San Jose closes safe parking site earlier than expected
Earlier this week, San Jose announced the closure of the safe parking site at 71 Vista Montaña. Photo courtesy of Lam Nguyen.

San Jose is shutting down a controversial safe parking site for unhoused residents just three months after it opened.

The city announced the closure of the temporary safe parking site at 71 Vista Montaña on Monday. The site, which opened in early September, was potentially slated to remain open for nine months. But the city says it’s no longer needed as the residents have been moved to transitional housing.

“The intention was never for the site to be permanent,” Councilmember David Cohen told San José Spotlight. The site is in his district. “It was only going to stay open as long as the people there didn’t have a place to go.”

The city opened the safe parking site as part of its efforts to clear an encampment on a piece of Apple property near Component Drive in North San Jose. The majority of unhoused residents were placed in motels and interim housing, but some with RVs and vehicles got the option of moving to Vista Montaña. The city initially estimated as many as 20 people and vehicles could end up at the site, but Cohen said he believes five people slept there, at most.

City spokesperson Jeff Scott told San José Spotlight not everyone at the site accepted referrals to interim housing.

“Some people chose to pursue housing opportunities on their own,” he said.

Feeling unwelcome

Some neighboring residents protested that Cohen didn’t inform them of the site, and dozens complained about it at a council meeting. Santa Clara Councilmember Kathy Watanabe emailed Cohen raising concerns about crime moving in to her city.

“It’s unfortunate there was so much fearmongering,” Cohen said. “That actually made people living on the site very uncomfortable.”

Lorieli Martinez, who stayed at the safe parking site for two months, said neighbors sometimes spied on them with drones. Once, a man followed her outside of a CVS and demanded she leave the neighborhood.

“The people around didn’t want us there,” Martinez told San José Spotlight. She said she was placed in a tiny home a few days ago.

Some residents claim the safe parking site wasn’t well protected. Deborah Kempkoble, who stored her RV at the site, said someone broke into it, vandalized the interior and stole two computers.

Kempkoble has been staying at the Casa Linda motel since she was forced to leave the Apple encampment. She told San José Spotlight she’d rather stay in her RV, but she can’t until someone fixes a broken window.

“I don’t want to move into something that’s unsafe,” she said.

San Jose previously estimated it would cost between $400,000 to $500,000 to run the temporary parking site for nine months. It’s unclear how much the city spent operating the site for three months. Scott couldn’t say how much money the city spent on the site, noting costs spanned multiple departments.

Planning for future sites

The safe parking site was only used to house people displaced from the Apple encampment. Cohen said he regrets the site couldn’t be used to serve more people, noting it was large enough to provide services and security to more people living in their RVs or vehicles.

San Jose scrapped a family-oriented safe parking program in 2019, citing concerns about lack of participation and safety. But lawmakers in San Jose and Santa Clara County have been giving safe parking renewed consideration as the region grapples with thousands of unhoused people, including a growing number who are living in vehicles. Earlier this month, Santa Clara County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Otto Lee proposed finding sites to potentially provide temporary housing or safe parking.

Cohen said he’s working with the city and county to identify other possible locations for safe parking sites, and he estimated they could find and open a spot within six months.

“I’m working really hard to try to have one of those sites be in District 4, because there are a lot of people living in their RVs across my district,” he said. “I don’t want to move them until we have a good place for them to go.”

Gail Osmer, an advocate for homeless people, told San José Spotlight she’s disappointed with how the city operated the site at Vista Montaña, noting there was no electricity hookup for the RVs, which prevented people from cooking.

She hopes the city will consider the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds as a future safe parking site.

“There’s so much room out there, we need to open that up,” she said. “They could put hundreds of people in a safe environment.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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