By Lloyd Alaban
San Jose lawmakers will decide the fate of the San Jose Flea Market Wednesday, potentially shrinking the space by two-thirds of its current size and displacing vendors.
The City Council met Tuesday to consider plans for the Berryessa BART Urban Village, but continued the meeting to the next day in order to hear more public comment.
“I want to be very clear that I suspect that every member of this council would do everything they can to protect the vendors,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said.
If approved, the 3.4 million square foot project will rezone 61.5 acres off Berryessa Road for commercial space and up to 3,450 homes. It will also set aside five acres for a reimagined public market.
That’s smaller than the flea market’s current 15 acres, which could leave out some of the approximately 430 retailers.
“This is not progress,” said Tony Romero, an organizer with Latinos United for a New America. “Evicting more than 400 vendors… just to build more unaffordable and expensive housing. That’s not progress.”
Lawmakers and project developers suggest exploring using nearby spaces or building a multi-story market to accommodate more vendors.
“It would have been nice if the city officials have paid an ounce of the attention to our future as they have given to have new offices built where our livelihoods sit,” said Keila Escobedo Vega, a member of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association.
“Be more human,” said Marta, a flea market vendor who spoke Tuesday who did not provide a last name. “Grant us the 90 days that we need.”
On Monday, some of the flea market’s vendors announced an indefinite hunger strike outside City Hall to protest the plan and what they say is a lack of involvement in the historic market’s future. Vendors and supporters gathered in the same place Tuesday during the council meeting.
“My life and livelihood will be in your hands,” association member Mariana Mejia told the council. “I will go on a hunger strike and I will not stop until the demands are met.”
The vendors association wants the Bumb family, the owners of the market, to grant five-year leases to current vendors and $28 million if the market moves to public property after leases end in 2026.
As part of the plan, the Bumb family promises not to evict any vendors before the current flea market closes. The family will give vendors a one-year notice before they are asked to move out, issued no earlier than July 1, 2023.
The Bumb family will also contribute $2.5 million to a fund to help vendors with relocation costs, with $500,000 going out by October and an additional $2 million once the family issues the one-year notice.
If the urban village project moves forward, the city will create a flea market advisory group to oversee how the money is allocated, as well as how the new market will be designed and operated.
“The intent is to have a majority of the members be members of the vendor community,” said Nanci Klein, the city’s assistant director of economic development.
Despite that, some people believe the plans are not enough to ensure all vendors have the space or money to continue working at their stalls.
“(Councilmember) David Cohen, I expected more of you,” said Brenda Zendejas, a public commenter. “$2.5 million is two-ply toilet paper—is nothing—to these vendors.”
Liccardo, Councilmember Sergio Jimenez and Cohen, whose district includes the flea market, outlined a series of proposals in a memo Friday.
They suggest giving existing flea market vendors first opportunity to move into the new five-acre market and called for rents to be comparable to other open-air markets in the Bay Area. They support the $2.5 million vendor transition fund, which would help cover moving costs, as well as creating a flea market advisory group.
Cohen wrote an op-ed for San José Spotlight Saturday lauding the plan for including vendors. He helped negotiate with the Bumb family to set aside five acres for the market in the proposed urban village project.
Cohen said Tuesday that he worked closely with the vendors and was “frustrated” to see their voices left out of the process previously.
“The flea market advisory group will give vendors that voice and the collaborative process that will follow in the years ahead,” Cohen said.
Councilmember Raul Peralez agreed, and praised Cohen’s advocacy.
“He has absolutely moved this on much further that it has ever been,” Peralez said. He says the council has another opportunity to include vendors’ voices, referring to a previous 2007 vote about the flea market.
Peralez says more discussion and outreach with vendors is needed. He also asks for city officials to research whether or not the project’s developers will lose their chance at affordable housing grants if the project is delayed, citing an opinion from city officials.
“There is a very, very low likelihood that this project would even get approved for such a grant,” he said.
Peralez tried to defer the item for one week, but the council rejected the motion in a split 6-5 vote.
The vendors and their allies say the Bumb family is reaping financial benefits from publicly-funded transit improvements, including the nearby BART station, without consideration for the vendors’ livelihoods. Now, they say, the family will see even bigger profits from the addition of more housing and office capacity.
Erik Schoennauer, a land use consultant and the project’s representative, touts the nearly 11,000 jobs the development is expected to bring. He said Tuesday that there’s already a project approved on the site from 2007, and that it would go forward with development should the urban village project fail to pass.
“We’re ready to invest in this urban village area,” said Rob Facchino, managing owner of Berryessa Properties. “There’s much-needed housing, much needed affordable housing and parks too.”
In a memo, Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco asks the city to match the Bumb family’s $2.5 million contribution with funds from the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s economic stimulus plan. She supports the vendors’ request for five-year leases at current stall rates, and asks the city to work with developers to include as many vendors as possible in the new market.
Vice Mayor Chappie Jones issued his own memo Monday, asking city officials to explore alternate locations for the market, including county-owned sites. He also asked for all of the $2.5 million from the Bumb family to be used to explore how nonprofit organizations can partner with vendors to help with the transition. New housing on the development, Jones says, should only be approved once the new market starts the permitting process.
Contact Lloyd Alaban at email@example.com or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.
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This article was originally published by The San José Spotlight.