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What is Causing the Smell Around Milpitas?

One of the more popular issues that comes about for prospective homebuyers in Milpitas is the odd smell that comes across the city every once in a while.  As a resident in and around Milpitas for 30 years, I’ve had my share of experiences with the smell and heard a lot of theories.  For better or worse, the city of Milpitas has appointed a special task force under the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to monitor the smell.

According to their records, over the past 10 years, the number of complaints recorded about the smell has dropped by about 90%.  Maybe the smell improved or people stopped bothering to report.  In any case, there are plenty of sources of the smell.  Chiefly, there’s a sewage plant and garbage dump upwind of Milpitas in Newark on Newby Island.  Most of the time, the odor from those sources are mitigated, but on hot AND windy days, watch out.

There’s also a large collection of salt ponds operated by Cargill.  While I’ve not visited these ponds up close, I’ve read about similar salt collection ponds and dying seas around the world.  When the water evaporates away, the salinity level increases until it kills all living organisms.  But, before everything is baked dry in the sun, all the dead animals and plants end up as a red-brown slime and causes an awful smell of putrid rot and death.  That’s very likely adding to what we’re smelling on some random days around the Great Mall, which is downwind from that.

Otherwise, if you live further up the hills by Piedmont Road and beyond, there’s hardly ever any smell.  My guess is that the wind usually is not strong enough to blow the smell all the way up or the smell has been dissipated sufficiently by the low lying neighborhoods.  And, I don’t remember ever catching the smell around the Nob Hill grocery center by Jacklin either.  In any case, it’s only offensive when you’re out in a fairly open space on certain days, like McCarthy Ranch.  In your home or backyard, it’s not been much of a problem.

Michael Cheng