During the Nov. 29 San Jose City Council meeting, outgoing Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city has a homeless housing marketing problem. He’s right on the money: San Jose residents want homeless housing, just not near their homes.
There is clearly a lack of trust and confidence by many neighborhoods that homeless housing solutions and their homes can coexist. That is generally across the board on housing options such as quick-build housing or tiny homes, RV parking and motel conversions.
San Jose has earned that lack of trust. Last June, the city council voted 8-2 to allow for the building of 400 tiny homes on six sites. One site, located on Noble Avenue adjacent to Penitencia Creek Trail and across the street from Noble Elementary School, had 100 homes allocated, even though the Noble property is dedicated parkland. City staff fully analyzed the Noble site and still deemed it suitable for homeless housing.
The surrounding community made their voices be heard that eliminating parkland was not acceptable. The opponents of this use held a rally in August and convinced Councilmember David Cohen to attend. He vowed to fight the land-use conversion. Jump ahead to the Nov. 29 council meeting where this issue was raised. Councilmembers voted again and removed the Noble site as an option.
The elimination of the Noble site was a huge win for the surrounding neighborhood, but a huge loss for the city’s credibility in assessing suitable sites.
Instead of pointing out the many other examples of this issue, let’s discuss what needs to be done. It’s plain and simple, and starts by going out to the neighborhoods and having an honest conversation about the various options above. It should also include giving residents tours of the existing permanent and temporary facilities. While homeless advocates don’t support the idea, maybe adding encampment restriction areas around each site is needed. I’m not sure of the radius, but it needs to be substantial enough to show the neighborhoods there is a benefit to having a homeless housing site nearby.
Rebuilding trust takes time. It comes down to communication, informing the community of what solutions look like and dispelling the myths going around on social media. Let’s hope the new mayoral administration and the city manager’s office can begin that process in 2023.
San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.