Local News

San Jose city leaders, Union Pacific clash over debris, graffiti and noise complaints

Homeless encampments near Union Pacific tracks in San Jose. (File photo by Supriya Yelimeli)

San Jose city leaders, residents and Union Pacific are clashing over reports of debris, homeless encampments and noise stemming from railroad property.

The problem has persisted for years, but the city had planned to meet with Union Pacific officials on June 5  after issuing a memorandum a few weeks ago to explore possible legal action related to alleged nuisance and blight.

South San Jose Councilman Sergio Jimenez has received dozens of complaints from residents in District 2 about the Monterey Road railway, which shares walls with multiple residential neighborhoods.

Jimenez said the city contacted Union Pacific about a memorandum of understanding about a year ago, but miscommunications and a lack of commitment from Union Pacific have slowed down the process.

“It’s been going on long before I was elected, I hope it doesn’t go on after I [leave],” he said at a news conference June 5 next to graffiti-covered tracks at Monterey Road and Edenview Drive. “It’s just become extremely frustrating.”

Ideally, Jimenez wants to create a system of shared responsibility between the city and Union Pacific to clean up the area. He said encampments often pop up around tracks because homeless residents know the city can’t initiate sweeps, and the two agencies could explore creating a “no encampment” zone.

A lack of communication between the two agencies has previously also resulted in encampments being swept by Union Pacific without proper outreach from city services, and Jimenez emphasized that such a ban would be paired with active housing solutions, such as the safe parking program, affordable housing and overnight warming locations recently approved in his district.

“It’s not safe for anyone to be living by the tracks, and certainly, some of the homeless folk who collect a lot of material — it goes contrary with what we’re trying to do to keep this area clean,” Jimenez said.

Union Pacific is not commenting directly on the city’s memorandum, which accuses the railroad of neglecting its obligations and earning the “deep enmity of residents living in neighborhoods surrounding its infrastructure.”

Instead, a spokesman said in a statement that Union Pacific is in the process of creating a memorandum of understanding with San Jose and is open to all future discussions.

“We understand that population growth in the Bay Area has prompted residential density around existing rail infrastructure,” spokesman Tim McMahan said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with the City of San Jose on its broader plans addressing homelessness issues in the city impacting Union Pacific’s right of way.”

Following a walkthrough with Union Pacific officials near the Monterey Road property June 5, the city held a community meeting at the Northside Community Center to discuss progress.

If the two entities are unable to reach an agreement in the coming months, the city may file a lawsuit or consider designating Union Pacific property as public open space for a rail-to-trail conversion.