SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Guadalupe River Park in downtown San Jose was once considered a showplace of the city’s park system, but it has deteriorated to become a place most residents avoid.

Over the years, budget cuts, neglect and now a sizable homeless population have led to the perception that that Guadalupe River Park is not a place that people want to be.

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“I travel all over the country, and this is pretty bad; like the worst,” said Jim Smathers, an airline pilot who jogs in the cities he visits.

With its meandering paths, mature trees and open spaces all within steps of downtown San Jose, the Guadalupe River Park always had potential.

But for people coming to visit, what sticks in the memory is the trash, the homeless camps and the unkempt grounds.

It leads to the perception that the park is unsafe.

“It could be potentially very nice, for families and people walking and jogging and biking. But it’s scary down there with all the homeless,” Smathers said.

KPIX 5 reporter Len Ramirez took a scooter ride along the park, which takes on a different vibe as soon as you dip below street level. There’s trash, tall weeds and the feeling of isolation.

However, Director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy Jason Su insisted there is no danger.

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“The Guadalupe River Park is a safe place to be,” said Su. “There’s
a fine line between finding an oasis in the middle of an urban city and feeling scared because you’re alone. If there are more people around then you feel safer.”

But that’s part of the problem, according to a recent study. Guadalupe River Park one of the least used parks in San Jose.

And many of the people you do see are unhoused folks camping in park bushes.

“I would say the vast majority of the unhoused population are not looking to cause trouble, they are just looking for a place to be,” said San Jose Park Ranger Pamela Helmke.

Park rangers still patrol the area, although not as frequently due to budget cuts. But positive changes could be coming.

The Knight Foundation has given a $700,000 grant to the conservancy to begin re-imagining to park.

“Having the capacity to ask the residents, what do they really want to see in their park? We can use that as the catalyst for the future park,” Su said.

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But the city will have to solve the homeless issue first, which means
any real growth for the park will be years if not decades in the making.