Policymakers in the Bay Area’s largest city on Tuesday agreed to ban homeless people from camping near schools, despite pleas from advocates and concerns from City Hall about how to carry it out.
City councilmembers voted unanimously to draft a policy allowing police to tow vehicles parked within 150 feet of K-12 campuses, despite city administrators questioning how they’ll implement the new law. City officials warned that the policy could take massive resources to enforce and run afoul with state vehicle code. Councilmembers responded by directing city leaders to lobby Sacramento to change state law — another drain on limited city resources.
Under the council’s direction, the city will also prepare an ordinance banning oversized vehicles from public roads deemed hazardous by an engineering study. City officials were directed to draft a separate policy to tow vehicles from streets where parking is banned overnight.
Councilmembers, led by Mayor Matt Mahan, said the city’s policies have no teeth — only allowing authorities to issue fines.
“San Jose has taken on far more than our fair share of Santa Clara County’s oversized vehicles,” Mahan said at the meeting. He added that other communities — especially wealthier ones like Saratoga – have much stricter bans on the books. “If we are alone and not enforcing, we will be the one place in the county that has all the RVs.”
The discussion comes after six months of debate and intense public pressure to find solutions to the city’s homelessness crisis.
While students and parents say they’ve been threatened, stepped over needles and feel unsafe walking to school, homeless advocates warn a blanket ban criminalizes homelessness and piles more costs on people who are already displaced. City officials have identified Independence High School, Shirakawa Elementary School and Challenger School – Berryessa as the three most affected school campuses.
Scores of speakers lined up for and against the proposed bans. Dozens of students from the KIPP San Jose Collegiate charter high school said encampments make walking to school frightening. Homeless advocates, on the other hand, accused politicians like Mahan of stoking fear to feed a narrative that ties homeless people to crime.
Debra Townley, a San Jose resident, said she lived in her vehicle with a child.
“My child was in school at that time and I needed to park near schools in order to get him to school,” Townley said at the meeting. “I find this very disturbing that we’re going to ban a whole class of people who are trying to survive.”
KIPP sophomore Sophia Le said homeless residents have wreaked havoc on her school.
“We are just children in San Jose trying to have the best school experience. How is this going to be made possible when my school has to constantly make repairs every time a member of the RV community trespasses onto campus?” Le said at the meeting.
Mahan countered that keeping RVs away from schools by more than 100 feet isn’t criminalizing them. Reducing street homelessness —or at least the appearance of people sleeping outdoors in Silicon Valley — has been a cornerstone of the mayor’s political platform as he seeks reelection this March.
All councilmembers — except Dev Davis who was absent — appeared to agree.
Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei acknowledged that people in Silicon Valley are struggling to survive. Fueled by the global tech industry, San Jose consistently ranks the most expensive place to rent in the U.S. and pay monthly bills.
“We all deserve to be safe, and there’s no one on this dais disagreeing with that,” Kamei said.
As councilmembers begin budget talks this spring, they’ll consider a larger policy to ban RVs from more parts of town. Other ideas floated in a city report on Tuesday included convincing private property owners to allow RV parking and the city purchasing RVs from homeless individuals in an effort to help them pay for an apartment.
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. In its most recent homeless count, San Jose tallied more than 6,500 unhoused people in 2022.
Councilmember Bien Doan, who was once homeless himself, took issue with the long-term RV strategies proposed by city leaders, namely keeping RVs in industrial areas only. He said pushing homeless people into the outskirts of San Jose stains poorer neighborhoods.
“I feel like I was blindsided by this whole thing,” Doan said, adding that policies like the RV ban would “hurt and harm (his) district.”
Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.