South San Jose residents are up in arms over a plan to turn a light rail station parking lot into a space for homeless people to park and live in RVs.
More than 100 people showed up to a virtual community meeting Wednesday led by Councilmember Sergio Jimenez’s office to share concerns over a safe parking program at the VTA Santa Teresa station parking lot. The San Jose City Council is set to approve a five-year lease with VTA to start the program and provide 45 to 60 RV spaces in September. The program will be managed by LifeMoves, a nonprofit that has managed other safe parking spots in San Jose.
Neighbors of the lot fear it will attract more homeless residents to camp around the site, impacting quality of life and devaluing properties. More than 3,200 residents have signed a petition against the site.
“It’s unfair to have all these shelters and housing in South San Jose. It needs to be equally distributed across all districts,” Bindi Shah wrote on the petition. “Everyone pays equal tax and all areas need to do their part.”
The safe parking program at the VTA train station has been years in the making. It comes as San Jose works to address its homeless crisis. According to this year’s tally, more than 6,700 people are sleeping on the streets of San Jose. The city’s homeless population increased 11% from 2019, despite housing more than 6,000 residents over the past three years.
Some residents claimed South San Jose has more homeless sites than other parts of the city. But Homeless Response Manager Kelly Hemphill said most homeless services are located in downtown and in East San Jose —primarily Districts 3 and 7—which is proportional to where most unhoused residents are located. Spaces in the VTA parking lot will go to homeless people living in the district, as many RVs already line places like Great Oaks Blvd. and the Edenvale Business Park, Hemphill said.
“We are not just targeting specific districts to put a whole bunch of programs. It may feel that way, but I assure you we’re moving with the need,” said Hemphill. “There are a lot of RVs in your neighborhood and we want to provide the services to (them).”
Revisiting safe parking
San Jose first explored safe parking programs in 2019 at the Seven Trees Community Center parking lot. The program was shut down in less than a year due to concerns of safety and lack of participation. The city also funded two more locations at Roosevelt and Southside community centers, which did not see similar concerns and closed last year when the contract with LifeMoves expired. Last November, a temporary safe parking program in North San Jose ended earlier than expected because the few residents who utilized the site moved to transitional housing.
Isa Karabed, LifeMoves senior director of regional outreach initiatives, said the organization has a great track record with safe parking programs. During the last quarter of operating its San Jose sites, 69% of households transitioned into shelter or permanent housing and 95% of those residents found long-term housing.
Vanessa Sandoval, Jimenez’s chief of staff, said in the two years the Southside program operated, there were no concerns from the public. Jimenez spent years pushing for safe parking programs in South San Jose. The VTA parking lot used to be in his district, but now falls into Councilmember Matt Mahan’s purview after the redistricting process redrew political lines.
Through the lot is not in Jimenez’s district anymore, representatives with his office said the councilmember is watching the project closely because he believes it is a necessary tool to curb the city’s homelessness. The councilmember did not attend the meeting because he was out of town on city business, Sandoval said.
“People were there 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the shutdown, and we never once received any concerns for any members,” Sandoval said. “And that site is much more residential. It’s much closer to single-family homes, apartments and businesses than this site.”
But many residents are not convinced the program fits in their neighborhood. Some said even if services and unhoused people inside the parking zone are safe and comply with rules, the site could attract more homeless individuals to congregate near the site.
“You’re not giving any assurance that there won’t be any new encampments or existing encampments will be removed. So what is the point of bringing in a new project with no assurance that the existing problem will be solved?” resident Dhanya Rajan asked city officials at the meeting. “And there is like totally no accountability because the public were not really part of this decision. Everything is already decided.”
City officials said there are ample opportunities for residents to voice concerns and have a seat at the table with the community advisory committee. Residents can email [email protected] to find out about upcoming meetings or joining the committee.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.