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The city of San Jose met with the public recently to discuss a proposed recreational vehicle safe parking program at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s Santa Teresa light rail station parking lot.

City officials said they are already in the process of signing a four- or five-year lease with VTA to start the program. At least 120 San Jose residents and community members attended the July 6 meeting, and many expressed their support or concerns over the program.

The program will be managed by LifeMoves, a nonprofit that has managed similar safe parking projects in San Jose and Redwood City, and will target homeless people living in RVs.

“The RV dwellers are already in South San Jose, and they are already in and around this site, so what we are trying to do is find a safe location for them to park,” said Vanessa Beretta, senior development officer of the city’s homelessness response team.

The city said that San Jose remains in an evolving housing crisis. The estimated number of homeless people in 2022 is 6,739, an 11 percent increase compared to 6,097 in 2019. One of the reasons the program was proposed for RV parking, Beretta said, was that over 80 percent of calls and concerns her team received over the last two and a half years were about RVs being parked on residential streets and in business areas.

A map identifies the proposed site for the safe parking program at Santa Teresa light rail station’s northern parking lot. (Google map image via Bay City News)

The Santa Teresa light rail parking lot will be able to accommodate about 45 to 60 RVs. Basic needs services such as restrooms, water and trash services will be provided at the site.

The location, however, has drawn lots of complaints from local residents. A petition called “Do Not Use Santa Teresa VTA Station As RV Parking Lot” addresses concerns, including potential increases in crimes and trash, as well as the site’s proximity to Santa Teresa Elementary School and other schools. More than 3,300 people had signed the petition as of Friday.

City officials said they evaluated many potential locations before deciding to move forward with this site. Some key criteria included the size of the area, availability of the parking lot during evening hours and accessible space for Dumpsters and portable toilets to be installed, and the property owner’s willingness.

In response to safety and cleanliness concerns, LifeMoves introduced a Good Neighbor Plan, which vows to provide 24/7 staffing and security on-site and set specific rules for participants.

“I think that LifeMoves will do a great job within the actual safe parking program itself,” said Jeannette Marsala, a resident in the meeting. “My concern, like many of my other neighbors, is what happens outside of that area.”

“We’re looking at addressing people’s homelessness right away because affordable housing takes quite a few years to build, and we know that there’s such an urgency for people who are living outside today.”

Kelly Hemphill, San Jose homeless response manager

Kelly Hemphill, homelessness response manager with the city of San Jose, responded that the city, VTA and LifeMoves will further discuss how to enforce the boundaries and maintain the safety of surrounding areas.

“It’s going to be a community response in ensuring that this program is successful for everybody,” she said.

Many residents at the meeting proposed a plan to implement a tent-free and RV-free zone within 2 miles of the site. However, there is currently no city policy establishing such zones within a radius of safe parking programs.

Hemphill said the safe parking program is one of the city’s strategies to grapple with homelessness and will serve as a temporary solution to help people transition into stable placements.

Trash appears strewn about a homeless encampment along Guadalupe River Park in San Jose in an undated image. Opponents of a plan to allow RV parking at the VTA’s Santa Teresa light rail station fear a similar scene will unfold there. (Photo via Change.org)

“We’re looking at addressing people’s homelessness right away because affordable housing takes quite a few years to build, and we know that there’s such an urgency for people who are living outside today,” Hemphill said.

LifeMoves said that its current safe parking program in Redwood City has supported over 100 clients and 40 RVs since 2019, and 63 percent of them have transitioned to stable housing in 18 months.

The estimated time for the City Council to approve the lease agreement with VTA will be around September. The program will likely start in October.