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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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San Jose police chief announces retirement after 28 years with department

SAN JOSE — Eddie Garcia, who has spent more than four years as chief of the San Jose Police Department as part of a 28-year career in his adopted hometown, announced Monday he is retiring at the end of the year.

When Garcia took over as chief in 2016, SJPD was at a crossroads. Recession-fueled austerity measures and a protracted political battle over pension benefits that helped drive an officer exodus that had whittled the ranks to just over 900, a number not seen the mid-1980s.

Now, as Garcia leaves the department, it faces a different reckoning: A national police reform movement galvanized by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has reached San Jose, propelled by local furor over SJPD’s own violent response to related protests in downtown San Jose, and growing calls for independent oversight of police misconduct and use of force.

The chief said Monday that his December retirement had been in the works for some time, but that he held off on announcing it in June as originally planned in part because of the fallout from the department’s response to Black Live Matter protests that began in late May. Though that fallout is ongoing, Garcia said Monday he decided not to postpone the announcement any longer in order to allow the city to formally start a search for his successor.

SAN JOSE – AUGUST 3: A portrait of San Jose police chief Eddie Garcia in his office in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. Garcia made the public aware of his retirement today after a long career with SJPD. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group) 

“I’m at peace with it. I know people will try to connect dots because of what’s going on, and all the change that is happening, but this decision was made long ago,” Garcia said. “I was a Puerto Rican kid that came to San Jose, and I didn’t know how to speak English. I ended up being the chief of police for the 10th largest city in the country. I’m humbled … and forever thankful for the opportunity this city and department gave me.”

Had he decided to retire a half a year earlier, the story about his time as chief might have been headlined by his work to restore SJPD’s status as a national destination for officers, with the ranks now up to about 1,150 and robust police academies in tow. The department over the past four-plus years has also instituted a series of measures including adopting body-worn cameras and mandatory crisis-intervention training, launching the community service officer program, publishing aggregate use-of-force data online, and increasing its community outreach efforts, particularly with schools in high-crime areas.

But a string of high-profile controversies in recent weeks and months have given fodder for critics and police-reform advocates to be skeptical of the effectiveness of those measures. An aggressive officer response and liberal deployment of rubber bullets, tear gas, and other less-than-lethal munitions to break up Black Lives Matter demonstrations — prompting the department to conditionally ban rubber-bullet use and the city council to consider a permanent ban of the rounds — was followed by a scandal over revelations that active and retired officers had for years been sharing racist and anti-Muslim message over Facebook.

Then last week, as police reform debates accelerated in cities around the Bay Area, a video of an officer kicking and dragging a woman sitting in a McDonald’s parking lot drew widespread condemnation, giving force to criticisms that the San Jose Police Department has fostered a culture that’s driving excessive use of force and other officer misbehavior.

“I’m not going to let these last three months define nearly five years as police chief and nearly three decades as a San Jose police officer,” Garcia said. “I hold absolutely no bitterness. I have had an incredibly supportive city council, and mayor, I’ve had two incredible bosses,” referring to City Manager Dave Sykes and his predecessor Norberto Dueñas.

As he has throughout his time as chief, Garcia sought to separate officer misconduct — particularly involving questionable uses of force — as being distinct from, rather than reflective of, the work done by the majority of rank-and-file police officers, a stance that has often put him at odds with community leaders and advocates.

“I’m going to admit that we have issues that we need to address. I’m going to admit that we have problem officers that we need to address,” he said. “But I am not going to admit that there is a culture issue in this police department, and stain the reputation of the amazing men and women that put their lives on the line every day for these residents.”

In the same breath, Garcia said he valued the community leaders and groups that have leveled the criticisms that he has consistently refuted.

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“I have never begrudged our community groups, the ones that are loud and vocal, that want change, and that are constantly keeping the fire on the police department,” he said. “We need that. We cannot get complacent as a society when it comes to this job.”

Garcia said his preference is that an internal candidate be chosen to succeed him. He added that whoever fills the position will be confronted with a long list of changes that community and civic leaders want made by the next police administration.

“You need to have a perspective of large city, but with small-city resources,” he said of the chief’s role. “You have do a job with what you got, and you have to be honest with your community and your neighborhoods, but at the end of the day they understand where you’re at, and appreciate the hard work. That’s the balance.”

Check back later for updates to this story.

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