San Jose Flea Market to get new life amid public market development
Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association representatives Mariana Mejia, Roberto Gonzalez and Keila Escobedo Vega review their petition. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

City leaders and San Jose Flea Market representatives say they’re a step closer to preserving the beloved public space.

On Tuesday, market representatives and Councilmember David Cohen, whose district includes the flea market, said they reached an agreement to establish 3.5 acres for an urban market on the current site. The move means the Flea Market is safe from closure, as many vendors feared, and will be guaranteed that space.

The proposed 3.5-acre site, added to plans heard by the San Jose Planning Commission in March, is smaller than the current market, meaning dozens of vendors will have to either shrink their businesses or find a new location. But Cohen said he’s committed to finding other spaces in the plan to hold more vendors.

The current flea market footprint is 61 acres.

“It’s always been important to me to recognize and preserve the history of that site,” Cohen told San José Spotlight, calling the agreement “a great start.” “I’ll continue to encourage any preservation of that site that can be incorporated into the new development.”

The entire flea market site is zoned to include up to 365,000 square feet of commercial space and up to 2,800 residential units. The original proposal, which was heard and then tabled by the Planning Commission, sought to approve rezoning the 61.5-acre southern portion of the site for up to 3.4 million square feet of commercial space and up to 3,450 homes. Plans to include the flea market were unclear until Tuesday’s agreement.

A proposed sketch of the final design. Graphic courtesy of Erik Schoennauer.

The city and project proponents call the agreement a victory for affordable housing advocates, public transit users and the flea market itself.

Some Flea Market vendors, however, want a say in the process.

“They’re going to try and divide us and make us fight for who gets a spot there on these 3.5 acres,” said Roberto Gonzalez, a vendor and the president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, a group representing the market’s 700-plus vendors. “We weren’t asked to be involved in these plans even after our demands strictly said, ‘involve the vendors.'”

Gonzalez, along with fellow vendors Mariana Mejia, Keila Escobedo Vega and Kaled Escobedo Vega, formed the association in March. The group wants to help other vendors—many of whom don’t speak fluent English or are undocumented—negotiate with the city and developers.

A list of demands that the association asked to be incorporated. Image courtesy of Roberto Gonzalez.

On weekends, the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association encourages people to sign a petition opposing the city’s plans and demanding more transparency from developers. As of Wednesday, more than 6,100 people signed the petition.

A vendor supervisor from the flea market’s management escorted Gonzalez, Mejia and the Escobedo Vega sisters off the site Sunday and banned them for at least two weeks because the group solicited flyers.

A violation given to Gonzalez, Mejia and the Escobedo Vega sisters before they were escorted out of the Flea Market. Photo courtesy of Roberto Gonzalez.

The plans are part of a broader city initiative spurred by the nearby BART station, which envisions a dense housing and commercial neighborhood centered around the transit station. Advocates say the plan will cut down on the city’s carbon footprint and encourage more people to take public transit near where they live. A multi-business shopping center anchored by a Safeway opened in the area just last week.

“This is not going to happen overnight,” said Erik Schoennauer, a land use lobbyist who is the project’s representative. “We’re going to work with vendors and figure out the best path forward.”

Mariana Mejia, Roberto Gonzalez and Keila Escobedo Vega handing out flyers in March. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Schoennauer maintains that the market will continue to be open during construction of the project, and vendors will be given a one-year notice before being required to move. He said exact plans for transitioning into the new public market and which vendors will be chosen to occupy it will be drawn up in the coming months.

The San Jose Planning Commission will consider the plan again on May 12 with Tuesday’s added proposal. Flea Market owner Brian Bumb called the plan “a tremendous asset.”

“It will also be awesome to see a new version and the continued legacy of The San José Flea Market,” Bumb stated in a news release.

Gonzalez said the added market is a great start, but he will continue to push developers to add more vendor space.

“This is clearly been done as a way to placate us,” Gonzalez said of the plans. “This is not enough. We will keep fighting until every vendor is accounted for.”

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

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