San Jose expands police patrol on walking trails
PATH social workers walked the Guadalupe River Trail in San Jose on Jan. 24, 2023 to tally the number of homeless people in the area. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    San Jose police officers will soon routinely patrol an area that once was the city’s largest homeless camp in an effort to help revitalize the region.

    The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to spend $400,000 to expand the successful police bike patrol program to cover the Guadalupe River Trail in addition to the Coyote Creek Trail. Both areas were once home to hundreds of homeless residents.

    The expansion will continue funding the program along the Coyote Creek Trail and fund the Guadalupe River Trail portion for six months. The program includes two officers on bikes working about 10 hours a day, seven days a week. The city also relies on its Conservation Corps to serve as “eyes on the trail” and help maintain services along other sections, officials said.

    “The community has been very supportive of this program,” Councilmember Bien Doan, who represents the area where the Coyote Creek is, told San José Spotlight. “It’s also important to know we’re not there to penalize unhoused residents, and we’re there to help connect them to the services they need.”

    Both trails had problems with large homeless encampments. The Coyote Creek Trail housed the now-cleared out “Jungle,” where more than 300 people once lived, and the Guadalupe River Trail is adjacent to the former Columbus Park encampment where several hundred homeless people lived during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city cleared the Jungle in 2014 and the Columbus Park site last year.

    Expansion of the patrol program comes after the city piloted the initiative last year in partnership with Valley Water. The program brought police to the three-mile section of the Coyote Creek Trail between William Street and Tully Road. The program, aimed to address safety concerns, has proven to be successful, police spokesperson Christian Camarillo told San José Spotlight.

    He points to a 2022 survey that shows trail users feel safer on the trail after the launch of the program. San Jose also saw a 16% increase in usage on the trail over the same period, according to the survey.

    Now city officials hope to see the same impact along the Guadalupe River Trail. The area has seen a 48% drop in use since 2019, according to the city’s survey.

    “This is really important to help folks feel safe,” Councilmember Dev Davis, who represents the area, told San José Spotlight. “We have found people do feel safer using the Coyote Creek Trail after we started the pilot program.”

    The goal is to encourage residents to use the trail more, Davis added. The Guadalupe River Trail is one of the core trail systems in the city, according to officials. San Jose is also in the process of redeveloping a 12.5-acre site adjacent to the trail. The new park, located at Asbury and Irene streets, will feature synthetic softball and soccer fields, horseshoe and pickleball courts, multi-use sports courts for basketball and a play area for children. Officials have also installed bollards and boulders to prevent people driving on the trail, Davis said.

    Valley Water is doling out $400,000 to fund the program, with hopes to curb illegal dumping. The water agency had to remove 931 tons of encampment generated trash and debris in 2022.

    “Valley Water remains committed to our mission of providing safe, clean water, environmental stewardship and flood protection to Santa Clara County,” spokesperson Mark Gomez told San José Spotlight. “Extending this program to sections of the Guadalupe River allows our employees and volunteers to work in areas that may have potential health and safety risks due to criminal activity.”

    The program expansion is sounding an alarm for homeless advocates, who worry the increase of police on the trail will result in homeless people being criminalized.

    “I opposed this last time, and I oppose it this time,” Gail Osmer, who worked with the city in the Columbus Park sweep last year, told San José Spotlight. “What scares me the most is (the police) are going to arrest a lot more people.”

    But for some unhoused residents, the program is a welcome change. JD Marone, who has lived along the Guadalupe River Trail for two years, said he hopes the program will deter others from stealing his belongings.

    “I think the police presence would run out all the people that are doing bad things and make it a little safer for others like me,” Marone told San José Spotlight. “There have been many times where I leave for work and all of my stuff is gone.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

    Comment Policy (updated 11/1/2021): We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by administrators.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.