A Black man wearing a mask and blue t-shirt, and a Latina woman wearing a black long sleeve talking and standing beside a mobile home, hiding from the sun in the shade
Phillip Black, 68, and Maria Janet Cortez, 49, live in the Walnut Mobile Home Park. They said the trash stored next door at San Jose's South Yard brings rats, dust and other debris into their community. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

A community of 40 mobile homes in South San Jose sits next to one of the city’s staging grounds for trash collection, which is creating health hazards for residents.

The Walnut Mobile Home Park, which houses more than 100 residents, butts up against the city’s South Yard on Monterey Road. Beautify San Jose, a city program to pick up illegal dumping and clean homeless encampments, uses the yard to store trash before taking it to a garbage facility. The program brings about 2,000 tons of trash through the yard every year. Residents say the stored trash attracts rodents, leaves a bad odor and kicks up dust which gets into their homes — but the city says it could cost half a million dollars to relocate the trash.

Photo of a gap between two walls, where piles of metallic garbage are visible, including a street sign from Capitol Expressway
Walnut Mobile Home Park is separated from San Jose’s South Yard by a wall, but there’s a gap in the wall at the park’s far end, showing the piles of trash and debris stored at the yard. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Phillip Black, 68, has lived at the mobile home park for nearly five years and said dust blows in from the yard, coating his car, window sills and the steps leading into his home. He has asthma and the dust often makes it difficult to breathe.

Black and his neighbors have found rats near their homes in the park, as well. Property Manager Maria Janet Cortez has lived in the park for 11 years and said the rat problem has gotten worse as trash collection at the yard has increased.

“It’s getting worse every year,” Cortez told San José Spotlight. “It’s getting worse and nobody’s doing nothing about it, and I said I need to stand on my feet and do something.”

Cortez said one resident in the mobile home park killed dozens of rats in one day. She said she doesn’t have the resources to move out and neither do most of the other residents.

Most of the park’s residents are people of color and older adults, according to Vanessa Sandoval, Councilmember Sergio Jimenez’s chief of staff. The park is in Jimenez’s district and he said ceasing waste collection at the South Yard is a priority. He terms out at the end of the year.

“My office is going to take it upon ourselves to figure out if we can find some resources for this,” Jimenez said.

He initially brought the topic to the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee on May 15 and asked city employees to research how trash collection could be diverted from the site. An analysis by city employees came back to the committee on Wednesday and found it would take significant resources to shift the trash to a different city yard. The proposed “lower cost option” of bringing the trash to non-city waste stations would still cost up to $500,000.

Sandoval said Jimenez’s office will be looking at the city’s budget and other potential alternative waste management plans to find the most cost effective solution, but time is getting tight, as the city has to finalize its budget before July 1.

Cardboard box full of multiple dead rat bodies, sitting outside beside a house
One resident at the Walnut Mobile Home Park killed dozens of rats in one day, and put them in this box to dispose of later. Photo courtesy of Maria Janet Cortez.

Sandoval added that Jimenez has been coordinating with the mobile home park since he took office in 2017, and that his predecessor, Assemblymember Ash Kalra, also tried to find ways to lessen the yard’s impact on the residents.

“We’ve gone around and around about ways to mitigate the impacts from the South Yard on this community, and it always comes back to (how) there’s some things you just can’t mitigate,” Sandoval told San José Spotlight. “There really isn’t much that we can do other than stopping that practice at this location.”

Although a wall separates the yard from the mobile home park, rats have been digging beneath it, and there is a gap at the farthest end of the park. Residents have been trying to block the holes with grates or dissuade rats from getting near their homes with poison, but Cortez said some residents have found evidence of rats trying to dig into their homes.

Cortez said the last time she remembered discussing the waste collection problems was in 2007. This year, however, there were more meetings in March and April. Black said he hoped the increase in awareness means these issues get fixed.

“It’s gotten out there now, and they’ve gotta squash it, so I think we’re gonna get results,” he told San José Spotlight. “If we don’t, then we have to continue to have the meetings and continue to push it until we get this taken care of, because this is destroying homes.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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