FAA concerned over large SJ homeless encampment where residents say 'we're living in a crash zone'

The FAA is putting pressure on the City of San Jose to take action and clear the area.

Amanda del Castillo Image
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
FAA concerned over large homeless encampment near airport
The FAA is raising safety concerns over a large homeless encampment near the Mineta San Jose International Airport.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Hundreds of unhoused people have either found or built shelter on a 40-acre parcel of land near the Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).

The specific location has the FAA concerned. According to the administration, the property in question is owned by SJC.

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It is located between West Hedding Street, Coleman Ave, Asbury Street and the Guadeloupe River Park.

The FAA is putting pressure on the City of San Jose to take action and clear the area.

ABC7 News was on-site as several planes approached SJC. The noise of landing aircraft took over what is supposed to be a buffer property at SJC.

However, the buffer property is currently being used as a homeless encampment. According to the FAA, it's exposing that population to "unacceptable levels of noise."

Scott Largent, a resident on the property, told ABC7 News there is nowhere else to go.

"They're just gonna end up in the neighborhoods. They're gonna end up near the County Building. They're gonna end up downtown," he said about his neighbors. "I mean, they're already kind of at the end of the line out here. We're living in a crash zone. So obviously, it's, you know... it's pretty difficult."

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Largent said he and other residents have dubbed the area the "Crash Zone," because of its location.

In letters from the FAA to SJC's Director of Aviation, the administration emphasized the land being occupied was purchased using federal funds for airport approach protection and noise mitigation purposes, specifically.

In a statement to ABC7 News, the FAA explained in-part, "Airports that receive federal funds must ensure airport property is used for its intended purpose."

Beyond that, the administration sharing: "The city of San Jose designated the area as incompatible for homes due to noise impacts. The FAA provided roughly $97 million for noise mitigation and approach protection projects, in the vicinity of SJC. These projects included the purchase of land and homes in the subject area and the relocation of those residents to compatible areas, because the noise levels do not meet FAA standards for compatible land uses."

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SJC officials told ABC7 News, "By allowing the encampments to remain on this property, the City is not compliant with the promises it made to the FAA when it accepted the grants that paid for this land (a.k.a "grant assurances") to keep the land free of incompatible use."

"The FAA has advised the City that it must address this incompatible land use to, among other potential consequences, avoid jeopardizing future federal funding for critical airport projects," the statement by SJC continued.

ABC7 News is told airport management is collaborating with colleagues in a number of City departments to "develop a corrective action plan that balances the needs of these unhoused individuals with the need to abate the land to meet FAA regulations."

Councilman Raul Peralez said it'll take some time.

"We're hoping to have until next year, honestly," he said. "So, a 12-month process because we know how significant and challenging this is gonna be- to try and get in there and clear it out."

Peralez added, "But we are mandated by the FAA to go in there and do that. So, we're working through a plan on that now."

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In the FAA's May 2021 letter, it told SJC;s Director of Aviation in-part, "Please understand, it is not FAA's intent to show disregard for the homelessness crises, only to ensure that use of Airport property does not become the solution to the crises."

Meantime, two flyers alerted residents about keeping their area clean. A third, stirred up a bit of confusion.

Largent read, "You must move all of your property from this location by 7 a.m. June 28th."

He said the fliers contradicted the action he and his neighbors should be taking.

Daniel Lazo, Interim Public Information Manager for the city's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services department confirmed, "We recognize that the flier may have caused some confusion. And we're looking at the language of the flier, which was posted by the city's Beautify SJ team."

Lazo said PRNS is working with the City Attorney's office to accomplish that.

While that language up for review, Lazo and Peralez said those experiencing homelessness haven't been forced to leave the location just yet.

However, when the time comes, Largent anticipates it'll be turbulent.

"Originally, there was about 75 to 100 people, kind of in the area, before COVID," he explained. "Then it pretty much exploded to about 600 people out here, and every day it grows."