Underneath the city of San Jose runs 2,000 miles of sanitary pipe that serve more than 1 million people.
Each year, those in the city’s Department of Transportation’s Sanitary Sewer division clean more than 900 miles of pipe and complete more than 500 repairs. The dangerous work is done underground with sharp tools at depths of 40 or 50 feet. So when Moses Arroyo, sewer maintenance superintendent, heard about shelter-in-place orders, his first priority was ensuring the safety of his employees.
“The philosophy in our department has been to protect our people and serve the public,” Arroyo told San José Spotlight. “We have 124 staff members just in the sewer department … it takes all of us to get this work done.”
Arroyo worked with his supervisors to create a plan amid the COVID-19 crisis. Some staff members were placed on administrative leave, and field crews were placed in alternating schedules. Alongside safety precautions came the difficult balancing act of making sure employees would be available for emergency calls.
“I have had many discussions with my groups due to this unfamiliar circumstance that we are all in,” Arroyo said. “As a superintendent, as a lead, I do my best to practice empathetic listening… I try to convey to my bosses how the field crews are feeling.”
A Dallas native, Arroyo’s family moved to Mountain View when he was 5 years old, the youngest son of 13 siblings. With both his parents working, his siblings became “after school daycare.”
“It was always crowded,” Arroyo said. “There were some tough times, a lot of arguing and fighting, but then the reverse of that was there was always somebody to play with.”
After graduating from Mountain View High School in 1994, Arroyo went to work in construction and warehousing jobs. Despite recognizing that doors may have opened easier if he had pursued higher education, Arroyo said he doesn’t regret it.
“I wasn’t that good of a student to begin with. I struggled through high school,” he said. “I was more mechanically inclined.”
Two decades with San Jose’s Department of Transportation have been a full-blown education in leadership for Arroyo. He started as a maintenance assistant working with the city’s pavement team, moved on to maintenance worker and became the sewer department’s senior maintenance worker in 2010.
“When I worked in pavement, I got a lot of different opportunities,” Arroyo said. “That’s where I began to develop some leadership skills. I went from leading groups of four or five, to leading entire projects up to 20 people. I worked hard enough where I was given the opportunity to actually stretch and learn and go beyond what I felt comfortable with.”
Arroyo said moving into a senior job put him in position to influence and create stronger safety policies for the teams he once worked in.
“I was part of what became the safe practices committee, so I was heavily involved in the safety of our crews,” Arroyo said. “I wanted to make sure that we were doing what needed to be done in order to keep our people safe.”
Matt Norris is a sewer repair maintenance supervisor who’s known Arroyo, also called “Mo,” for eight years.
“He’s my boss, and at the same time, he’s a friend,” Norris said. “Mo’s a very good people-person, very compassionate and has a lot of pride in what he does. He basically takes care of who’s working for him and everybody else around him.”
Arroyo is a good leader, Senior Maintenance Worker Anthony Tapia said, and it helps that he keeps everyone informed amid the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s very reasonable and doesn’t put a lot of pressure on us,” Tapia said. “He keeps us going.”
Arroyo said his team is “truly committed” to being public servants.
“With everything that’s going on, with so many people at home not working, trying to develop plans on how they’re going to provide for their families … the last thing that we really want them to worry about is their sewer system,” Arroyo said.
Editor’s Note: Amid the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, we are highlighting public officials in San Jose who have become unsung heroes by stepping up to help their community in a time of crisis. This is the fifth of a five-part series.