UPDATE: San Jose flea market decision delayed another week
Kaled Escobedo Vega, secretary of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, said she will join in a hunger strike on June 22 in protest of the Berryessa BART Urban Village plan. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

The future of the San Jose Flea Market is up in the air following two days of deliberation but no decision on a proposed mixed-use development that would shrink the market by two-thirds of its current size.

The San Jose City Council met Tuesday to consider plans for the Berryessa BART Urban Village, but continued the meeting to the next day. Councilmembers ultimately voted to continue the item for one week.

“We strongly believe that in one week we’ll be able to pencil down and get those assurances we need,” said Roberto Gonzalez, president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association. He added that he would end the recently enacted hunger strike among vendors and their supporters.

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.

If approved, the project will rezone 61.5 acres off Berryessa Road for 3.4 million square feet of 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.

Lawmakers and project developers suggest exploring using nearby spaces or building a multi-story market to accommodate more vendors.

Flea market leadership announced Wednesday afternoon outside City Hall that they will end their hunger strike in response to the delay from the council. Gonzalez and other vendors association leaders said they’ve only been drinking water since before 6 a.m. Monday—more than 54 hours.

“We’re deeply, deeply, deeply thankful for all of you for that effort. This was a great victory for us today,” Gonzalez said, adding that some of the public comments brought him to tears. “When we fight, we win. These are structures that have been in place for years and years and years that we’ve been fighting against. We showed today and yesterday that when we put up a front as a community and as a group we can break down those structures.”

A proposed sketch of how the project’s final design could look like. The urban market is highlighted in red. Photo courtesy the city of San Jose/Erik Schoennauer.

On Tuesday, land use consultant and project representative Erik Schoennauer said any delay would mean the project previously approved in 2007 would be built instead.

He went further Wednesday morning and said the concessions made by the Bumb family to vendors—including the five acres of space for market vendors and a $2.5 million relocation fund—could be pulled if the project wasn’t approved Wednesday.

“We’re not eager for any further delay,” Schoennauer said. “For a decision made today, all of our voluntary offers we’ve made are still on the table today… It’s time to make a decision. It just goes on and on and on.”

Councilmember Dev Davis said that the current proposed plan encompasses both small businesses and much-needed development around the BART station.

“I think what’s on the table right now preserves the existing jobs and small businesses and provides a path for that and allows for dense development,” Davis said. “Having a pretty empty BART parking lot on the weekends would be a good way to ensure the weekend warriors have space.”

Councilmember Pam Foley recalled working with her husband at a flea market business.

“That was an exhausting business, but it’s what we did to keep the lights on,” she said.

Vendors and their supporters worry the market, known to the many Spanish-speaking retailers as “La Pulga,” will close permanently.

“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.

Vendors and activists at a Monday news conference outside City Hall. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco tried to push for five-year leases, but Schoennauer said that Councilmember David Cohen’s memo already addressed concerns about timing.

“The market is going to be open for three years. We think that’s pretty good,” Schoennauer said.

Councilmembers, including Cohen and Mayor Sam Liccardo, believe that the continuation will “gamble” with vendors’ livelihoods.

“I hope this (continuation) won’t put this at risk,” Cohen said, adding that he is “particularly nervous” for vendors should the Bumb family pull some of their offers in response.

As part of the proposed 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.

Councilman Raul Peralez supported a one-week extension in hopes of bringing vendors to the table amid concerns about their health because of the hunger strike.

“There’s a human element to this as well,” Peralez said.

Liccardo, meanwhile, believes that everything is already settled and did not support an extension.

“I think our mandate is very clear,” Liccardo said. “We have to either take it or leave it. I know people don’t like that choice. If this offer isn’t on the table (in) six days… we will have set hundreds of vendors back.”

Plans to close the flea market have been in the works for more than a decade. Many city leaders, including Liccardo, said their hands are tied because lawmakers already approved redeveloping the site in 2007.

Against many of the vendors’ wishes, the City Council in 2007 approved a plan that rezoned the flea market site to build an approximately 2,800-unit housing development. In 2016, the city and developers considered denser development to accompany the area’s future BART station. That discussion morphed into the current plan.

If approved, 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.

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.

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

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