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San Jose Residents Organizing Freeway Trash Cleanup

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- Some residents and business owners are fed up with Caltrans and the city of San Jose over the lack of trash cleanup and maintenance of freeway landscaping. 

Garden City Construction owner Jim Salata says he can't wait any longer for the city and Caltrans to clean up the freeway ramps around his business, so he's organizing a clean-up effort himself.

"There's a basic level of service that we're not getting as taxpayers. Trash everywhere people come to town and long time San Jose residents are disappointed," Salata said.

He points to one ramp from South First Street onto Southbound 280 where there was a recent brush fire that burned through tall weeds, brush and low hanging trees, threatening his businesses and others across the street.

"I'm a firm believer in the broken windows theory. If you don't fix things, things will build up.  And that's exactly what's happened," Salata said.

Caltrans says it has stopped removing homeless encampments from the freeways because of Covid. But now, garbage from those camps is piling up, some on state property, some on adjacent city sidewalks.

But it's not just trash. Weeds and bushes are so overgrown, some are creeping into the lanes as on the ramp between southbound 87 to southbound 280.

"We worry about it all the time," said Erik Annonson, who just started a microbrewery across the street from one troubled ramp. He called the mess bad for business.

"We get a lot of travelers, trying to experience San Jose, and it feels like a bad representation to have the overgrowth and trash in the streets. It is kind of a bummer," Annonson said.

For Jim Salata, it's a call to action. His volunteer effort with his coworkers and neighbors will focus on the N First Street ramp first, and others later.

"We'll bring a chainsaw, well cut the deadwood, raise the canopy, clean it up and try to prevent a fire hazard because if Caltrans and the city are feckless and can't get it done, I guess we'll have to do it ourselves," he said.

A Caltrans spokesman said its maintenance crews recently began assessing locations and  "prioritizing clean ups on a case-by-case basis."

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