A small change to the Milpitas city code proposed by the public works department on Tuesday brought to light a larger issue facing homeowners: city trees causing damage to residential sewer lines.
As it stands, a resident in Milpitas needs to clear out any backups to their sewer line that extend from their home all the way to the edge of their property. The proposal from public works would make it so residents must clear their line all the way to the main pipe, which is in the middle of the road.
Public Works Director Tony Ndah said Tuesday to councilmembers that his department has faced “issues” with residents who haven’t cleared their lines all the way — and said that the language in the city code needs to be cleared up.
But the code change sparked discussion over an issue Milpitas has faced for years. In 2014, Milpitas paid a homeowner $95,000 after the council determined that a sewage backup at the resident’s home was the city’s fault.
The cause of the backup? Tree roots that had burrowed into the resident’s sewer line.
Milpitas faces an aging sewer system, which was installed in 1950. A majority of the pipes are between 40 and 70 years old. Realtor Joseph Weinstein, a longtime Milpitas resident, said that as far back as the 1990s he faced issues with a water pipe on his property that was damaged by a tree. He ended up having to pay around $1,000 at the time because the pipe was located on his property.
“The roots got into the sewer lines,” said Weinstein. “It was so old, so broken up, they had to replace that section of the sewer pipe.”
The public works proposal was part of a larger item on the agenda to re-certify the city’s sewer system, which ended up passing.
But Councilmember Karina Dominguez focused solely on the code change, pointing out that it needed to include language that would protect homeowners if trees were the culprit of a broken line.
“What is happening is the roots are causing the pipes to either clog or break,” Dominguez said later in an interview, and added that she’s encountered many complaints on the topic. “This malfunction is costing homeowners thousands of dollars.”
While Dominguez isn’t opposed to residents being responsible for more pipe maintenance, she wants the city to add in a section that would cover the cost for residents if a tree was the culprit of a broken line.