San Jose's blight removal success leads to more to clean up: A paradox

BeautifySJ employee Javier Valencia was working shorthanded near the San Jose State campus on Tuesday.

As a result, added elbow grease was needed to clear furniture dumped in the 400 block of South 11th Street.

"We wanna have a city that is clean and beautiful for all of our residents," said Mayor Matt Mahan, (D) San Jose.

During his State of the City address Oct. 21, he made blight removal one-third of his three-pronged approach to city renewal.

"I’m convinced the way to get San Jose…back on track is to keep local government focused," Mahan said at the time.

The city has suffered a decade-long downward descent that’s led people to dump trash and tag buildings throughout the purported capital of Silicon Valley.

Over the past year, BeautifySJ has increased staffing levels from 17-to-91 people. Valencia uses an iPad to work a list of 50 sites requesting cleaning. The average time at a stop is about four and a half minutes.

The result has seen 9.5 million pounds of trash removed, which represents an increase of 19% year-over-year.

"It’s an easy way to make the neighborhoods look safer, and more comfortable, for everyone," said Kelly Snider, a professor of Real Estate Development & Urban Planning at San Jose State University.

Despite the programs' measured success, a paradox has developed. Officials said the more blight is cleared, the more people are willing to create blight in need of clearing and cleaning.

"That’s why I’m a believer in enforcement. We also have to hold people accountable for following our laws," said Mahan.

He said dumping fines have been increased to $10,000 per violation, to discourage bad actors.


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Some residents are dubious if this will make a difference.

"It is a good thing. But it doesn’t have a long-term impact. It’s just temporary," said Francesca Sandoval.  "Next month, next year, you will see the same thing…because it keeps repeating, mayor after mayor."

Snider said consistency will be the key between long-term success, and political eye candy.

"It has to be consistent, and it should be something absolutely that we think of doing for the next 10 or 20 years," she said.

For Javier Valencia, the road to the next decade starts with a trip one block over, to South 10thStreet, and another pile of blight waiting for clean-up.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv