Community leaders are calling for San Jose to invest in economic development of the east side, which they say the city has neglected for years.
Rolando Bonilla, chair of the San Jose Planning Commission, spearheaded a proposal in June that asked the City Council to purchase vacant retail buildings in East San Jose and then give them back to small businesses.
Bonilla partnered with Alum Rock Village Action Committee founder Jesse Haro and District 5 United President Juan Estrada on the proposal.
There are three independently-owned properties up for sale totaling an estimated $5.1 million, including vacant buildings on Alum Rock Avenue and White Road, according to the proposal.
Bonilla, who lives in East San Jose, feels that the city has not made enough concerted efforts to help alleviate economic gaps in different pockets of the city.
“For generations, East San Jose has never really been a priority,” Bonilla told San José Spotlight.
Haro shares similar sentiments.
“We’re the forgotten here in the corners of the foothills and that’s what we’re trying to change,” he said. “We’re trying to change that paradigm.”
The proposal to purchase vacant properties and hand them back to businesses comes alongside a larger effort to stimulate the economy in East San Jose.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Bonilla introduced a $6.5 million economic plan to help support small businesses and nonprofits, in an effort to close economic disparities between East San Jose and other parts of the city.
Other efforts to boost the economy include Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco’s call for an East Side Rescue Plan. Carrasco has also proposed a property-based improvement district for the Alum Rock area.
Bonilla and Haro agree that the pandemic exacerbated disparities on the east side. COVID-19 hit East San Jose neighborhoods the hardest, resulting in the largest infection rates in the city and the least amount of vaccinated residents.
“What COVID demonstrated was just how much of a gap exists between East San Jose and other parts of the city, for no other reason than a lack of real initiative on the part of city government to make the economic well-being of East San Jose a priority,” Bonilla said.
Vacancies in East San Jose increased during the pandemic after small businesses could no longer afford to remain open, according to Bonilla.
But there is no official data quantifying the total number of vacant retail buildings in East San Jose, said city economic development spokesperson Elisabeth Handler.
If the proposal is approved and the city purchases the listed properties, Bonilla and Haro said it would signify a shift in San Jose’s priorities, something they feel hasn’t happened in years.
The proposal is still in the early stages, and Haro said he plans to send a letter to Mayor Sam Liccardo in an effort to receive more city backing.
Haro hopes with energy put back into the community, East San Jose can become a source of pride for residents.
“There is a beauty here as well, and a great beauty with hidden gems,” Haro said.
Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.
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