San Jose’s Calle Willow protected from residential development
Small business owners and residents at a November rally asking the city to remove Calle Willow from a city residential plan. File photo.

    Small business owners in San Jose’s Calle Willow district can breathe easy, as fears of displacement from residential development won’t become a reality—for now.

    The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to remove the Willow Street business district, known to residents as Calle Willow, from a city plan to increase building height limits and encourage residential development.

    “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the heart and soul of our community, and we must continue to work together with small business owners—particularly those in our most vulnerable and underserved communities—to build a San Jose where everyone can thrive,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez. Calle Willow is in his district.

    Peralez requested city officials explore these redevelopment policies to prevent future displacement of small businesses after meeting with several Calle Willow business owners last month.

    The proposal to allow residential development on Calle Willow was met with pushback from residents and small business owners in the neighborhood. Calle Willow was part of a plan to change building policy in the business districts of North 13th Street, parts of Willow Glen and Taylor Street to allow more residential development. It was the only neighborhood to be removed from the plan.

    Storefronts along Calle Willow are pictured in this file photo.

    The San Jose Planning Commission voted last month to recommend Calle Willow be removed from consideration for residential development, agreeing with business owners.

    The heavily Latino business district features businesses catering to the surrounding Spanish-speaking community—everything from electronics stores to floral shops and taquerias. The area includes Willow Street between McLellan and Almaden avenues.

    “A cultural gem, a strong and vibrant business district like Calle Willow does indeed need protection,” said Fred Buzo, San Jose director of nonprofit policy organization SPUR.

    Sacred Heart Community Service rallied business owners on Calle Willow last month supporting the area’s removal from the plan.

    “At Sacred Heart, we work with families who are low-income, monolingual Spanish speakers and parents who work from sunrise to sunset to house their children, to put food on their tables,” said Leticia Alvarez, a community organizer with Sacred Heart. Alvarez facilitated meetings between councilmembers and business owners. “For this group of business owners, it was the first time learning how to approach their representatives. All they wanted was to be heard.”

    Business owners feared a change in city policy would bring new, more expensive apartments to the area, which could translate to higher costs of living and rents for existing business owners. An increase in costs, business owners say, will force them to close.

    The Guadalupe Washington neighborhood, which includes Calle Willow, is struggling with an influx of wealthier residents and more development. In October, a new property owner in the area pushed to paint over a mural depicting Latino culture in the neighborhood despite community opposition.

    “I’m very happy that the San Jose City Council did the right thing in voting to keep Calle Willow intact,” Rosalinda Aguilar, acting president of the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association, told San José Spotlight. “A vote in a different direction would have been devastating to our business owners.”

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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