San Jose Can Barely Keep Up with Demand for Trash Clean-Up

BeautifySJ, San Jose’s citywide clean-up initiative has made considerable accomplishments since launching in 2017.

There’s been a 200 percent increase in volunteer litter-picker-uppers and a 109 percent uptick in work-order requests for illegal dumping. More than $270,000 beautification grants were divvied up among neighborhood organizations. The Office of Cultural Affairs has authorized 22 murals in various parts of the city.

But, in a way, BeautifySJ has become a victim of its own success as service requests continue to outpace the city’s ability to meet demand, according to a report going before the City Council on Tuesday.

The launch of the mySanJose app, which allows people to report blight directly to city staff, precipitated a spike in workloads for the Environmental Services Department’s Removing and Preventing Illegal Dumping team known as RAPID. Unless the city budgets more resources, RAPID will remain unable to meet the targeted four-to-five-day response times for clean-up requests.

Environmental Services Director Kerrie Romanow and Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Acting Director Jon Cicerelli outline the problem in a 21-page report, which notes that even prevention programs—free junk pickup, San Jose State move-out events—have done little to temper the workload.

Despite the grueling pace of RAPID clean-ups, the team of six full-time maintenance workers and one supervisor maintains an 83 percent retention rate while more than doubling its workload from 7,029 sites cleaned in 2016-17 to 14,717 in this fiscal year.

“City staff has found that the BeautifySJ Initiative message resonates with many residents as witnessed by their increased volunteerism and reporting via the mySanJose app,” Romanow and Cicerelli wrote. “Residents were also vocal about wanting the city to do more to address blight issues and to implement sustainable efforts.”

They outlined three ways to improve the program.

One, the city could improve inter-departmental collaboration. “With this in view, each department is presently evaluating individual resources and needs to determine how best to sustain BeautifySJ activities in conjunction with prior existing commitments,” Romanow and Cicerelli wrote. “Consequently, the City Council should expect to see a number of different resource ideas advanced during the 2019-2020 proposed operating budget development process, including those related to establishing the correct management and staffing structures needed to sustain and expand current programs; managing inter-departmental collaborations; and, coordinating and aligning program services in ways that leverage internal and external resources and partnerships.”

Two, the city could ramp up public outreach to urge residents to consider what actions lead to the high demand for abatement and nip those in the bud. “Consequently, as a next step in advancing this initiative, the interdepartmental working group will develop a more comprehensive strategy and seek resources to better engage the public in behavior change,” city staff noted.

Finally, San Jose could find room in its budget for additional resources. “Many of the BeautifySJ programs are dealing with vehicle fleets that are too small and the lack of the necessary equipment and tools needed for program optimization,” Romanow and Cicerelli stated. “This lack of equipment creates inefficiencies in service delivery and impedes the initiative’s ability to achieve its stated goals and its ability to keep up with the community’s expanding demands for BeautifySJ Initiative program services. In addition, many of the programs do not have adequate staffing resources to meet the increased demand for services. For example, staff often finds that too few fleet vehicles are available when BeautifySJ program activities are highest. This limits the number of clean-ups that staff is able to deliver in support of community-led clean-up efforts.”

Council members Maya Esparza and Sergio Jimenez pointed out a glaring oversight in the BeautifySJ program. Some of the neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by blight are predominantly Latino and Vietnamese—yet the mySanJose app is only available in English.

“By translating the app into Spanish and Vietnamese and providing outreach and education to these communities, we can increase reporting in currently underserved communities,” they proposed in a joint memo. “We are sympathetic lo the challenges faced by staff in creating a multilingual app, but that should not deter us from prioritizing the needs of underserved communities.”

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for May 7, 2019:

