SAN JOSE -- Peggy Ganson had never seen anything like it in her more than three decades living in San Jose's Almaden Valley. A herd of more than a dozen wild pigs, some a couple hundred pounds, assembled on her front lawn to root for grub under the grass.
When the pigs departed, it looked like her lawn had been tilled with industrial farm equipment. Ganson tried to repair her ripped up lawn, but the pigs kept coming back. She's since given up, leaving bare dirt in her front yard while she hopes for some help from City Hall.
"It's devastated," Ganson said sadly. "They've been back almost every day."
Ganson is hardly the pigs' only unwitting host. They have left their mark on plenty of neighbors' lawns as well. The Almaden Golf and Country Club has had $10,000 worth of damage from pig herds rooting up the greens and fairways in recent weeks, and has hired a trapper.
On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council is expected to take up an urgency ordinance that might offer some relief. It would allow a state-licensed trapper with a permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to euthanize a captured wild pig on site with a gunshot. San Jose, like many cities, doesn't generally allow gunfire within the city limits except by law enforcement officers or in designated firing ranges.
That means that under existing law, a trapper must either euthanize a captured pig with a fatal drug overdose or transport it outside the city limits, where it can legally be shot. Those options are problematic, explained Councilman Johnny Khamis, who represents Almaden Valley and has had his own lawn dug up by the pigs as well.
The euthanasia drugs, similar to those used to execute condemned inmates, are expensive, tightly regulated and difficult to administer to an angry, 300-pound, tusk-wielding captive boar, a creature that also is impractical and dangerous to move, Khamis said. A professional trapper can cost $100 an hour, with the bill determined by the number of animals and traps needed, said Dick Seever of Castro Valley's Rural Pig Management. If the animals have to be transported to be euthanized, he said, the cost can triple.
"Given the imminent threat to life, safety and property posed in this situation," Khamis and Councilman Pete Constant wrote in a joint proposal for the urgency ordinance, "it is necessary for the City Council to take action."
It's unclear who if anyone might oppose tweaking the city's gun rules to make an exception for licensed pig trappers. While residents with dug-up lawns and the golf course's managers are squarely for it, similar proposals have in the past drawn critics who argued the wildlife control is unnecessary.
Nine years ago, former Vice Mayor Pat Dando, who also represented the Almaden area, lost a council vote to allow coyote trapping in response to residents' complaints that the wolf-like predators had stalked them or killed their house cats.
More recently, San Jose officials a year ago allowed a similar gunfire exception to the one sought for pig trappers in order to let game officials shoot birds at Mineta San Jose International Airport to control populations that threaten jet aircraft. The airport has seen a sharp increase in the population of gulls. Birds can destroy jet engines if they collide with them, endangering the passengers and crew during critical takeoffs and landings. The council approved that exception unanimously, though some wildlife advocates objected. It remains an issue at the airport, where a jetliner was forced to make an emergency landing in Oakland last month after a bird struck an engine.
The urgency ordinance for pig shooting would require eight of the 11 council members' votes, including the mayor's, to pass and would become effective immediately afterward. Khamis and Constant also have offered a regular ordinance, which can pass with six votes but requires a second reading two weeks later and would not become effective until 30 days after that.
Wild pigs have been a persistent problem along coastal California over the years. They descended from livestock brought by European settlers and boars that hunters introduced. They are still hunted in rural areas but are more difficult to control when they roam into cities.
Residents in San Ramon have also seen a recent invasion of wild pigs and have hired trappers to control them.
Local officials aren't sure why the pigs have been such a problem this fall. They speculate it may be due to unusually dry weather and lack of food in the neighboring hills. Santa Clara County a few years ago cut back funding for its wild pig control program, though it is unclear whether that had any effect on the population in South San Jose. Khamis said what used to be an occasional neighborhood visit by one or two pigs is now dozens.
"It's increased dramatically," Khamis said. "They tore up my grass, my mother's grass, my brother-in-law's grass, my neighbors'..."
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.
The San Jose City Council will consider an urgency ordinance to help control wild pigs at its Tuesday meeting.
The meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. Meetings also can be viewed online at www.sanjoseca.gov