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Dirt (Part 5)

After World War II, I returned home to college and normal life in “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” Agriculture was still king, but waste from the industry overwhelmed the sewage system, which was unable to carry it all to Alviso. So, truckloads of tomato and fruit waste were hauled there and dumped in huge piles. These piles fermented and developed hydrochloric acid fumes that were borne on the wind southwards. If you owned a building that was painted with white lead paint (very common in the 1950s), it could turn gray overnight.

The problem was recognized by dynamic San Jose City Manager A.P. “Dutch” Hamann. Dutch went to each of the cities surrounding San Jose and proposed that they help pay the huge cost of a new sewage disposal plant. With the exception of Santa Clara, each of the other communities said: “To hell with you, Dutch—you’ve got the canneries; it’s your problem, not ours.”

Even though Santa Clara agreed to pay a share, San Jose didn’t have enough sales tax revenue to finance the cost, so Hamann started the program called “strip annexation.” San Jose incorporated the revenue “strips” into the city to finance the disposal plant, which made for a hodgepodge city, but it worked and the plant was built (the other towns who wouldn’t participate—Milpitas, Campbell, Los Gatos and Saratoga—now pay a fee to use the facility).

Everything was in place for a big change. We had the land and great educational institutions, the year-around climate was delightful, and now, a big sewage disposal plant to clean up the water. The land became expensive for agriculture but cheap for industry and things happened fast. NASA came to the valley, IBM moved a large division here from New York, and some of its employees started other high-tech companies. The excellent educational institutions—Stanford, Santa Clara University and San Jose State—developed graduate programs for the tech industry.

Now our beloved, wonderful dirt is covered with concrete and there is a multimillion-dollar system to use the reclaimed water to irrigate parks and golf courses. By the way, has anyone noticed that all of the redwood trees in Museum Park are dying?