  • The council will consider whether to designate one of the oldest homes in San Jose as a historic landmark. The Chiechi House—a 143-year-old farmhouse located at History Park—represents the story of immigrant families that contributed to the growth and culture of Santa Clara Valley, according to the petition up for review Tuesday. Built in 1876 by Canadian emigres John and Jean Campbell, the rural farmhouse remained in the family for two generations before it was purchased in 1911 by Italian immigrant Mike Chiechi. Last month, the Historic Landmarks Commission voted 5-0-2 to recommend approval of the Chiechi House as a city landmark.
  • City staff recommends limiting bird-safe design guidelines for building facades within 300 feet of a riparian corridor. “Staff believes the proposed guidelines and standards for bird safety strike an appropriate balance that will protect birds in a way that is manageable for development in San Jose,” Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Director Rosalynn Hughey wrote in a memo to the council. Downtown Councilman Raul Peralez said the city should make bird-safety features mandatory for all buildings along the rivers that cut through the heart of the city. “We have already seen current proposed projects such as the Boston Properties’ Woz and Almaden project and Adobe Tower 4 project taken voluntary steps to incorporate bird safe features in their design,” he wrote. “While we are fortunate that these two major projects along the riparian corridor have taken the initiative to promote conservation in their design, we may not be as fortunate in the future with other developments. Therefore, requiring riparian projects to comply with all bird safety design standards hi the update would be in the best interest for our Guadalupe River wildlife habitat.”

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

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


  1. > the interdepartmental working group will develop a more comprehensive strategy and seek resources to better engage the public in behavior change

    Too bad former USMC Gunnery Sergeant Lee Ermey is dead.

    He would have been perfect for the part of the City of San Jose Environmental Services bureaucrat in the movie version of “BeautifySJ”

    Here’s a tip on how to bring about “public behavior change”:

  2. Unfortunately new arrivals from other countries don’t think twice about throwing garbage on the streets. This is what was done back home.

  3. Why is it so hard to throw trash in the trash can where it belongs? SJ’s biggest problem? No, but come on people!

    • Have you been to Mexico lately? And I dont mean any of the resorts. This is what people do in 3rd world countries. They dump garbage (furniture, table scraps, junk mail, toys) anywhere along an open road or fence. Until the arrival of these people, the streets were mostly clean. Now with an influx of people seeking asylum and wanting a “better life” we are forced to deal with their definition of normal behavior. Come to American no need to assimilate Do as you please and if anyone questions you just cry racism and intolerance.

  4. An example of poor leadership and management in San Jose. City Council, the Mayor and City Manager office are at a loss on how to effectively address our city’s challenges, and the MySanJoseApp really highlights their lack of foresight, planning and setting expectations. They launched an app, which sounds great in meetings, but what they didn’t foresee or plan for was a spike in service-requests, which requires more staff to address the uptick. SO, they created an app that set a false expectation, and without increasing staff (which they should’ve done before rolling out the App), they now just have a giant backlog of service-requests. It’s not innovative or successful, it’s frustrating. Leadership in San Jose from the Department Management level to the 18th floor, is abysmal.

  5. Nobody has mentioned the mess homeless leave around San Jose, which is probably why this program is so overloaded.

    The other day I’m on southbound Monterey by the drive ins going left onto the Capitol expressway onramp. I see a homeless guy wheeling a love seat to his shanty town by the train tracks. It looked like a good semi truck worth of trash collected at this guys hovel.

    I can’t really call this cleanup program a failing since they probably had reasonable projection of trash to deal with. If they have to keep cleaning up stuff like this, I can sympathize. It’s like blaming the symptoms and not the cause.

    • We will never get anywhere, in dealing with the trash, left by those who are homeless…unless we make a sincere effort to understand their circumstances. I have made more than 60 trips out to the homeless camps, since 2015….as part of a charity outreach effort I started (SB4THSV)….and I have talked to the homeless residents, every time.

      Many of these camps, are at least 5 miles away from any trash receptacles. None of us has to walk 5 miles, after every meal…to throw away our trash. We can count on regular trash pick up, at our place of residence. So, people who complain about the homeless, not walking 10 miles, to throw away trash, after every meal, are wasting our time, with solutions that are never going to work.

      We have visited many encampments, where residents stack their trash neatly….and, we even visited one encampment, where a leader organized his own trash clean up effort. The government’s claim that it is sweeping camps, to help clean up the the environment ….. is completely false….because the reality that we observe….over and over and over… that the sweeps of homeless encampments, simply chase the homeless a short distance away….but leave all of the trash on the ground. And, the next day….the homeless residents simply return to their encampments….because these destitute individuals simply have no other place to go. So…this government program to sweep the encampments….is a total failure…,. with no follow up. or monitoring, or accountability .

      Every tax-payer should be outraged, by this colossal waste of millions of dollars of tax-payers money! The obvious way to have an impact on garbage in the homeless camps….is to place trash cans within reach of the residents, and have regular trash pick up. Every thing else….is simply a way to perpetuate the problem! A community of ‘problem solvers’ who can’t solve a simple problem!

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