UPDATE: San Jose sets tougher RV restrictions near schools
A string of RVs and vehicles line Educational Park Drive outside KIPP San Jose Collegiate. File photo.

San Jose leaders hope a slew of new policies make schools safer by pushing homeless people out of nearby encampments and limiting where they can park.

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved three different policies to limit where large vehicles can park, where people living in their RVs can sleep overnight and how far encampments can be from schools.

The city is testing the efficacy of these rules around the schools with Independence High School, Shirakawa Elementary School and Challenger at Berryessa after safety complaints from students and school workers last year.

When the schools brought the setback issue to the council in January for an initial vote, homeless advocates warned a blanket ban criminalizes and further discriminates against homeless people. However, students and parents shared they’ve been threatened, stepped over needles and felt unsafe walking to school.

Mayor Matt Mahan said the policies are not designed to criminalize homelessness, but rather delineate where homeless people can go for the safety of the entire community.

“Our young people are facing the ramifications of our inaction on homelessness — and they are calling on us to do better,” Mahan told San José Spotlight.

The first policy allows the city to tow large vehicles in areas where parked cars create safety hazards for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. The city intends to put up no parking signs in areas where large cars could block people from making a safe turn or pedestrians from crossing the street safely. While this policy may not appear targeted at homeless residents, typically it is people living in large cars, like RVs, that line public streets.

Before the city can put up signs, the city transportation department needs to conduct a safety assessment and review other factors to create no overnight parking zones for people living in their vehicles.

People with vehicles in no parking zones run the risk of being towed. But Colin Heyne, transportation department spokesperson, said parking and traffic control officers would likely make first contact to have owners move their vehicles before having police handle towing.

“I really hope that this message will cause voluntary cooperation and we will not have to tow any of these vehicles,” Councilmember Arjun Batra told San José Spotlight.

Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei said the safety assessment should be done citywide because it will help increase road safety.

“If you have a big truck or something as an impediment that you can’t even see around… that’s a problem,” Kamei said.

City leaders estimate San Jose is home to 850 lived-in vehicles and as many as 1,500 residents could be affected by the policy. The impacts of large RVs lining city streets have been felt by neighbors and commercial districts, with some businesses looking to leave San Jose. The city opened a safe parking site in Santa Teresa, and will open another in North San Jose, but there won’t be enough space to accommodate all lived-in vehicles.

While San Jose has been able to shrink the population by 4.7%, there are still about 6,340 homeless residents on the street. For months Mahan has been talking about plans to enact no encampment zones. He initially said he wouldn’t implement the ban until San Jose had concrete solutions such as alternative housing, but the city is falling short of its goals.

“We can’t wait to (build) safe dignified spaces for everyone living outdoors to ensure our kids feel safe traveling to and from school,” Mahan said.

Councilmembers also codified setback zones that prohibit homeless residents from camping within 150 feet of a school. Those who violate the distance requirement will receive a citation, however there is no monetary fine associated with it.

The city already has a “buffer” zone that prohibits tents and makeshift structures or other miscellaneous belongings within 150 feet of San Jose schools that went into effect in 2021, but the rule is more of an “informal guidance” that hasn’t routinely been enforced.

Tuesday’s approval is the first step for the pilot programs, but it will be months before signs are propped up and enforcement begins, city officials said. Councilmember David Cohen said this is good because it gives the city time to open other safe parking or interim housing sites in parallel.

“We’re building the ordinances that will give us the tools to then be able to enforce rules once we can offer people places to go,” Cohen said.

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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