Bay Area/ San Jose/ Politics & Govt
Published on February 10, 2022
San Jose land currently used as homeless camp could become dog park, disc golf coursePhoto by Mathew Smith on Unsplash

About 100 unhoused people have set up shop in a 40-acre encampment near San Jose’s airport. But that seems likely to come to an end.

San Jose Council members just approved a plan to consider options to vacate the lot, following an order from the Federal Aviation Administration. Instead of the homeless camp, they plan to convert this piece of San Jose real estate into a 16-acre disc golf course and a 5.5-acre dog park, along with space for a wildflower meadow, community garden, and urban farm.

The question, then, is where to place those unhoused residents. The City voted to put $2 million toward an effort to rehouse the 100 people living in the space the FAA wants cleared. However, that count fluctuates and could cause problems for the city; during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 300 people regularly slept in that lot.

San Jose has already been struggling with a housing shortage. Senate Bill 9 allows duplexes to be created on a single-family lot, which the University of California Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation estimates could lead to about 40,000 extra units in the city. A temporary housing site is also being constructed to house up to 76 people by this fall. However, that will take time that San Jose’s homeless simply don’t have.  

The FAA ordered the lot to be cleared by June 30, arguing the space exposed those staying there to “unacceptable levels of noise.” The City Council is still contemplating whether to ask the FAA for extra time — a vote on that would be held in April. The FAA says it will evaluate any formal proposal sent its way.

San Jose is already home to ten separate dog parks within the city, along with a two-acre enclosed area where dogs can roam freely off-leash within a larger park, plus three dog parks in cities nearby.

That wasn’t the only vote involving San Jose’s unhoused residents. Many homeless setups have been creeping up closer to a pathway along the Guadalupe River Trail that was meant for bicyclists and pedestrians to roam. The City says that’s led to an increase in misuse of the trail by drivers making their way onto it. The Council is considering taking action to lessen vehicle traffic in the area by putting up fences and bollards in front of each of the eight entrances.

Between the proposed park and the bollards, those plans would cost about $3.74 million upfront, plus $1.75 million in upkeep, the City estimates. However, the encampment by the airport puts the city at risk of losing millions more in federal funding. It was purchased specifically to serve as a buffer between the airport and the rest of the city in case of a plane accident and is not permitted to be used for housing. The City already has $2.63 million dedicated to the project.

Until action is decided upon, the City has been trying to clear the camp out section by section. The nonprofit HomeFirst has moved 54 people from the camp. That includes 22 people in long-term housing and 27 who are now in temporary homes.