A 50-ACRE PIECE of land along Coyote Creek sits deserted and is frequently home to encampments and blight, yet the city still hesitates to support a coalition’s pursuit to turn it into a park for community benefit.
Coyote Meadows Coalition, a group comprising more than a dozen local groups and hundreds of volunteers, has spent the last few years pushing for the city to turn the vacant land along Coyote Creek between Story Road and Highway 280 into a recreational destination for residents and visitors. But the city is noncommittal on how it wants to move forward.
The area, wedged between Kelley and Olinder parks, was once known as “the Jungle,” where roughly 300 homeless people lived for years before city officials called for a sweep of the area and formally disbanded the camp in 2014.
“Our coalition sees this as an opportunity to create a continuous chain of parks,” said Deb Kramer, executive director of nonprofit Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful and one of the original members of the coalition. “That creates about 260-plus acres of contiguous parkland, which is significant.”
The coalition gained early support from residents when it first began advocating to turn the abandoned area into a park known as Coyote Meadows in 2016, with the eventual hope of creating a grand park connecting Kelley Park to the south and Olinder Park to the north.
The area, which is underdeveloped compared to other adjacent parks, would also serve as a respite for native wildlife, coalition members told San José Spotlight. The land is currently plagued with invasive plants, compounded by ongoing illegal dumping that has decimated the wildlife.
Parts of the city-owned acreage used to be a landfill that was covered with soil, creating a plateau with 360-degree views of the city. The land also has several radio towers and an old railroad trestle running through it. The homeless camp used to occupy the lowland area, which is prone to hazardous flooding during heavy rains.
“Right now a lot of people feel very uncomfortable and unsafe going on the trail in the area because there’s so many homeless people.”Deb Kramer, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful
The coalition, with a grant from the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, conducted more than a dozen community meetings to solicit feedback, walking tours of the area and weekend clean-up trips. The group hired a consultant in 2018 to produce a 23-page report on how the city could transform the neglected area into a recreational hub, with a well-maintained trail, art spaces, picnic areas and community gardens, among other amenities. They hoped that with more activation in the area homeless people might be deterred from camping there, some of whom returned even after the 2014 homeless sweep.
“Right now a lot of people feel very uncomfortable and unsafe going on the trail in the area because there’s so many homeless people, regardless of what their status is around violence,” Kramer told San José Spotlight. “There’s this perception of fear.”
These renewed efforts come after San Jose finished expanding the Coyote Creek Trail between William Street Park and Yerba Buena High School last year — an area next to the newly proposed park. The city and Valley Water have also allocated roughly $1.6 million to fund a police bike patrol program along the new trail to curb illegal dumping and address increasing safety concerns. The program has proven successful in encouraging more residents to use the trail and was recently expanded.
Nanci Klein, director of economic development, said the city is exploring the possibility of leasing the land where the former landfill sits to a private company for a potential manufacturing plant or infill power generation. This could help the city offload the high cost of an environmental study to reopen a closed landfill, she added, but the project hasn’t seen much movement because it is not currently a top priority.
“In San Jose, there’s a lot of need for enhancing the parks we have and or creating parks in areas that are very proximate to residences,” Klein told San José Spotlight. “But there aren’t resources identified.”
Meanwhile, San Jose is in the process of expanding the Five Wounds Trail to run through the land and connect it with the Coyote Creek Trail.
Alie Victorine, an organizer of the coalition, said the group is meeting with newly elected officials this week to garner their support. The coalition is scheduled to talk to Councilmember Bien Doan who represents the area where the land is located.
“At the city, we have been so supported by everyone, but there are some of these stumbling blocks and of course COVID put everything on the back burner,” Victorine told San José Spotlight. “But we’ll keep cheerleading for it, that’s what we do.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.