San Jose makes it easier to open COVID-19 vaccine clinics
Hundreds of people line up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Mexican Heritage Plaza on Feb. 2. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    In its quest to help Santa Clara County quickly distribute COVID-19 vaccines, San Jose will relax land-use rules to get vaccination stations up and running.

    The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to bypass the usual permitting process required for hosting outdoor events so more vaccination clinics can open in vulnerable neighborhoods.

    “I appreciate staff’s work in moving this forward so we can be very nimble in taking advantage of opportunities to be able to bring vaccines to our residents who need it the most,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

    If a group wants to host a gathering outside in San Jose — or in this case, open a vaccination clinic outdoors — the city requires them to get a permit. Permits help ensure outdoor events such as festivals don’t harm the surrounding area.

    But outdoor event and special-use permits can take 45 days to three months to approve, depending on how much environmental review or resident input the city needs to obtain.

    Subjecting vaccination sites to these rules would delay Santa Clara County’s vaccine rollout and would make it harder for residents to get their shots, according to Deputy City Manager Lee Wilcox and Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey.

    “Over the course of this pandemic response, it has been evidently clear that flexibility and speed is of the utmost importance to adapt to rapidly changing information, guidance, and developments in the pandemic healthcare response,” Wilcox and Hughey wrote in a Feb. 25 memo. “Subjecting vaccination activities to the typical land use permitting process would cause unnecessary and unacceptable delays.”

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    Vaccination sites won’t have noise or crowd concerns common with outdoor dining or festivals.

    This is not the first time the city loosened land-use rules during the pandemic. In May, the council created the Al Fresco program to make it easier for businesses and restaurants to open outdoors and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

    San Jose agreed to help the county’s vaccine distribution by identifying potential clinic sites, hiring staff to run the clinics and operating its own clinics in neighborhoods most impacted by the virus.

    “I’ll just say as soon as my turn comes up for vaccination, I will be in line — happily — and I hope everyone else is as well,” Liccardo said.

    New vaccination sites — including the state’s largest clinic at Levi’s Stadium — have been popping up across the county. Just yesterday, a new East San Jose clinic opened at Eastridge Mall, weeks after vaccine clinics opened at Emmanuel Baptist Church and Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose.

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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