San Jose Citizens Clear Debris and Reduce Flood Risk

The Problem

Flooding of San Jose’s downtown area in early 2017 from unprecedented rainfall levels caused Coyote Creek’s banks to overflow, resulting in the displacement of 14,000 families and nearly $100 million in damage. The flooding was exacerbated by existing trash in Coyote Creek. A member of the Cities of Service coalition since 2009, the city was able to activate its robust volunteer network to clean up after the floods and get people back into their homes much more quickly than would have been possible otherwise. The flood made clear, however, the need for improved communication, outreach, and prevention efforts to better prepare the city for weather-related challenges.

The Solution

Working with a variety of partners and community groups, AmeriCorps VISTA members and city staff engaged thousands of citizens in volunteer efforts to clear waterways of debris, plant trees, and improve the city’s green infrastructure in order to reduce flood risk.

  • Through BeautifySJ, an existing program in the city, and Prepared Together, San Jose gave small grants to community groups to conduct cleanups of neighborhoods and waterways and to support additional local beautification and resilience projects.
  • AmeriCorps VISTA members coordinated volunteer events to engage the community, including cleaning up the Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek and tree plantings.

The Results

The city’s efforts resulted in cleaner waterways, a improved urban tree canopy, and a better prepared citizenry.

  • The city has educated more than 10,000 residents about disaster preparedness through training and special events.
  • Through BeautifySJ and Prepared Together, nearly 10,500 volunteers contributed more than 32,000 hours of service revitalizing neighborhoods and cleaning up green space to make the city more resilient.
  • Citizens cleaned up 14 miles of waterways and removed almost 5,000 cubic yards of trash.
  • Residents planted 48 trees to decrease flood risk.
  • Through the mini-grant program, AmeriCorps VISTA members helped low-income community groups build capacity and form 501(c)3 organizations to help them build capacity and carry out their neighborhood revitalization projects.
  • BeautifySJ and Prepared Together efforts spurred the development of neighborhood associations, as well as ongoing communication between city hall and local communities.

Keys to Success

Since 2009, Cities of Service has worked with San Jose on several initiatives, helping the city develop a culture of citizen engagement in city hall and strong volunteer network.

  • Building on this network, San Jose successfully engaged thousands of residents in preparedness trainings and volunteer events.
  • Strong leadership from the mayor and support from city staff further strengthened their preparedness efforts.
  • The city embedded its Prepared Together program into #BeautifySJ to ensure the sustainability of their preparedness efforts.