Want to hand out food or clothes in San Jose parks? You may need to pay the city first

A photo taken of a man’s hand flipping off a small sign on the edge of downtown San Jose’s St. James Park has triggered collective disgust and anger in the Twittersphere against the city.

The sign, fastened to a pole, warns: “The distribution of food and clothing to the general public in a public park without a city permit is prohibited.”

The photo went viral last month, with Twitter users zinging the city for brandishing new signs about a two-decade-old law that few people had heard of and keeping them up through a crippling global pandemic and cold winter months.

They called it hateful and cruel, said it represented “nimby liberalism” and accused the city of trying to “screw the poor at every chance.” A handful of Twitter users even threatened to take the signs down or spray-paint over them.

Although the rule affects all city parks, people found the signs especially distasteful along St. James Park, a prominent downtown green space that has become a gathering area for unhoused residents. City officials are attempting to redesign and transform it into an iconic destination for residents and visitors.

So why did San Jose enact a policy in 2005 forbidding food and clothing distribution at parks without a permit?

In a memo from that time, then-parks director Sara Hensley said distributing food or clothing “does not constitute an appropriate event” for city parks.

Since organizers of other special park events such as a cultural celebrations, entertainment acts and children’s activities were required to first obtain permits, Hensley apparently reasoned that food and clothing distribution events should be handled the same way.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 10: A person stands near their belongings at St. James Park in San Jose, Calif., on Monday Jan. 10, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

San Jose wasn’t the only city to take that approach. Hayward, for instance, also prohibits distribution of food and clothing in its parks without a permit. San Francisco generally does not allow food or clothing giveaways in parks, but it began letting established food banks pass out food under free emergency use permits when the pandemic hit.

Mountain View, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale do not specifically require permits for food and clothing distribution events but do ask that people obtain one before hosting any event that draws more than 50 people in a park.

During events held without permits, San Jose officials often receive complaints about people blocking sidewalks and roadways and failing to clean up after themselves, according to Ed Bautista of the city’s Parks Department. There are also concerns about how safe the food that’s distributed might be.

“It’s not meant to be negative,” Bautista said about the rule. “We understand and are compassionate about food insecurity affecting our community, but we want to find that balance for the park and for the entire community.”

To underscore his point, Bautista noted the city issued a $187,000 grant to the organization Opening Doors in July 2019 to provide meals in a parking lot adjacent to St. James Park on …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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