A San Jose councilwoman who represents the area where the city launched its widely acclaimed “safe parking” pilot for the homeless wants to axe the program, citing concerns about safety and a lack of participation.
Maya Esparza—whose District 7 encompasses the Seven Trees neighborhood where the program is based—dropped a memo Friday urging her colleagues to rethink the overnight parking pilot when it comes up for discussion at next week’s City Council meeting.
The council on Tuesday is slated to hear an update on what the parking experiment has accomplished since its rolled out last fall. The program, which is run by the nonprofit LifeMoves, provides services—and security—to homeless families living in their vehicles. It originated at the Seven Trees Community Center lot and has since expanded to the Roosevelt and Southside community centers.
But it now seems that some city officials have lost faith in the program, which has drawn praise from advocates as an innovative short-term solution for the growing local population of homeless families.
A memo dated May 28 from San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand applauded the safe-parking pilot, saying it served 44 families from November 2018 to this past April. In addition, the city has seen 33 families exit the program at Seven Trees; 31 of them have moved into a shelter or permanent housing.
However, it appears that the city’s housing department has since changed course. Esparza’s latest communiqué on the topic refers to an unreleased memo from housing officials that reportedly recommends ending the program at Seven Trees.
“As discussed by housing in their supplemental memorandum, the program at Seven Trees has been severely underutilized, with only four to seven families staying there on average per night, out of 17 available spots,” Esparza wrote in her Friday memo. “Understandably, families themselves have expressed a preference to find indoor locations such as motels as a temporary measure, rather than continuing to sleep in their cars as participants in the program.”
Esparza suggests transitioning the families from the safe-parking program to one that provides motel vouchers, which will also come up for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.
In addition to lackluster program participation, Esparza says she’s been hearing constituents voice concerns about safety.
“The community has seen a substantial rise in RVs parked along the road adjacent to the parking lot, and with them an increase in reported illicit activity,” the councilor wrote. “While we recognize that many of these individuals are not affiliated with the Safe Parking Program, their sudden prevalence shortly after the onset of the program suggests a link to the existence of the program at that location.”
The parking lot in question also lies in close proximity to Los Arboles Elementary School, where Esparza says the principal and parents have voiced “extreme concern over increased dangers to children walking to school due to illicit behaviors connected to the program.” The D7 councilwoman says that those reported fears even led Franklin-McKinley School District Superintendent Juan Cruz to host a number of meetings to address the issue. Both Cruz and his district’s board president, Rudy Rodriguez, have said they would rather discontinue the parking pilot.
Esparza advises city officials to return to the council in two to three months with recommendations for a new location—potentially even the Leininger Center, another community hub in her district.
A couple of Esparza’s colleagues—namely council members Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez—also issued an advisement Friday to wind down the parking program. However, the pair say they don’t want to be too hasty, “given the success [they] have seen in transitioning families at Seven Trees to more stable living environments.”
“We recommend using the site to help stabilize and transition individuals living in vehicles, just as we are doing in our districts,” Jimenez and Peralez state in a shared memo. “To address neighborhood concerns as identified in the staff report, we support continuing staffs efforts to provide coordinated response and resources to address the conditions in the surrounding neighborhood.”
Jimenez and Peralez say they want the city to evaluate options for “more effective enforcement action” for vehicles that leak sewage or hazardous waste, produce trash, remain stationary or create visibility or traffic hazards.
“Residents and businesses are deeply impacted by ‘bad actor’ vehicle dwellers,” they continue in their policy recommendation. “To enhance the coordinated response by the city, new tools to conduct enforcement action are necessary. When there is a bad actor, such as someone dumping hazardous waste on the street, SJPD and other departments should be able to take swift action.”
Lastly, Jimenez and Peralez say they want to explore the creation of a daytime parking location—an idea that’s been pitched before by people living in their cars.
The San Jose City Council meets at 1:30pm Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose. Click here to read the agenda.