Water district delays vote on law to remove homeless encampments from creeks in San Jose, Santa Clara County

Unable to come to agreement over what do to about widespread pollution and threats to their employees while still treating homeless people fairly, the board of Silicon Valley’s largest water agency on Tuesday delayed a vote on a new ordinance to ban camping along 295 miles of creeks in San Jose and other parts of Santa Clara County.

After four hours of public testimony, the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s seven-member board chose to send the issue back to one of its committees to be revised, with a possible return for a vote later in the fall.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said board member Dick Santos.

The district, a government agency based in San Jose, has spent $3.4 million since July removing 15,050 cubic yards of debris — enough to fill 1,500 dump trucks — from Coyote Creek, Guadalupe River, Los Gatos Creek and other South Bay waterways.

Water district staff members say a growing number of encampments are polluting the South Bay’s creeks with hazardous materials, piles of trash, batteries, propane tanks and human waste. People in the encampments have trapped endangered steelhead trout with shopping carts, cut down trees, started wildfires that threatened nearby homes, discarded needles and built makeshift structures in areas prone to winter flooding.

The water district’s staff members also report being increasingly threatened when they travel to the creeks to take water quality samples, conduct flood control work and perform other tasks.

“People have brandished knives, machetes and guns at them,” said Jennifer Codianne, the district’s deputy for watershed operations and maintenance. “It’s not safe for our staff to provide flood protection work.”

The district estimates that roughly 700 people live along the creeks it oversees. Its proposed ordinance would have banned encampments along those creeks, and fouling the waterways with “trash, debris and hazardous pollutants,” shooting off explosives or fireworks, or harassing district workers.

After being given a verbal and written warning providing 72 hours to remove an encampment, violators would have been subject to fines of up to $500 and 30 days in jail. The new law would have been enforced by local police and sheriff’s deputies.

The debate over it brought out passionate testimony from dozens of people Tuesday. Some residents who live near creeks said the measure was long overdue.

Yamini Sadasivam, a San Jose resident of San Jose who lives near Los Gatos creek in the Willow Glen neighborhood, told the board she was confronted by a homeless man with a large bow-and-arrow when she was outside her home.

“This terrifying experience left me feeling extremely unsafe in my own neighborhood,” she said.

“Seven fires have been reported near our neighborhood, putting our lives and homes at risk,” she said, adding that open air drug dealing, car break-ins, and other problems have come from people living in the creek nearby. “This is unacceptable. This constant threat is not something any community should have to endure.”

Others said the proposed rules were unfair and counterproductive.

“We can address these problems without criminalizing people for trying to …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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