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Rat Infestation Below I-280 Freeway in San Jose Draws Neighbors' Ire

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- A downtown San Jose neighborhood is getting overrun by rats.

It's happening in the South Almaden Blvd. and Vine St. area on Caltrans property beneath Interstate Highway 280. The area beneath the freeway has become a dumping ground for demolition materials and there are homeless camps all around.

It's apparently created the perfect breeding ground for rats that live in the crevices created by the dumped construction debris.

They scurry around nearby homeless camps searching for food. After feasting on what they find, they high tail it back into the shelter of the debris mounds.

"This is the worst environment in this neighborhood that we've had in all the 110 years our family has been here," said Steven Pera whose family owns the Roma bread bakery just across the street.

He says he's paying a small fortune to pest control companies who set traps to keep the rats out.

"They're here twice a week, we used to do it twice a month. The rats do come across the street. We get them before they get into the facility," he said.

"It makes me disgusted," said downtown resident Julie Riera. She has joined a grass-roots effort to demand action from the city, the county and the state to clean up a hazardous situation.

The land beneath the freeway is apparently leased by Caltrans to a private construction company which is storing vehicles there and dumping debris.

Caltrans was not able to respond in time to tell us who leases the land and whether or not they're violating their agreement. Ironically, there's a sign on the property that says "no dumping."

"We're located right next to a dump now," Pera said.

This week, the neighbors were successful in getting the city to clean up some trash and leave behind a large dumpster.

"It's not that complicated," Riera Matsushima said.

A man who lives in the homeless camp was seen cleaning up trash around his area and using the new dumpster responsibly. Riera-Matsushima called it a small win for neighbors and the city.

"Give the homeless some dignity," said Matsushima. "Let them clean up their area. Give them the tools and equipment to do that and the city can follow up with picking up dumpsters and picking up bags," she said.

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