Publication Date

Fall 2022

Degree Type

Master's Project

Degree Name

Master of Public Administration (MPA)


Urban and Regional Planning

First Advisor

Frances Edwards


Trash, Creeks, Water, Homelessness


The entire San Francisco Bay was once a navigable waterway in the 1850s during the Gold Rush era. Large amounts of sediment from upstream erosion and mining flowed to the bay resulting in the downsizing of the bay’s square miles (Environmental Protection Agency, 2022). As a result of intense development on the bay shores and adjacent lands, the bay faces several challenges that affect its water quality and threatens aquatic ecosystems. Pesticides, mercury, metals, and pathogens are just a few substances in the bay that cause unhealthy conditions for aquatic life and threaten human health. California’s Water Resources Control Board and the San Francisco Bay’s Regional Water Quality Control Board collect data on contaminants that degrade water quality and set the standard for mitigating and preventing pollution.
Trash is a major polluter in the San Francisco Bay, and cities and counties are responsible for managing the trash load in their jurisdictions. The City of San Jose manages a comprehensive approach to trash that combines inlet trash capture systems, street sweeping, anti-litter campaigns, a single-use carry-out bag ban ordinance, a foam food container ban ordinance, and trash cleanups in creeks. Trash management in San Jose is a multistep approach to controlling and clearing the tons of accumulated litter and debris left by the inhabitants of homeless encampments, particularly alongside waterways.
At any given time, an average of 350 homeless encampments exist along waterways in San Jose (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2020). San Jose’s high cost of living contributes to the growing unhoused population. As a result, homelessness continues to increase, leading to more people living outdoors without sanitation or trash recyclables, resulting in trash accumulation in the creeks. Every year, 7 trillion bits of microplastics flow into the San Francisco Bay, pouring through the Bay Area’s 40 sewage treatment plants (The Mercury News, 2019). While 7 trillion bits of microplastics come through the sewage treatment plants, 300 times more of the bits comes from storm drains that are filled with plastic litter from roads, foam food packaging, rubber from tires, and other sources that deliver debris that then flows from creeks (The Mercury News, 2019). In the 2015-2016 year, the City of San Jose put forth a concerted and collaborative effort to manage trash accumulation in and around creeks, especially the plastic litter created in homeless encampments. This research aims to analyze the response to direct trash discharges into the bay from homeless encampments along creeks.