San Jose City Council approves Guadalupe Gardens prototype park

A map showing the proposed park areas, including a dog park and areas for disc golf.
City plans for the proposed prototype park in the Guadalupe Gardens area. | Map courtesy of the Department of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to redevelop the Guadalupe Gardens area into a new, 40-acre prototype park. This plan affirms the council’s Oct. 2021 decision to clear out the existing homeless encampments by June 30 in order to comply with federal regulations.

The proposed park could include features like a dog park + disc golf areas — with plans to eventually explore urban agricultural projects. The city hopes these developments will keep encampments from returning and ultimately make the Guadalupe Gardens area — including the Guadalupe River Park and Columbus Park — more attractive to city park users. However, there are still over 100 people living unhoused in this area.

An image of a barren field with trees and dumpsters.
The city has been clearing the encampments on the Guadalupe Gardens site since late 2021. | Photo courtesy of City of San José BeautifySJ Program

✈️ Background

The Guadalupe Gardens site has been a home to unhoused San Jose residents for many years. But in 2021, the site’s unhoused population grew as high as 400 people, making it the largest encampment in Silicon Valley.

This became a federal safety issue, as the encampment is directly under the flight path of Mineta International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave the City of San Jose until June 30, 2022 to make a plan to remove the encampment, or else risk losing tens of millions of dollars in airport funding.

In response to the FAA’s deadline, the council considered building a $1.5 million, 8-foot-tall fence around the land, but ultimately voted last October to pursue alternative plans to revitalize the space.

A map showing the stages of clearing.
The City of San Jose has been sweeping encampments from the Guadalupe Gardens site in stages. | Graphic courtesy the Department of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services

👀 The situation now

Since last year’s decision, the city has been sweeping encampments at the Guadalupe Gardens site, one section at a time. As of this week, they have cleared encampments from 25 acres of the 43-acre park, provided hygiene + trash services to remaining residents, and removed 1 million pounds of debris in the process.

At the council meeting, Department of Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand described the city’s sweeps as being focused on finding real housing solutions for these community members, as opposed to relying on temporary shelters. She noted that 54 people from the encampment have been successfully re-housed since October — but this still leaves over 100 unhoused people in the park. Among these remaining residents, there are 66 vehicle households that face additional relocation needs, like repairs + secure parking spots.

Ultimately, Morales-Ferrand expressed concerns that there would not be enough available alternative housing for the remaining encamped residents between now and the June 30 deadline.

A map showing the proposed park areas, including a dog park and areas for disc golf.
City plans for the proposed prototype park in the Guadalupe Gardens area. | Map courtesy of the Department of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services.

🌳 Next steps

At the City Council meeting, multiple activists, including Becky Moskowitz with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, asked the City Council to hold off on park plans until housing can be provided for all of the Guadalupe Garden residents, lest they be evicted without a place to go. The City Council acknowledged these concerns, but suggested it would be more beneficial to move forward with their plans and revisit their timeline on Apr. 12 after asking the FAA for an extension.

As part of the City Council decision, Mayor Liccardo called for $2 million to be put towards housing solutions, one potential option being a new site off W. Taylor St. known as Lot E, which would provide temporary apartments for 76 people. The City of San Jose broke ground on this project yesterday, but construction will not be complete until August, at the earliest.

In the meantime, the council authorized the Department of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services (PRNS) to use the $1.5 million originally earmarked for fencing towards the next phases of the park revitalization project.

The project’s next phase would include clearing trespassing vehicles from the Guadalupe River Trail for bicyclist and pedestrian safety with the installation of bollards + K-rails. PRNS will also manage continued re-encampment checks until park construction officially begins.

From there, the council is pushing for the quickest build possible. Thus, easy and quick-to-build park elements like dog parks, walking paths, and disc golf areas may be prioritized over community calls for pickleball courts + a roller skating rink.

Early plans allocate 5.5 acres for a dog park, 15.8 acres for a disc golf course, and nine acres for wildflower meadows. The remaining space will be reserved for future community projects, like urban agriculture or new recreational areas, of which several local organizations — including Veggielution and San Jose Roll Call — have expressed an interest in partnering with the city.

Thus far, the city has set aside $2.63 million for the project, but future preparations could tack on another $5 million. These numbers will likely change as PRNS revises their park plans with speed in mind.

These specifics — along with growing concerns from local housing activists and new budgets + timelines — will be revisited in April after the city asks the FAA for an adjusted deadline.

Until then, we’ll keep you updated with park + housing developments as they happen.