City of Milpitas says complaints about odors on the rise by Ian Bauer, Milpitas Post

Jennifer    11/07     10194    

Smelling something odorous outside? City of Milpitas officials say reports from residents and others bothered by odors wafting into town have increased in recent years.

During the April 2 Milpitas City Council meeting, Kathleen Phalen, the city's acting public works director/city engineer, said between 2011 and 2013 more odor reports than usual have been received via the city's odor telephone-based hotline and Internet reporting system and through a reporting system set up by the regional regulatory agency for air pollution, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

"We are beginning to see an increase in odor trends over time," Phalen told the council. "In the past couple years, the odor reports have been picking up month by month."

Since the city started its odor reporting pilot program in 2011, Phalen said the city has logged 373 complaints. Of these, 89 complaints identified sewage, 208 identified garbage odor and about 73 could not identify a source.

Likewise, she added the air quality district "sorts the odors" for Milpitas on a monthly reporting basis that included 38 odor reports in the month of March. Of these, Phalen said two reports identified a sewage odor, 24 reports identified garbage and 13 could not identify a source.

Phalen said the two major sources of odor affecting Milpitas are both in neighboring San Jose. They are the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant at 700 Los Esteros Road and Republic Services of Santa Clara County's Newby Island Landfill and Resource Recovery Park on the Milpitas-San Jose border on Dixon Landing Road.
Under contract, City of Milpitas is served by both facilities.

According to Phalen, the odor reporting tends to follow seasonal trends and weather conditions.

"But we also think it could relate to the processing operations of the two source areas," Phalen said, adding in the past few months there had been "spikes" in odor complaints.

"We're seeing higher (odor) reports, certainly this fall and this winter."

At the meeting, news of the apparent rise of odors here prompted a resident to suggest that the city invest in developing a mobile app an application run on smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices in order for the public to more easily report odors. The resident later asked city leaders how they planned to solve the odor problem in town once and for all.

In response, city officials said one way they planned to at least limit odors impacting Milpitas was to continue to litigate against the planned expansion of the Newby Island Landfill.

Filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court last September, Milpitas' suit follows San Jose City Council's denial of Milpitas' appeal last August to thwart plans to raise the height of Newby Island Landfill by about 95 feet.

The dump expansion will allow Republic to increase the permitted top elevation from 150 feet above mean sea level to 245 feet above mean sea level, and allows an increase in the capacity by 15.12 million cubic yards.

San Jose's plans also sought permission to relocate various garbage-related activities including where and how it could receive, store, process and compost odor-causing food waste and other organic materials and manage leachate.

"We are challenging the environmental document that will approve the landfill expansion," Milpitas City Attorney Mike Ogaz said at the meeting. "We felt that the environmental document that they created was inadequate."

Ogaz noted the city is currently in settlement discussions over this suit.

"But if that doesn't work then we will have it before a judge and he'll make a decision on the adequacy of the environmental document," Ogaz said. "If the city prevails then the owners of the landfill will have to go back to square one."

However, Ogaz admitted this lawsuit did not address odors generated by San Jose's water pollution control plant. Later, Milpitas City Manager Tom Williams noted the landfill is not in the jurisdiction of the City of Milpitas but is part of San Jose.

"So San Jose is the permit authority and that is who regulates the conditions of the landfill operations, so obviously we receive the negative impacts but we're working, as our city attorney said, on litigating the environmental document and the remediation of the odor," Williams said. "So we're right in the middle of that litigation process."

Mayor Jose Esteves urged the public to continue reporting strong outdoor odors to the city.

Vice Mayor Althea Polanski said she thought the resident's suggestion for a mobile app to report odors was a great idea.

"I agree completely, there are times when I'm in different parts of the city and trying to figure out who to call and all of that," Polanski said.

This week, Phalen said the city is considering the mobile app idea.

"I don't know what's involved in developing it, but we certainly are considering it," Phalen said.

To report odors to City of Milpitas, call (408) 586-2727 or visit the city's website at To report odors to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, call 1 (800) 334-6367 (ODOR) or visit

Contact Ian Bauer at or 408-262-2454.