Odor problems are a sensitive topic, whether you’re talking about someone just in from exercising or a whole town or neighborhood. Home for sale with a periodic stench? That won’t be listed in the MLS, and it may be down played in the disclosures. This can be very upsetting if you learn it only after you move in.
The most common issues in Santa Clara County seem to relate to either agricultural areas, food processing, or sewer / sewage processing. Other issues can be at dumps, areas with standing water (bad idea as this can breed disease bearing mosquitos), and food or other consumable processing plants (not common in Silicon Valley). A brewery or coffee roasting plant can be stinky at times. Get downwind of any of these and it may be unpleasant. On a much smaller scale, it’s possible to have a bad neighbor who creates an odor nuisance, making life unpleasant. I’ve had clients tell me of neighbors who “go out to their back yard and smoke pot every day”, making my client’s back yard an unpleasant place and nearly unusable. Other bad neighbor problems can be from yards with too many pets and not enough cleanup, or poor composting.
For folks relocating to Silicon Valley, though, it’s important to be aware of smelly or potentially smelly areas. The locals know about them – and you should, too.
Communities with well known odor problems
Gilroy, in the “south county” area, is well known as the Garlic Capital of the World. There’s a Garlic Festival late each July. To be sure, the smell is strong when the garlic ripens in the field. I can often smell it all the way in Los Gatos on a warm summer morning! The smell is also strong when it’s getting processed at the plant along Highway 152. Gilroy has a nice downtown area and is more affordable than most of Santa Clara County. It enjoys a Caltrain stop so offers an easier commute than most places in the San Jose area.
Morgan Hill, just a little north of Gilroy, but also in south county, has a mushroom festival (the Mushroom Mardi Gras in late May each year). Mushrooms are a super food but mushroom farms smell pretty awful. Currently, there are 3 mushroom farms in Morgan Hill. Buying in that beautiful city? Visit the area many times, at different times of the day and week. Talk to neighbors and see if you can find out if this is an issue for them – I want to note that it is not a problem everywhere. Morgan Hill is also more affordable than most of the San Francisco Bay Area, also includes a very nice downtown, and features a Caltrain stop too. (I’m told that Google and Apple buses have stops there as well.)
Milpitas, on the northeast end of the county, sometimes has problems from the wind carrying smells from a landfill near the bay on the east side of Alviso. There’s also a sewer processing plant in the same general area that may be contributing to the challenge. It’s bad enough that there’s a whole website dedicated to this problem: http://milpitas-odor.info/ This smell is not confined to just Milpitas but may be experienced in adjacent areas such as Alviso, north San Jose, northern Santa Clara, and southern Fremont, but Milpitas appears to get the brunt of it. Milpitas has really strong public schools, is “close in” and convenient for many commuters, and is not as expensive as communities on the west side of the valley with similarly high scoring schools. It’s a very good “bang for your buck” in terms of the amount of home / school you get for your money. But the odor problems have been enormous ones over the years.
The Shoreline park in Mountain View was a landfill at one time, and years ago was well known to have issues with smells and also with spontaneous combustion fires that began as the gas from composting materials somehow lit. That was almost 20 years ago and the situation has been corrected for many years now. (You can read more on that here.)
There’s a landfill in the Almaden area of San Jose near the Los Gatos border, the Guadalupe Landfill (that area was originally a mercury mine). I’m not aware of odor problems coming from this one, but due to Milpitas’s ongoing nightmare with bad smells, some of the waste that might have gone to the Newby Island landfill will now be going to Guadalupe, starting in late 2017.
What can a newby to Silicon Valley do?
First, read the disclosures very, very carefully. Often home buyers breeze through them and don’t ask probing questions on what something means. A seller may write “occasional agricultural odors” and that doesn’t sound too bad. What if that means half the time, you cannot miss the mushroom farm? Ask questions to get more info on the disclosure answers. And talk to neighbors as well as local real estate agents.
Second, learn where these items are located, if local: food processing plants, water processing plants, landfills, farms, ranches, homes with farm animals (if any). You might be surprised that in Silicon Valley you could have a 4-H neighbor who’s raising a goat or some other type of animal – it may smell or be noisy! In my east Los Gatos neighborhood, I was surprised that a neighbor about 5 houses away had goats for 4-H, and glad they weren’t any closer!