San Jose to lease VTA lot for safe parking program
San Jose is ready to sign a five-year lease to turn VTA Santa Teresa parking lot into an RV safe parking site. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Unhoused people living in their RVs will soon be able to sleep safely at a sanctioned location in South San Jose.

City officials told homeless advocates this week that San Jose is almost ready to sign a 5-year lease with VTA to start a new safe parking program at the Santa Teresa station’s parking lot. The program will be managed by LifeMoves, a nonprofit that has managed previous safe parking programs in San Jose.

“We are in the final steps with (VTA) to complete our lease agreement,” Vanessa Beretta, a city official on the homelessness response team, told advocates earlier this week. City and county officials meet with South Bay homeless advocates every two weeks to provide updates on initiatives and housing projects. A recording of the meeting was obtained by San José Spotlight.

City officials told San José Spotlight the contract will need approval from the City Council and declined to share further details.

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez has spent years pushing for safe parking programs in South San Jose. The VTA parking lot used to be in his district, but now falls into Councilmember Matt Mahan’s purview after redistricting process redrew political lines. Jimenez said his office continues to watch the project closely.

“I recognize it’s not going to solve the whole issue,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight, “But I think for every councilmember, we all have an obligation to step up and do what we can, so I see this as just one slice of that.”

Advocates, who have long noticed the lack of homeless services in the area, said the program will be a good addition to South San Jose.

“This is long overdue,” RJ Ramsey, an unhoused person turned advocate, told San José Spotlight. “When shelters open up, food programs become available, they rarely go to the south side. I’m hoping this is the beginning of more services.”

San Jose first explored safe parking programs in 2019 at the Seven Trees Community Center parking lot. The program was shut down in less than a year due to concerns of safety and lack of participation. The city also funded two more locations—at Roosevelt and Southside community centers, but closed last year when the contract with LifeMoves expired.

Mahan said many residents in his district are “skeptical” about the safe parking site, and wants to ensure it’s implemented the right way.

“Appropriate public outreach is part of it but there are other components,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “I’d like to have a community advisory group that understands how the site is being run and can give input along the way.”

San Jose is ready to sign a five-year lease to turn the VTA Santa Teresa parking lot into an RV safe parking site. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Who gets to use it?

City officials told homeless advocates they hope to open the program by late summer or early fall. The parking lot has roughly 1,100 parking spots.

“This location is perfect,” advocate Francesca Paist told San José Spotlight. “The question is who will get to use it?”

The safe parking program comes as San Jose is ramping up its efforts to clear the sprawling encampments near Columbus Park where several hundred people are living in squalid conditions. The city has started towing vehicles out of the area near Columbus Park and along Guadalupe River Trail this week, with plans for clean-ups—and eventually, sweeps—in upcoming months.

The site sits on airport property under the direct flight path of the downtown San Jose airport, sparking safety concerns. The FAA has threatened to withhold millions in federal funding if the city fails to clear out the field by June 30.

Scott Largent, a homeless resident at Columbus Park and activist, said the city should prioritize the most vulnerable population—older people, people with disabilities, women—and those who want help at the encampment.

“For instance, Rudy (Ortega) who’s right next to me, he does not have a criminal record, he just fell on hard times,” Largent said, naming several other older women at the camp. “I think they could be pulled out of their situation.”

Mahan, Jimenez and Paist see it differently. They are advocating for unhoused residents in South San Jose to be at the top of the list, not people from the encampment near Columbus Park.

“RVs in the immediate vicinity should receive top priority for placement on site,” Mahan said. “They should be located to this site first because the neighborhood taking on transitional sites like this ought to see the most benefit. I also want to see enhanced code enforcement in the vicinity, if needed—we have to implement this in a way that makes the neighborhood better off, not worse.”

Jimenez also said he pushed for the project to address the homeless issue in this area—not citywide.

“This may not be nice to say, but I am not supportive of bringing all the RVs from (Columbus Park) here,” Jimenez said, adding that other areas should also find their own safe parking sites in their neighborhood.

Ramsey, who was living in South San Jose when he was unhoused, said it’s a tough call. But he said services and programs should go to those living near Columbus Park.

“There’s no place for them to go,” he said. “I do understand the councilmember’s perspective, but we have a grave situation that needed to be addressed out there.”

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

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