforce that, this place would get hyphy,” he said.

    Peter Ortiz, who’s running for the District 5 City Council seat in East San Jose, said the parking problem is a quality of life issue stemming from the housing crisis, and highlights the need for stronger rent control and anti-displacement policies in the city.

    He said the city needs to work to establish shared use agreements with churches and schools that dot the neighborhoods. Those facilities often have large parking lots not being used in the evenings where residents could park overnight or on weekends, he said.

    “Construction workers, front-end service providers, janitors, food service workers, cashiers, truly the backbone of our local economy live in East San Jose,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “These are individuals who dedicate their lives to make sure that our city moves forward.”

    Nora Campos, who’s challenging Oritz in District 5 and previously served as the area’s councilmember, said the city should hire at least two code enforcement officers strictly for the East Side, to deal with abandoned vehicles.

    She also thinks code enforcement could better address illegal dumping and blight in the district.

    “It’s an issue that has been percolating for years,” Campos told San José Spotlight. “They are tired of not getting the service they need and deserve.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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