Facing deadline, San Jose to move 1,000 unhoused residents from waterways

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and others on Friday morning stood along the debris- and trash-strewn banks of Coyote Creek, surveying unhoused encampments that could result in potential financial tidal waves of fines hitting the city next year.

"The status quo is unacceptable. It’s unsustainable. And we will be accountable for getting people into safe, managed locations," said Mahan.

The mayor said San Jose had been served notice by the California Water Board, which issues stormwater permits for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Those permits are at risk of being withheld due to ongoing contamination of city waterways.


San Jose will start clearing unhoused people from Coyote Creek Monday

Starting Monday, the City of San Jose plans to help rehouse 120-200 people living along the waterway. Valley Water says it will make flood improvements along the waterway, but advocates say with limited shelter space and housing, the people living there won’t have any place to go.

"Our stormwaters drain into the creeks, and the creeks all flow up to Coyote Creek and Guadeloupe Creek, through my district in north San Jose, into the bay," said Councilmember David Cohen, whose District 4 includes Alviso, a community along the southern portion of San Francisco Bay.

The California Water Board could fine the city $50,000 per day, per contaminant. So, city staff are making plans to move an estimated 1,000 people living along 46 miles of waterways.

"So it’s really important that we address the homeless issue, and our creeks, together. And understand it’s all one issue," said Cohen.

Pastor Scott Wagers, a longtime South Bay unhoused resident advocate, added, "If they work with advocates, we come up with a coherent plan, we work together, maybe we can get them into housing."

City officials said they want to drastically scale up services in the coming months, such as Emergency Interim Housing (EIH), safe parking spaces, and affordable housing, to give those displaced a place to go.

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"We need faster, more cost-effective, more pragmatic means of offering safe, dignified alternatives to the unmanaged tent encampments you see along our waterways," said Mahan.

Pam Foley, District 9 councilmember, said, "We’re gonna have to be cautious and look at our budget in a very different and serious way."

Foley, who is also on the budget committee, said the city’s budget faces a deficit, and there are already plans to provide alternatives for the unhoused. So, she and others will have to decide what gets cut to make the numbers meet.

The deadline to present a plan to the state is June 2025.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv.