June 20, 2024

San Jose Protects Mobilehome Parks and Streamlines Shelter Approval Process


Photo by Loan-Anh Pham for San Jose Spotlight

During last week’s meeting, the San Jose City Council approved a number of important changes to its land use policies. The first change was to rezone a final round of 43 mobilehome parks into the “Mobilehome Park” land use designation, which provides significant protection from displacement due to redevelopment for thousands of mobilehome owners. The second was an extension of by-right approval to emergency shelters, which removes special permit requirements in areas that allow shelters. 

Since 2015, when the owner of the Winchester Ranch Mobilehome Park in San Jose announced their plans to close the park and redevelop the site with a large apartment complex, the vulnerability of mobilehome owners to development pressures became extremely tangible.  Many of the parks, which have long provided more affordable options for thousands of mobilehome owners, were on land zoned for other residential, commercial, or industrial uses. And, without protections, they could be closed and converted without much redress. The initial response from the council was a moratorium on closures in 2016, followed by the creation of a new land use designation for Mobilehome Parks in 2020. It did not happen quickly, but after protectively rezoning two parks in 2020 and another 13 late last year, Tuesday’s action now covers all of the parks in the city. The trauma of the proposed closure of the Buena Vista Park in Palo Alto, which ended in a drawn-out acquisition of the property by the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, sparked concerns around the county. Similar zoning changes to protect mobilehome parks were made in Mountain View in the last few years and are on Planning Department staff work plans in some other cities. 

The council vote on allowing shelters to be developed without requiring special review or approval was adopted primarily to come into compliance with new state laws – Assembly Bill 2339 and Assembly Bill 2176 – which mandate cities to create sufficient shelter facilities and declare an Emergency Shelter Crisis. Earlier laws required that “navigation centers” – a particular type of shelter and service facility –  be approved without discretion in all zones where multi-family residential uses were allowed.  San Jose planning staff proactively proposed that if some shelters were going to be streamlined, then others should be as well. Although the action by the council does not directly create new housing or shelters, it removes bureaucratic obstacles and supports a more efficient way of conforming with the law. 

Sometimes, we overlook the importance of local leadership and what can seem like small actions. SV@Home believes it is important to acknowledge the steps cities can take to protect vulnerable residents and facilitate the efficient construction of diverse housing resources.