Valley Water Board delays vote on homeless encampment ordinance

The Santa Clara Valley Water Board of Directors met on Tuesday to discuss a new ordinance that would prohibit encampments along Valley Water land. The board decided to send the issue back to committee before holding a final vote.

Environmental and homeless advocates went to battle at the meeting. While homeless advocates say they don't want to see criminalization of the unhoused, many others say they worry about the environmental impacts of homelessness along the over 200 miles of waterway shorelines and land managed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. 

Compliance over criminalization was the key line Valley Water was touting on Tuesday, as well as safety of Santa Clara Valley Water staff who come into contact with those living in encampments.

"One recent incident involved our member narrowly escaping a machete attack...such attacks show the urgent need for more safety measures," Robert Ewing, President of the Employees Union Association of Valley Water said. 

Homelessness has been a key issue for San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan since he came into office. He says he understands why Valley Water is considering these next steps.

"The bottom line is we have to create those managed places for people to go with a connection to services and then get people back from the waterways and prevent any kind of pollution," Mahan told KTVU. 

That pollution, including discarded trash and bio waste, could cause a big problem for the City of San Jose, the County of Santa Clara and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. 

"We have an obligation to comply with the Clean Water Act and that's true for all of the public agencies and any of the property owners along our rivers and creeks," Mahan said. 

Public comment at the Board of Directors meeting brought many perspectives to the table, and one woman who works with the homeless says her largest concern is safety. 

"I live in the apartments along the creek…and I am periodically followed by men from the encampments," Joanne Pasqual, employee with the California State Department of Aging said. "I'm afraid that the waterways create a kind of protection against being monitored—assaults can happen, and you can kind of retreat to the creek," Pasqual said. 

After many impassioned speakers shared thoughts on the ordinance, the board ultimately decided to send the ordinance back to committee rather than holding a vote. The ordinance is expected to make its way back to the Valley Water Board of Directors in October.