The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in the meeting chambers
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors may partner with San Jose on funding a safe parking site at 1300 Berryessa Road. File photo.

Santa Clara County officials may help finance San Jose’s multimillion-dollar safe parking efforts and set up more sites on unused public property for the region’s homeless residents.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed on Tuesday to look into both possibilities and requested more information by May. Debate ensued over whether the funding could be justified — amid a ballooning $250 million budget deficit — over homeless prevention strategies such as building more housing.

Supervisor Otto Lee put forward the idea to help fund San Jose’s latest safe parking site under development at 1300 Berryessa Road about a mile from the area’s BART station. He suggested exploring other county sites, as well.

The proposal to help San Jose didn’t come with a dollar amount. Board President Susan Ellenberg has reservations.

“Safe parking sites sound appealing in part because the upfront costs are often far lower than the cost of housing,” Ellenberg said at the meeting.

What often is hidden or gets realized later, Ellenberg added, is the extraordinary expense of operating those sites, limited funding for them and the comparatively smaller number of people who transition into permanent housing rather than back into homelessness.

“We need to be investing in the long haul and need to be careful in our zeal to alleviate immediate crises that we find ourselves in, with no ongoing funding to sustain any progress we make,” Ellenberg said.

San Jose entered into a 10-year lease for the land on Berryessa Road, initially projected to cost as much as $15 million to develop. But the city redesigned the site — cutting the projected cost by half. An operator will be hired to run the site, which could cost between $2.5 and $4.7 million annually.

The county’s 2023 annual survey of its homeless population reported nearly 10,000 unhoused residents across the region, with more than 6,300 unhoused individuals in San Jose.

It wouldn’t be the first such partnership for the county. Since 2021, supervisors have contracted with Move Mountain View to provide safe parking services in North County and have renewed it annually. The current contract expires on June 30.

County employees will come back to the board in September with a report on what locations work for safe parking site expansions, including land owned by other public agencies.

Lee acknowledged that interim solutions are just one part of the equation. He said safe parking sites at least provide an entry point to connect people with services they don’t know exist.

“Getting people from one place to another is a process,” Lee said at the meeting. “The county and cities really haven’t been working together to solve these operational challenges. We can provide services the cities can’t regarding mental health (and) drugs.”

Ellenberg and Supervisor Cindy Chavez questioned whether taking on safe parking would lead to budget reductions or layoffs in other departments as the county grapples with the budget deficit. Chavez described a trend where the county is expected to invest the most.

“When we as a county decided to play a leadership role in housing, our staff said at that time that if you did this everybody would start to blame you for the housing problem — and they were 100% right,” Chavez said at the meeting. “If we’re being asked to make investments — not just in San Jose but Mountain View or another city — in programs that aren’t our highest priority but are going to pull us into investing in ways that may or may not get us to that bottom line, that’s actually a big concern.”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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