San Jose officials discuss alternative plans to clear homeless encampment near airport

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
New plans discussed in homeless camp clearing near SJ airport
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).

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In the skies, the planes continue fly in and out of San Jose International Airport. On the ground, the work is just beginning to clear one of the city's biggest homeless encampments.

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

The City of San Jose and the FAA came to an agreement this past summer to sweep park and build a fence around it to prevent re-encampment.

Now, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and members of the city council are offering an alternative.

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

The FAA is raising safety concerns over a large homeless encampment near the Mineta San Jose International Airport.

"Our focus, rather than building fences which was a prior proposal, really focuses on a human solution," Mayor Liccardo said.

The plan would prioritize the rehousing of the estimated 250-300 unhoused residents to city supportive housing.

In addition, utilizing $1.5 million in airport funds originally proposed for the fencing and $3 million in city housing funds, the city would sweep the park using park rangers and police and install barriers to keep the park open and prevent encampments.

"Our public parks are for everyone, including the unhoused, we simply don't want encampments in those parks," Mayor Liccardo said. "So, we're going to do everything we can to ensure that our public parks are for everyone."

Federal regulations require a "buffer zone" due to unacceptable noise levels from landing planes and that's where this camp resides.

RELATED: First 'Unhoused Resource Fair' reaches residents living on streets in San Jose

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 in June, 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."

SJC officials told ABC7 News in June, "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 (aka "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.

RELATED: San Jose's unhoused fear eviction as California's COVID-19 homeless housing program nears end

Airport officials stood by the original plan for a fence around the park today during the council meeting citing lowest cost and least likely chances for re-encampment.

"I think the fence is the most affordable way to keep the illegal dumping and re-encampment from coming back," SJC's Director of Aviation John Aitken said.

While everyone is on board with following the regulations, the Mayor doesn't believe a fence is best for the city.

"Look, our city is besieged with a crisis of homelessness, there's no question about it and there's a lot more that we need to do," Mayor Liccardo said. "We've got an ambitious plan to build aggressively to get more of unhoused residents off the street. But, this cannot be a city where we build fences and walls to keep members of our public out of public spaces."

We reached out to the FAA for our story Tuesday, but they did not respond to our requests for comment.