Restrictions keep San Jose safe parking site mostly empty
San Jose's only safe parking site opened in July with 42 spots. But the city is struggling to fill them despite having hundreds of people living in their vehicles on the streets. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose has spent years and millions of dollars to open its safe parking site at the Santa Teresa VTA light rail station—but it is practically empty.

    The city’s only safe parking site, which opened in July, has 42 spots, but the city is struggling to fill them despite having hundreds of people living in their vehicles. Some councilmembers said it’s because restrictions are too stringent, so they are trying to ease them.

    Mayor Matt Mahan and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Arjun Batra want the city to remove three requirements: vehicle registration, insurance and operability. They believe lifting these will allow more homeless people to get off the streets and into the safe parking site in South San Jose. There are about 16 vehicles at the site, Mahan said.

    “While well-intended, the city’s restrictions on admission to the Santa Teresa safe parking site are clearly a barrier to getting RVs off of our streets and into this safe, managed alternative,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “Innovation requires iteration, which is why I’m encouraging city staff to remove unnecessary requirements.”

    The memo from the mayor, Batra and Jimenez was set to come before the Rules and Open Government Committee this week, but was deferred. Councilmember David Cohen, who chairs the committee, said staff want to better understand the effects of removing those restrictions. It should be back on the agenda next week.

    Cohen, an advocate for safe parking sites, said he’s in favor of removing these requirements that are a major barrier to entry. Homeless people do not often have up to date registration or pay insurance for cars they don’t drive.

    Cohen said the council has already approved removing these same requirements in his North San Jose district at 1300 Berryessa Road.

    “We specifically said we would make sure those barriers don’t exist and that we would find ways to allow people to have their RV vehicles moved as long as they’re not stolen or they appear to be legitimately living in them,” Cohen told San José Spotlight.

    Priority was given to those living in Districts 2 and 10, as well as RV dwellers living near Columbus Park for at least 30 days. Columbus Park was home to one of the city’s largest homeless encampments and turned into a makeshift haven for RV dwellers that remained after the city swept the site in late 2022. Cohen said he has tried to get RV dwellers in District 4, which he represents, into the Santa Teresa location, but has been unsuccessful.

    “I’m frustrated simply because my feeling is there are a number of people who would qualify for the site and who are interested in moving into such a site,” Cohen said. “I feel like it’s taking way too long to reach them and offer them this service.”

    Homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright said she knows firsthand there are dozens of people interested in safe parking, but they are stuck on the streets either because of lost paperwork or an inability to pay to fix their vehicles. She said only two people from Columbus Park moved into the safe parking site. There are still several RVs lining a nearby street.

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

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