January 17, 1990
By Yolanda Reynolds
Though the San Jose City Council unanimously approved a General Plan change which will allow continued use of a landfill site (dump) in Alviso, the community has not given up in its opposition to the dump.
Owen’s Corning Fiberglass, owner of the dumpsite, has been dumping waste on its property in Alviso for over 30 years. Since Alviso’s annexation to San Jose, the company has been allowed to dump waste in the site even though the location was not properly zoned for landfill site and Owen’s Corning did not have proper permits.
Owen’s Corning recently went before the Council to request a land use (zone) change for the property it owns in Alviso. Owen’s Corning Fiberglass plans to sell the property and has indicated that it is in the “final stages of negotiations for the sale of the site… (and) that the purchaser has indicated the intent to continue the operation (and plans) to add recycling at the site as well as… probably change the landfill configuration and the waste stream makeup and quantities.”
Alviso residents feel that this turn of events is most “curious.”
First of all since annexation Owen’s Corning Fiberglass landfill has been out of compliance with San Jose’s General Plan. Normally compliance with the General Plan is legally enforceable by the City.
Alviso residents question why the City is rewarding Owen’s Corning with a zone change after years of not following City policy. A zone change will probably allow Owen’s Corning to sell the property for more money.
The land use change will also be a boom to the purchaser of the dump. According to a recent article in a local newspaper, by 1995 it will cost about $35 for every ton of waste buried; which today costs about $18. It is not publical known who is purchasing the property, but there is much speculation.
The citizens also fear that with the zoning change accomplished before the sale of the property, Owen’s Corning may not have to clean up the toxics that are reported to be on the site. A sale of contaminated property usually requires that the polluter clean up unless a contractual arrangement is made between the buyer and seller to share the costs and responsibility of clean up. EPA toxic clean up requirements has kept P.G.&E. and the City of San Jose’s attorneys locked in negotiations for months over the lamp blank pollution at the Arena construction site in downtown San Jose.
Savas Alvarez, President of the Alviso Community Organization, says that the community is very concerned about both the needed clean up – when it will be done and – now– the plan to expand the dump and its operation.
According to a 1985 report from the California Department of Health Services, many thousands of gallons of waste, much of it hazardous such as, heavy metals, and solvents, were dumped there. According to Ted Smith, of the Santa Clara County Toxics Coalition, Chromium, chloride, heavy metals and solvents are considered carcinogens.
After initial denials of any hazardous dumping, Owen’s Corning contends that it has not disposed of hazardous wastes of this site for years. The community contends that the hazardous waste threat does not end with the discontinuance of dumping and that cleanup is mandatory. The problem is that the buried waste containers and barrels are now undoubtedly corroding, which can allow seepage into the surrounding soil, groundwater and nearby bay wetlands. Alviso adults recall as children playing in and around the barrels placed in the dump.
In fact, a trip down by the wetlands reveals an stillness with very, very little wildlife to be seen in the wetlands. The water has a thick, mucky, green-blue-yellow cast. According to Alvarez the bay lands were very clean and beautiful many years ago.
Thomas Esperson, Co-Chair of Save Our South Bay Wetland, says that his group is very concerned about the effects any change in the scope en type of activities at the dump site would have on the bay wetlands and some endangered life forms. The City of San Jose acknowledges that the endangered Salt March Mouse lives on the property within the pickle weed, its normal habitat. It is feared that any expansion of the dump operation would harm this endangered little mouse.
Alviso residents also feel endangered and that they too will be harmed even more by the panned expansion of the dump. The perimeters of the Owen’s property is approximately 1,000 feet from a part of the residential area of Alviso.
The Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department is concerned that the planned expansion will have a visual and actual impact on the Bay Trail. It is proposed to build up the dump to a height of 35 feet and will cause substantial and irreversible damage to the community. The Department too, this time it is non-compliance – but this time it is non-compliance with the County’s Trails and Parkways Policies.
Santa Clara County Board Superior, Ron Gonzales, in his testimony before the San Jose City Council on November 20 pointed out that, under the State Department of Health Services, the (Alviso) site had been reported under Proposition 65 and is now on the Cortese list of potentially hazardous sites throughout the state… and that the site and accompanying facility pose continued and serious problems.”
Alvarez says that he and his group are not going to let this issue drop. He and other community spokespersons, Supervisor Gonzales, and others representing environmental groups expect to meet with Owen’s Corning Officials to discuss this matter further. The Alviso group will not be satisfied until an independent study is conducted to asses the extend of the damage and cleanup of the pollution. Until then, they find unacceptable any discussion of continued dump site use.
Mr. Alvarez says that he and the many other Alviso residents, the majority of whom are Hispanic, like living in Alviso, “it is a great location – equidistant to Santa Clara, San Jose and Milpitas.” Alvarez says that he and his contemporaries fondly remember that when they were children growing up in Alviso, there were sturgeon and shrimp, lots of birds and the bay water was not turbid.
Living in Alviso has come at a price. The residents have had many battles with City Hall. At one time there was talk of making Alviso a site for a supersonic airport. Alvarez says that there have many schemes to uproot the residents. At one time Alviso residents were told to move to the Eastside of San Jose because “that was where they belonged.”
In 1983 there was major flood damage for which the residents filed a suit against the City and won. The Coyote River had overflowed its banks and threatened the San Jose Water treatment plant and, further upstream, the properties at the intersection of 101 and 880. According
To Alviso residents, the City instead decided that Alviso should absorb the 6-8 feet of flood water.
For the residents, the most alarming aspect was that an alarm was not sounded to the community until after an hour of the release of the water which flooded homes in Alviso almost up to the rooftops. They had been solemnly promised that they would be warned at least an hour before the approach of the water if the flooding would be directed toward Alviso.
In 1968, as an enticement to the citizens to vote for annexation the City of San Jose made many promises included paved streets, parks and a recreation program for the children, a senior center, street sweeping, and all of the other privileges accorded a San Jose City neighborhood. To date; some streets are still no paved, a small swing and a slide and very small swimming pool – now abandoned – was built for the children, there is no recreation program and senior center, and the streets have probably been swept four times since the community has been agitating for more attention to its needs. The street paving came only after the residents marched in mass to City Hall all of the way from Alviso in the early seventies.
Alvarez says that although Alviso is in District 4, elsewhere in the District there is much evidence of adequate community services such as libraries, parks and neighborhood maintenance – Alviso appears forgotten. Shirley Lewis, a mayoral candidate, has been the District 4 City Council Representative since 1980.