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New law proposed to remove homeless encampments from creeks in San Jose, Santa Clara County


Geese walk through a homeless encampment along Los Gatos Creek on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. The Bay Area's largest water district, Santa Clara Valley Water, is making it illegal to have encampments next to waterways, including rivers and creeks. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

Saying it desperately needs more tools to clean up homeless encampments that are increasingly fouling the environment and putting its employees at risk, Silicon Valley’s largest water agency is proposing a new ordinance that would ban camping along 295 miles of creeks in San Jose and other parts of Santa Clara County, with violators subject to fines of up to $500 and 30 days in jail.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, a government agency based in San Jose, has spent $2.9 million since last July removing 12,330 cubic yards of debris — enough to fill 1,230 dump trucks — from Coyote Creek, Guadalupe River, Los Gatos Creek and other South Bay waterways.

But the problem is worsening, say officials at the water district. Homeless people have polluted creeks with hazardous materials, piles of trash and human waste.

They have trapped endangered steelhead trout with shopping carts, cut down trees, started wildfires, left discarded needles, and built makeshift structures in areas prone to winter flooding. Water district workers also have been facing growing numbers of threats of violence when they venture into creeks to do their jobs.

“It’s become significantly worse,” said Jennifer Codianne, the district’s deputy for watershed operations and maintenance.  “After COVID we’ve seen a lot more encampments in the waterways. The impacts have been devastating.”

There are roughly 800 miles of creeks and rivers in Santa Clara County.

The water district, which provides flood control and drinking water to 2 million county residents, is proposing to setting up “water protection zones” along all 295 miles of waterways where it owns property, owns easements, or has maintenance obligations. Those areas include the Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek, Los Gatos Creek and others.

The district will discuss the issue on Friday at a meeting of its Environmental Creek Cleanup Committee.

A vote before the district’s full board is expected in June.

“There is trampling of vegetation, cutting of trees, wildfires, people carving stairs into levees,” Codianne said. “There is biowaste and hazardous materials entering the water. We’ve found batteries, propane tanks, needles, buckets of feces and urine.”

Geese walk through a homeless encampment along Los Gatos Creek on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. The Bay Area’s largest water district, Santa Clara Valley Water, is making it illegal to have encampments next to waterways, including rivers and creeks. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

The move follows an announcement by San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan in March that the city also will do more to clear encampments on creek property it owns, after state water regulators had threatened the city with fines because the encampments violate water quality, trash and pollution laws.

In March, Mahan released a list of his budget priorities for the upcoming year. He proposed San Jose spend $25 million to clear 1,000 homeless people from encampments along creeks and rivers by June 2025, in response to a mandate from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. If the city doesn’t comply, it could face litigation and up to $10,000 in daily fines, …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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