San Jose RV dwellers fear displacement
RV park tenants Ram Eisenbarth and Joe Ramirez stand in front of their four-wheeled home at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds on Sunday. Photo by Vicente Vera.

As county leaders push plans to revitalize the barren Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, dozens of RV dwellers could soon be pushed out.

Tenant Pam Eisenbarth said staff from the nonprofit running the RV park, Fairgrounds Management Corporation, told her and husband Joe Rodriguez in December 2019 that the park would soon close. The corporation was preparing for its revitalization of the fairgrounds, a multi-year plan that didn’t include the RV park.

Eisenbarth said about 32 RVs took up the two-lot park as the pandemic began, but now about 20 remain.

“They’ve been trying to redo this place for what? Ten years, even more,” Rodriguez said. “It looks like they might actually do it this time. But a lot of us aren’t going to have anywhere to go, except for the streets with the other RVs.”

RVs parked on the side of the road have drawn ire from nearby businesses and neighborhoods who describe them as blight.

A Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury reported the RV park earned about half a million dollars in revenue in 2018, as opposed to the annual fair which reported making just over $13,000 the same year. Despite being more profitable than the annual fair, an email obtained by San José Spotlight revealed Fairgrounds Management Corporation CEO Abe Andrade spoke with at least three management staff about closing the park.

County leaders for years have struggled to figure out the future of the underutilized Santa Clara County fairgrounds. Lawmakers approved a plan in 2019 to explore new uses including a venue for USA Cricket, a county park and a San Jose Earthquakes Soccer Academy. Homeless housing was not on the list, despite a petition from advocates, because officials believe the area is already densely housed.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the mostly vacant 158-acre site on Tully Road was used for a temporary medical facility then a shelter for homeless residents at risk of getting sick. Most recently, it served as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site. 

Talk of shutting down the two-acre RV park comes as no surprise to longtime renters of the fairground parking spaces. They say Andrade continues trying to push them out.

“He’ll drop off notices on the doorstep, they blow away, then he gets mad when people don’t see them,” said resident Teresa Estrella. “People who don’t know their rights, (Andrade) can bully them into leaving.”

Some fear those who speak little English could be more easily coerced or intimidated into leaving.

The two-acre RV park run by the nonprofit Fairground Management Corporation is home to about 20 RVs. Photo by Vicente Vera.

Tenants Steve and June, who withheld their last names for fear of retribution, said management closed the nearby public waste site over a year ago to create an untenable environment so some tenants have no choice but to leave.

Andrade confirmed plans to close the RV park dating back to before the pandemic.

“What is getting lost here is that the RV park, as a short term stay facility with a 30-day limit, has never been intended for people to stay long periods,” Andrade said. “I have no idea when it will close now given the variables of the development proposals and the pandemic.”

The uncertainty leaves families like Rodriguez and Eisenbarth anxious about the future — especially as a statewide rent moratorium expires on June 30.

Sitting at their table on Sunday—the kitchen, living room and bedroom all just a few steps away—the couple looked out the windshield to see fencing surrounding them.

“That wasn’t there until COVID,” Eisenbarth said. “Then they put the green covering and now we can’t see what’s going on out there. It feels like they’re closing in on us.”

One by one as RVs left over the past year, the fencing closed in on vacant areas. Eisenbarth and Ramirez said management told them to move their RV to the back lot.

Posted on one of the fences surrounding the shrinking lot is a flyer that reads, “Redevelopment Planning Area #2.”

Fairgrounds Management Corporation Board Chair Ty Greaves said the nonprofit is in conversations with businesses to redevelop the fairgrounds, but nothing has been finalized. COVID-19 slowed down talks with sports and entertainment venues concerned over how long gatherings will continue to be limited in size.

“We’ve been in lockdown, people have been terrorized for a year. Will they ever come back and be in a public venue in numbers that would justify investments of significant amounts of money?” Greaves said. “But we have commitment, we have people who are passionately interested in fulfilling the vision, and we push in that direction.”

In the latest attempt to revitalize the fairgrounds, Santa Clara County supervisors in January approved a plan to build go-kart racing tracks, a virtual reality arcade, zip lining and other outdoor activities to be developed on the land the RV park currently occupies.

But as the pandemic drags on, no date is set for work to start. Andrade said projects are still in development.

“I’m not so much worried about myself as I am for all the families who will have no other place to go,” Estrella said. “They have little kids. If they’re tearing this place down there needs to be somewhere for these people to stay.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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