Plans to build a tiny home village on Noble Avenue in San Jose for unhoused residents may be reconsidered after a city councilmember voiced his opposition to fellow policymakers.
District 4 Councilmember David Cohen submitted a memo to the city’s Rules and Open Government committee, asking staff members to immediately halt development, listen to community members and seek out alternatives before building 100 tiny homes near Penitencia Creek Trail and between the Dr. Robert Gross Ponds. The committee unanimously approved the memo.
“Today my colleagues on the Rules Committee agreed with my assessment that taking parkland away from a community to build interim housing requires more information come back to council for reconsideration. My staff and I will work collaboratively with the City Manager to assess alternative sites and present a better option in D4,” Cohen said in a statement following the Aug. 3 council meeting.
In June, the City Council voted 8-2 to expand on a tiny home project — without community outreach — in efforts to quickly provide the city’s increasing homeless population a temporary place to stay.
A hundred of these units would be built in an open space across the street from an elementary school, a block away from the Berryessa Branch Library and next to a popular recreation site.
Cohen, backed by local residents, argued that this space is designated parkland due to its upkeep, improvements and popularity, and should be protected and preserved for public use. Some of the verbiage in the city’s criteria for determining if a park is charter-protected is murky, and the city attorney will continue to assess its eligibility.
“My staff and I will continue to work with the City Attorney and city staff to help them come to the same conclusion our community has — that this is dedicated parkland, and it should be protected from development,” Cohen wrote in a letter to District 4 residents.
Swift, difficult decisions
A June memo from Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Pam Foley said that in order to address the homeless crisis, swift, difficult decisions have to be made, or else the community will face a “dire and unsafe reality for everyone.”
“Any new location is more likely going to merely move the locus of opposition, rather than dispel it. Experience informs us that the most ideal location, producing the most successful housing community, will still yield strong opposition when neighbors hear that formerly homeless residents will occupy the units,” the memo reads.
Cohen specified that he is not opposed to the interim housing project as a whole, rather he believes there are some 10 different places in his district that could serve the same purpose without compromising public open space.
In a letter, he thanked the people and organizations that drew in support, like the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, the Berryessa Union School District and former District 4 Councilmember Margie Matthews.
“It was your passionate commentary regarding what this park means to you that softened the stance of my colleagues who have been focused on speed,” he wrote.
The memo approved by the council committee does not completely halt planning for the site, however. The next step is for Cohen is to evaluate the list of alternative sites and present his opposition to the full San Jose City Council at a later time.
“We will work with speed and acumen to narrow the site selection to the most viable sites, while engaging in proactive community outreach with residents living near the potential alternative sites so that they can be informed and engaged on this project before any final decisions are made, and we will provide transparency to our entire community to help restore your confidence in your City.