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EnvironmentThe Smell Beat: August 15, 2018

The Smell Beat: August 15, 2018

Yesterday was a busy one for The Milpitas Smell, a topic my nostrils have forced me to grow passionate about.

Since recent data has shown that almost 100% of the people in Milpitas have noses, I continue to be convinced that I’m not alone in this…

In the morning, the City of Milpitas Engineering Department issued this memorandum.

The memo’s a hair less entertaining than, say, a Quentin Tarantino film, but here are some key takeaways:


  • Odor complaints have been trending downward over the past 3 years (save for an uptick this past July).
  • City staff will work with BAAQMD (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) on enforcement measures whereby odor complaints can be confirmed.
  • City staff will work with San Jose and LEA (Local Enforcement Agency) to gather reports from Newby Island Landfill and Recyclery.
  • City staff is exploring attaining a regional odor study through the South Bay Odor Stakeholders’ Group (which was formed by Republic Services in keeping with a San Jose permitting requirement; the relevant permit is attached to the memo in full, for anyone who may be running low on Ambien).
  • City staff is looking at evaluating air monitoring stations’ effectiveness & possibly purchasing gas analyzing equipment.
  • City staff is contemplating pursuing a seat on the BAAQMD board.
  • The South Bay Odor Stakeholders’ Group is legally required to conduct an odor study, but they and the City of San Jose have yet to make progress on hiring the appropriate consultant(s) to do so.
  • At the April 19, 2018, South Bay Odor Stakeholders’ Group meeting, a draft bill was introduced to create an odor task force.
  • The Office of Community Air Protection (OCAP), a nationally unique entity combining the efforts of communities, local air districts, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) (the California government’s “clean air agency”), is currently conducting workshops and holding community meetings to cast their net as wide as possible.


The memo and its accompanying materials are positive insofar as they point to much effort and consciousness around the smell, but the South Bay Eco Citizens are not so impressed. I caught up with that group’s Thomas Clavel and Chia-Ling Kong later in the afternoon…

Clavel stated, “The report by the city of Milpitas is accurate but misleading. It also misses some critical information. Over the last three years, the number of complaints has decreased but we know that over that time period the odor has not receded. As a matter of fact, it is worse now than it ever was before. What really happened with the decrease in the number of complaints is reporting fatigue. After systematically reporting the odor and not seeing any change, people are no longer acting on it. But the odor is still there and the people are still as much frustrated by it, if not more. So this is what’s misleading.

“What is missing from the report is that at the meeting the city of San Jose acknowledged that they cannot enforce the very permits they are issuing. They have not allocated the proper resources. Worse, even if San Jose had the staff, they have issued permits that extend beyond the 9 to 5 hours of operations of the LEA, the enforcement agency…

“What this report from the City of Milpitas is also missing are clear actions that need to be taken to remediate the odor issue. We need to make sure that either the landfill, compost facility, and food waste processing operate only at hours regulated by San Jose and CalEPA, or reduce the hours of operations to hours at which they can be regulated. [And] upgrading the compost technology to CASP has proven its inadequacy to abate the odor. The logical next step would be to fully enclose the compost operation and food waste processing or relocate these operations to a remote site. Third, we need to stop the practice of the landfill handling the water sludge from the water treatment plant. This is generating an incredible amount of odor every year. Instead that water sludge must be sent to an ultra-low-population density area and immediately buried under layers of soil, so that it does not dry out and spread to inhabited areas like it does to Milpitas.”

Come nightfall, I attended Mayor Rich Tran’s State of Milpitas Address, which Tran held as a way of launching his second Milpitas mayoral campaign. Among other remarks, Tran spoke surprisingly visceral words about pulling up to the In-N-Out Burger drive-thru some evenings, ready to scarf down a protein-heavy cheeseburger, only to roll down his window and get full-out disgusted by an olfactory assault.

“I don’t like it,” he told the audience.

Me neither, Mr. Mayor.

The beat goes on.


Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer & filmmaker. As a screenwriter, he’s won a Fade In Award and written numerous feature films in development by companies including WWE, Mandalay Sports Media, Game1, and Select Films. He is also the resident script doctor for Rebel Six Films (producers of A&E’s “Hoarders”). As a journalist, Eric’s won a California Journalism Award and is co-owner and editor of The Milpitas Beat, a Silicon Valley newspaper with tens of thousands of monthly readers that has won the Golden Quill Award as well as the John Swett Award for Media Excellence. As a filmmaker, Eric’s directed award-winning feature films that have premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, and Shriekfest, and been endorsed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Eric’s apocalyptic novella “It’s Only Temporary” appears next to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” on Nightmare Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Horror Novels of All Time. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Rhoda, and their two sons.


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