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Action Alert: Protect Our Waterways

Protect San Jose's Waterways

The Issue

If you’ve participated in a creek cleanup, you’ve most likely encountered the impact of homeless encampments along our San Jose waterways. San Jose’s Mayor and City Manager have included a funding path to provide basic shelter to house people now living along creeks, cleanup the encampments, enforce no re-encampment zones near waterways, and reduce biowaste entering storm drains to the waterways from lived-in vehicles. These efforts are in line with the Clean Water Act.

To accomplish this effort, a portion of funds from Measure E would be needed. This Measure generates revenue for affordable housing development, homeless services, and shelter. Allocating some money in this coming year’s budget will address this short-term solution while continuing to build affordable housing. You can read more Background Information below the How You Can Help section.

We support the City Manager’s proposal to allocate Measure E funds, and we hope you will join us in supporting it as well.

How You Can Help

A. Write to the San Jose City Council! 

Your voice matters in ensuring that the council takes appropriate action to protect our waterways and address homelessness responsibly. Here’s how you can make your opinion heard:

  1. Identify Your CouncilmemberFind out who your council member is and their contact information on the City of San Jose’s website. If you don't live in San Jose, that's OK. Send your email to the whole council.

  2. Compose Your MessageUse the points below to craft a persuasive message.

  3. Send Your Message Email your council member or send a letter to their office.

SUBJECT LINE: Support for City Manager’s Proposal to Protect Our Waterways


[Dear Councilmember’s Name]:

I am writing to express my support for the San Jose City Manager’s proposal to address the problem of pollution caused by homeless encampments in our creeks. 

[Add a brief personal note here. If you have participated in a creek cleanup in San Jose or otherwise experienced the devastation of our waterways, please share your experience.]

The environmental and public health risks posed by these encampments are significant and require immediate action. Cleaning up our creeks is not only essential for protecting our natural resources but also to help fulfill the city’s legal obligations and prevent future fines and lawsuits. While affordable housing is required in our community, there is an urgent need for shelter for our unhoused neighbors, and it is critical to stop and abate the ongoing damage to the ecosystem of our creeks by these temporary camps. The resulting environmental degradation must also be addressed to ensure a safe and healthy community for all. 

I urge you to support the temporary reallocation of Measure E funds to clean up our waterways and provide shelter services for those experiencing homelessness, immediately. Both environmental and housing concerns are essential for the well-being of San Jose. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 


[Your Name] 

[Your Address]

B. Attend the Hearing on June 10th

Attend the final hearing on the City Manager’s proposed budget: Monday, June 10th at 6pm in Council Chambers (200 East Santa Clara Street, San Jose) to voice your support. Note that no comments via Zoom are accepted.

More Background Information

What Is Happening?

San Jose is facing a critical environmental challenge due to the pollution caused by homeless encampments in creek corridors. The City estimates that 88% of pollutants entering its rivers and creeks stem from more than 1,000 people living in encampments along the waterways. This pollution fouls not only our waterways, but flows into the San Francisco Bay where it degrades water quality for our entire region. As trash, toxic refuse and human excrement accumulate in the creeks and their riparian corridors, the City of San Jose faces the ominous possibility that its Stormwater Permit will not be renewed, opening up the potential for steep fines and civil penalties.

To meet the environmental mandates of the required Stormwater Permit, San Jose’s City Manager proposed budgeting $27 million to provide basic shelter to house people now living along creeks, clean up the encampments, enforce no re-encampment zones near waterways, and reduce biowaste entering storm drains to the waterways from lived-in vehicles.

However, the City Manager’s proposed budget is being met with strong opposition because it includes a temporary reallocation of Measure E funds, originally set aside for affordable housing, to immediately address the clean water issues and environmental damage caused by encampments.

Measure E, passed by voters in 2020, was intended to generate revenue for affordable housing development, homeless services as well as shelter. Affordable housing advocates want to retain as much funding from Measure E for permanent affordable housing, but doing so would jeopardize San Jose’s ability to move the most vulnerable homeless people out of the waterways quickly and at scale. Even with the proposed reallocation of Measure E dollars, the City Manager’s budget still preserves $20-40 million for affordable housing through other funding sources.

Why Is It Important?

  1. Environmental Protection: All creeks flow to the ocean - or the Bay. Homeless encampments near waterways contribute significantly to pollution, including trash, human waste, and hazardous materials. This pollution harms local wildlife, disrupts ecosystems, and contaminates water sources, posing serious risks to public health and the environment.

  2. Historical Context: San Jose previously faced a $100 million lawsuit settlement with the conservation group Baykeeper for the City’s Clean Water Act violations. The settlement required extensive corrective measures to clean up waterways. Eight years later, the city continues to struggle with compliance, risking further legal and financial consequences.

  3. Proactive Measures: Redirecting Measure E funds to clean up encampments is a proactive step to mitigate environmental harm and fulfill the city's legal obligations. Addressing these issues now can prevent severe penalties and higher costs in the future.

  4. Balanced Approach: While affordable housing remains a critical need, the immediate environmental threats posed by these encampments require urgent and mandatory attention. A balanced approach that addresses both housing, homelessness and environmental concerns is essential for the well-being of the entire community.


San Jose's waterways are at risk, and immediate action is needed to prevent further environmental damage, while providing shelter for the homeless and protecting public health. By temporarily reallocating Measure E funds, we can address the pollution from homeless encampments and support those in need of housing. Your advocacy is crucial in urging the city council to take responsible and proactive measures. Write to your council member today and make a difference for our community and environment.


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