San Jose Agrees to Spend $100 Million on Creek Cleanup

San Jose agreed to spend $100 million over the next decade to curb the amount of trash, bacteria and sewage that flows into local waterways and the San Francisco Bay.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed a year ago by Baykeeper, a local conservation group that claimed the city broke federal law by not doing enough to prevent tons of garbage, human waste and other filth from coursing into Coyote Creek, the Guadalupe River and their tributaries.

“[We’re] proud to have reached an agreement that will not only reduce harmful pollution in San Francisco Bay, but also makes San Jose a greener place to call home,” Baykeeper director Sejal Choksi-Chugh said in a statement.

City Attorney Rick Doyle recommended the settlement to avoid costly litigation. The City Council approved the plan in a 10-1 vote Tuesday with Councilman Johnny Khamis dissenting.

“This group has used federal law to extort money out of the city and I am not voting to settle with them,” Khamis said from the dais.

State records unearthed by Baykeeper tallied 780 sewage spills in San Jose from 2009 to 2014—523,000 gallons in all. Most of the waste ran through storm drains and creeks, which have been impacted by large homeless camps. Adding to the effluent are 2,100 miles of sewage pipes, most of them made of cracked clay pipes.

According to San Jose’s environmental officials, the city already planned to tackle the problem and has cut the number of sewage spills to about 100 a year.

As part of the agreement, formally called a consent decree, the city has to fix or replace 6.5 miles of sewer pipes every year for the next decade. It also has to build underground garbage filters, monitor levels of fecal bacteria and reduce trash in creeks by 80 percent of 2009 levels.

In addition, the city will have to build “green infrastructure” to filter stormwater runoff before it pours into rivers and streams. Urban stormwater runoff—rainfall that flows from streets, roofs, parking lots and other hard surfaces—is considered one of the biggest pollutants in the San Francisco Bay.

Mayor Sam Liccardo directed city staff to drum up a list of ways to pay for the costs, which may require new fees, bonds, grants or voter-approved taxes.

“We look forward to our partnership with Baykeeper to build on existing efforts to keep our creeks and Bay clean,” said Kerrie Romanow, director of San Jose’s Environmental Services Department. “Through this new agreement with Baykeeper, San Jose will further its efforts in managing stormwater runoff in an environmentally-sensitive manner.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Kudos to Johnny Khamis! This despicable practice of eco-extortion via litigation threats resulting in a ‘consent decree’ is out of hand. It is an end-run around what is in the best interests of the city and its residents, and it negates democratic voting.

    Prioritizing via litigation threats is becoming all too common, with a wink and a nudge between so-called ‘green’ groups using their self-serving law firms (which get their fat cut of the action), and the electeds who should be representing the best interests of the city — but aren’t.

    The Mayor and Council are representing a very small group of eco-fanatics that could never get enough votes to get their way democratically. Had anyone here heard of “Baykeeper” before this happened? Had anyone heard of its director, ‘Sejal Choksi-Chugh’? Or was your reaction: Gesundheit!

    The Mayor and City Council is displaying reprehensible cowardice by caving in to a mere threat by this minuscule contingent of eco-fanatics, who believe their crusade is more important than the city’s other needs. So the easy way out for the Mayor and Council is to throw up their hands and sign off on the consent decree — which makes this item the city’s #1 priority, ahead of all other uses for that $100 million.

    There is always infrastructure in need of repair, and the job of the City Council is to prioritize those needs along with all the other things that require budgeting. But a ‘consent decree’ subverts democracy, and overrules all other city priorities.

    So why elect a City Council at all? Just let these special interests threaten to sue the city, and set the city’s priorities with a “consent decree”.

  2. Heaven forbid that cities should be required to obey federal laws just like all the rest of us. Using Federal laws to extort money from the city?! How dare the Baykeeper expect that laws be adhered to. Also intrigueing that pollution including raw sewage spills that pollute our waterways, ground water, and bay as well as individuals and businesses illegal dumping should be of so little concern to the quality of life of our community.

    Keeping pollutants from contaminating our environment, such as underground sewer systems that transport our sewage to the treatment
    plant instead of just deficating in gutters as we move thru our community or tossing bed pan contents out a window to the sidewalks or allowing exfiltration from our sewer system into our groundwater supply as well as runoff pollution and deliberate dumping into storm sewer systems which empty into our waterways and direct dumping into waterways is a health and safety issue. I support our police and fire departments, but lets try to remember that public safety includes many other types of programs within the City of San Jose that are important to the health and safety of the citizens and which in their absence would have a serious and daily impact on the health and safety of every citizen of this City.

    • Wow well said Tango,
      As long as we are so into obeying Federal law lets align ourselves with Uncle Sugar on Sanctuary Cities, Pot laws,
      Firearms, Air pollution and Gasoline restrictions.

      There, now I’m feeling better already

  3. Really, the City of San Jose and any city should be allowed to dump whatever they want into the creeks, stream and water ways of this country! We need to do away with all this Federal regulation. It would create more jobs because we could then dumb the cyanide and DDT etc, into the waterways and fight the low cost of chip production from china and increase our agricularal output! We need more homeless encampments to use the creeks as toilets and river beds for dump sights! Then we could train more police so they can leave the job after being trained because they do not want to live here due to the water! Then again, it might reduce the number of people and then require less fire and police and waste collection! We need less focus on who pollutes our water and stop regulating what is put into our waterways!! Then the PRIVATE COMPANY known as San Jose Water will raise rates to clean the water. Yup!! Lets do aways with the need to regulate and also no more enforcement!! ( please note sarcastic tone) Thank goodness we have politicians to help protect the rights of those who choose to plolute and those who budget not to protect.

  4. As long as we’re all so sarcastic, I propose that we hire the homeless people to clean up our s**t. And theirs too, since they’ve got to be a source of some of it. San Francisco has “care, not cash.” Maybe we could have “clean, not crap.”

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