San Jose officials are struggling to solve the growing number of RVs lining city streets—and the road will not be easy.
Mayor Matt Mahan and three San Jose councilmembers want to explore ways to manage homeless residents living in vehicles while simultaneously ramping up available safe parking sites. Solutions being discussed include fully banning RVs in certain areas or finding ways to allow RVs to park on specific streets long term, acting as pseudo-safe parking sites.
“The conditions on the street and in some of our neighborhoods are simply unacceptable today and we have to better manage that situation as we create more safe places for people to go,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “That may not require a ban if some of these other strategies are more viable.”
Mahan said unlike street homelessness, the city does not have a wraparound approach to assisting people living in their vehicles. Action taken by leaders at the Rules and Open Government Committee meeting Wednesday asks the city to come back to the San Jose City Council with an actionable plan by next year.
The proposal, co-authored by Councilmembers David Cohen, Sergio Jimenez and Bien Doan, is inspired by various programs across the South Bay.
Redwood City has a permit program that allows RV dwellers to park on specific streets so long as they agree to be “good neighbors.” Mountain View banned oversized vehicles in 2020 from parking on “narrow streets”—40 feet or less in width—and on any street with a bike lane. After legal challenges from RV dwellers and advocates, Mountain View opened three miles of streets where RVs can park for several consecutive nights, but vehicles have to move every so often.
Mahan said San Jose could require RVs to relocate every so often to prevent blight from building up.
“Some areas where RVs become permanently encamped have their belongings out on streets and sidewalks that sort of builds out almost like infrastructure around that area,” Mahan said.
Several homeless advocates said they are losing faith in the city’s leadership in finding lasting and humane solutions. Scott Largent, who lived in an RV for several years, said while banning RVs in certain areas is necessary, there needs to be a place for people to go.
“Already on parts of Saratoga Avenue there are signs that say ‘no overnight parking’ or limit parking to two hours, but there are so many RVs,” Largent told San José Spotlight. “We need to clean that up, but where do we put those people?”
San Jose’s homelessness problem is larger and more convoluted than neighboring cities. While Mountain View reports less than 200 RVs, San Jose has approximately 800—a number that continues to grow amid increasing costs of living.
The hardships of unhoused people living in their vehicles aren’t as visible as those sleeping on the streets in tents. But some decades-old business owners say they are making plans to leave San Jose because the dozens of RVs parked outside are driving customers away.
Councilmembers said they’ve received several complaints about RVs and the blight created around them.
“We have to acknowledge that as long as people are seeing (people living in their RVs)—whether it’s actual criminal activity or a general appearance of blight that occurs around a portion of people who are unhoused—it creates a stigma for everybody,” Cohen said.
San Jose opened a safe parking site in July where those living in vehicles can park for an extended period of time, but the site is mostly empty because the city’s rules prevent many RV dwellers from utilizing the space. Officials approved another safe parking site earlier this year in North San Jose, but it won’t be open until next year.
Some RV drivers don’t have insurance or current registration and their vehicles are inoperable, so the city is looking to change the rules so they can go into safe parking sites. Compounding the issue are “vanlords” renting out RVs for up to $1,000 per month on public city streets. The city wants to pass a policy that prohibits that activity.
Cohen said leaders need to create a comprehensive plan to curb the growing RV problem, or residents will grow more angry.
“The likely outcome of that is we will continue to have people up here get (voted) out of office so that somebody else can solve the problem until you find the people who are the harshest and least compassionate of all running the city and truly criminalizing homelessness,” Cohen said.
But Largent said by the time the city is able to solve one problem, another one replaces it.
“I’m realizing the city does not have a grip on this issue at all,” Largent said.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.