Dirt (Part 5)

After World War II, I returned home to college and normal life in “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” Agriculture was still king, but waste from the industry overwhelmed the sewage system, which was unable to carry it all to Alviso. So, truckloads of tomato and fruit waste were hauled there and dumped in huge piles. These piles fermented and developed hydrochloric acid fumes that were borne on the wind southwards. If you owned a building that was painted with white lead paint (very common in the 1950s), it could turn gray overnight.

The problem was recognized by dynamic San Jose City Manager A.P. “Dutch” Hamann. Dutch went to each of the cities surrounding San Jose and proposed that they help pay the huge cost of a new sewage disposal plant. With the exception of Santa Clara, each of the other communities said: “To hell with you, Dutch—you’ve got the canneries; it’s your problem, not ours.”

Even though Santa Clara agreed to pay a share, San Jose didn’t have enough sales tax revenue to finance the cost, so Hamann started the program called “strip annexation.” San Jose incorporated the revenue “strips” into the city to finance the disposal plant, which made for a hodgepodge city, but it worked and the plant was built. (The other towns who wouldn’t participate—Milpitas, Campbell, Los Gatos and Saratoga—now pay a fee to use the facility.)

Everything was in place for a big change. We had the land and great educational institutions, the year-around climate was delightful, and now, a big sewage disposal plant to clean up the water. The land became expensive for agriculture but cheap for industry and things happened fast. NASA came to the valley, IBM moved a large division here from New York, and some of its employees started other high-tech companies. The excellent educational institutions—Stanford, Santa Clara University and San Jose State—developed graduate programs for the tech industry.

Now our beloved, wonderful dirt is covered with concrete and there is a multimillion-dollar system to use the reclaimed water to irrigate parks and golf courses. By the way, has anyone noticed that all of the redwood trees in Museum Park are dying?


  1. I don’t think the problem with redwoods dying is limited to museum park.  I’ve seen them turning brown in spots all over the bay area and many dead ones were removed last year from the parking lot where I work.

    Any arborists reading this stuff who can explain what’s going on?

    This does not include the redwoods along 17 between Hamilton and 280.  CalTrans is doing all it can to kill those off intentionally, it appears.

  2. Santa Clara bought in because it was the cheapest way for them to get rid of the sludge from all the canneries.  Prunes, apricots, tomatos. Day & Young, Rosenbergs, Pratt-Low, Gangi and others.  I can remember the stench as a child blowing in on a north wind from Alviso and Milpitas.  I have no idea how Campbell got out of an agreement as they had a large cannery.  Milpitas wasn’t much in those days.  Only Main Street and Campbell’s Corner.  There were only about 850 souls there then. Until the Ford Plant was built.  Then Sunnyhills and Milford Village were built and Milpitas took off.

  3. It is the “gray” water!  The same situation exists at the Villages where lots of other stuff is going…

    Look at the planters that divide the streets and are irrigated by “gray” water and you will find lots of dieing plants


  4. The gray water at the Villages has a very high salt content. Now the Villages is mixing “sweet” water with the gray water to try to stop the dieing plants. Maybe the same problem with the museum redwoods. The Highway 17 redwoods near Hamilton will be just fine, those are survivors and a little hair cut now and then will only make them grow faster. The more they cut the faster the suckers will grow.

    I remember the annexing binge that Dutch Hamman undertook and many other destructive decisions he made which destroyed much of downtown San Jose. The sixties was not kind to San Jose.

  5. Redwoods,  interestingly enough, I grew up next to one of Dutch’s right hand men, and he said Dutch was the one who wanted redwoods there along that stretch of 17.  Sometimes truth (if it WAS the truth—this guy told some pretty tall tales in his day) is stranger than fiction.

  6. It is interesting that the sewage plant is partially responsible for forcing the last remaining canneries out of the changing Valley of Hearts Delight.  In the late 70’s early 80’s the city needed to pay for it’s new third stage sewage treatment plant. They also had built it under capacity for the fast growing city.  Our city leaders figured that they could get an extra 5%-10% capacity out of the plant, for year round residential use,  if they could force the seasonal canneries out of the city.  They raised their rates tenfold and the canneries soon left.  Unfortunatly they took the taxbase with them to pay our city services.

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