San Jose dedicates dollars for flea market studies
Vendor Rigoberto Gonzalez sells sweets to patrons at the San Jose Flea Market. Photo by Jana Kadah.

The vendors at the San Jose Berryessa Flea Market are a step closer to reshaping their future.

Last week, the San Jose City Council approved contracts to hire a consultant and adviser to help vendors who may be displaced from development at the Berryessa Flea Market. The consultant, Estolano Advisors, has a $350,000 contract to conduct three studies on the economic benefits of the flea market, new locations and different ways to manage it. The adviser, Braid + Driskell Community Planning, will be paid $125,000 to conduct community outreach that will help determine the size, scope and bylaws of the advisory group.

The advisory group, made up of vendors, flea market landowners, city officials, advocates and experts, will determine how $7.5 million will be spent to best support vendors and open a new flea market.

“We’re just really excited,” Roberto Gonzalez, president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, told San José Spotlight. “These studies will show on paper what the impact and what the worth of the market is and even discover other things that maybe we don’t know personally about the market.”

The San Jose City Council unanimously approved the Berryessa BART Urban Village project in June 2021. A 61.5-acre portion of the flea market site will be rezoned to include up to 3.4 million square feet of mixed-use space and up to 3,450 homes, shrinking the 62-year-old flea market to one-third of its current size. The flea market is guaranteed to stay open until 2024 and may operate longer if development stalls.

Though the city slated the land for development in 2007, the 2021 vote sent shockwaves through vendors, families and customers. The flea market vendors organized protests, went on a hunger strike and worked closely with city staff to ensure some safety nets for the hundreds who could be displaced once development begins.

Their advocacy resulted in a $5 million investment from the Bumb family, which owns the land, and $2 million from the city to help transition vendors to a new location.

The city is spending the first of those funds on the consultant and adviser. The three studies will provide an economic and cultural assessment of the flea market’s benefits to the city, vendors, residents and small businesses over the last six decades. It also includes a recommendation for a new flea market location and if it can be worker-owned. Self-sufficiency is one of the main goals of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, which represents 450-plus vendors.

The cost of the studies and adviser was higher than initially estimated. When the Bumb family allocated $500,000 in its first tranche of the $5 million in December 2021, the city estimated $350,000 for the studies, with the remaining balance of the $500,000 potentially given as direct stipends to vendors or applied toward other costs. However the $150,000 will instead be used to pay for adviser contract and translation services.

Mayor Sam Liccardo pushed back on one of the studies related to cultural and economic assessment. The $185,000 study accounts for 53% of the consultant’s fee, and Liccardo balked at the cost. He said the money could be better utilized through stipends or by doing a business assessment to attract investors to a new flea market project.

“I don’t see what it is going to help us decide,” Liccardo said. “It’s going to be another study that goes on a shelf, largely a performative act, that does not help the families we’re trying to help.”

City staff said the studies are necessary because they don’t have data around the actual fiscal impact of the market. Knowing that would help attract investors or understand what it takes to open a new market.

Liccardo’s concerns resonated with Councilmember David Cohen, who represents where the flea market is located. Cohen wanted to see if the contract allowed the city to forgo a study and decide at a later date if it was warranted. But the council unanimously approved the consultant contract, which means all three studies are likely to be completed.

The studies are expected to take a year. The advisers will begin community outreach in the coming weeks and create the advisory group charter by the end of the year. The selection of members will occur in early 2023.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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