In an effort to encourage residents to use a new section of the Coyote Creek Trail, San Jose is partnering with Valley Water to start a police patrol around the area that was once the region’s largest homeless encampment.
The patrol program, which costs $800,000, is part of the city’s new safety plan for the three-mile section of trail between William Street and Tully Road. The trail runs by the now-cleared out “Jungle,” a San Jose homeless encampment of more than 300 people. The city disbanded the camp in 2014, but the homelessness crisis continues to grow, with many still pitching up tents along the creek.
The popular Coyote Creek Trail saw a large increase in users last year, but many residents remain wary about the nearby encampments and unkempt areas, city officials said.
The city opened portions of the trail between William Street Park and Yerba Buena High School in November, with plans to finish the remaining project between Phelan Avenue and Tully Road by spring 2025.
The program includes two officers on bikes working about 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Officials say a police presence on the trail increases safety and prevents dumping into the waterways. San Jose and Valley Water are splitting the cost, with each agency doling out $400,000 for the two positions.
The patrol program is the first of its kind in San Jose, police captain Brian Shab said.
"The idea is that we want residents of San Jose to feel comfortable and want to be out there and use the trail," Shab, who oversees the program, told San José Spotlight.
The city is also deploying its Conservation Corps to serve as “eyes on the trail” and help maintain services along other sections, city spokesperson Daniel Lazo told San José Spotlight.
With an increased presence of the Conservation Corps and SJPD on the trails, residents have been more vocal about issues and more engaged with city
San Jose has spent years working to connect the roughly 20 miles of trail that runs along Coyote Creek, one of the region's longest trail systems. The multi-use system extends from Alviso to the city's southern boundary near Morgan Hill, but parts of it aren't fully connected yet. According to a 2020 city survey, 59% of trail users listed closing gaps in the trail as the top priority, as many rely on it to get around.
Well patrolled and maintained
During the pandemic, San Jose managed to add two new sections to the Coyote Creek Trail—one connecting Olinder Park near William Street to Coyote Meadows on Story Road and one running along Happy Hollow Park to Yerba Buena High School near Phelan Avenue.
Angel Alcaraz, a longtime East San Jose resident near Little Saigon, often uses the Coyote Creek Trail to get around. When the new trail section opened on Story Road, he put it to good use.
"I don't have a car and it's good for exercise," Alcaraz told San José Spotlight. "They did a good job with the barriers. I think they made the trail look nice and increased safety."
Alcaraz said he hasn't seen police patrolling the trail, but he enjoys having a well-maintained path. Along the section that passes Happy Hollow Park, resident Wilson Zhen said having police and park rangers on the trail is a good addition. Zhen walks his dog, Molly, along the creek.
"Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to have so many homeless camps around," he said. "I see it everyday."
San Jose cleared out many camps along the creek to make way for construction of the new trail sections last year. Officers patrolling the trails haven't encountered any major concerns since November, Shab said.
Valley Water, which is budgeting almost $2 million this year in waterway cleanups, hopes the patrol program will reduce illegal dumping into the Coyote Creek, spokesperson Matt Keller said.
The city is still in the process of connecting the trail from Phelan Avenue to Tully Road, Lazo said. Once finished, residents can travel from Kelley Park all the way to Morgan Hill completely off-road. According to a 2019 city survey, almost half of all users use the paved trails to travel around the city.
"(This) will allow people to easily access destinations like schools, shopping, recreation, home and more," Lazo said.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.