San Jose flea market vendors demand 5-year leases as battle over development heats up
Mariana Mejia, left, Roberto Gonzalez, center and Keila Escobedo Vega—Kaled Escobedo Vega's sister—hand out flyers in March. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    San Jose Flea Market vendors are demanding its owners lock them into 5-year leases and provide at least three years of notice if the market will be closed or relocated.

    Those are just a few of the demands outlined in a new letter issued by the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association obtained by San José Spotlight. The vendors are also demanding a vote slated for June 22 on the development plan be delayed until September.

    The advocacy group — led by flea market vendors — has been locked into tense negotiations with the owners of the beloved market on Berryessa Road since developers unveiled major development plans that significantly shrink the size of the open-air market. The 15-acre market, which is run primarily by minority-owned businesses, is home to 430 vendors and 750 stalls.

    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 proposal seeks approval to rezone the 61.5-acre portion of the site for up to 3.4 million square feet of commercial space and up to 3,450 homes.

    Vendors are asking for 5-year leases at the market’s current rates for every vendor who is on a month-to-month lease and $2 million from the owners, the Bumb family, to hire an analyst to shape the new market. The analysis would look at where the new market could go, how big it might be, how vendors can be involved in its ownership and a relocation plan.

    They’re also demanding $28 million in compensation if the market moves to public property after the 5-year leases end in 2026. If the market stays at the Berryessa site or is moved to a private location after 2026, vendors want their relocation costs covered.

    “We really want to work together,” said Roberto Gonzalez, president of the association whose family runs a Mexican candy and piñata stall at the flea market. His parents have owned the stall for almost 30 years.

    Gonzalez says the negotiations are moving in the right direction, but plans are nowhere near where the association wants to be.

    The new demands from vendors come a week after the Bumb family offered $2 million to cover vendors’ moving expenses as they transition to a new market. As part of that proposed deal, the Bumb family would set aside 5 acres for a new public market and provide up to $500,000 to match donations from residents to support the vendors.

    “It seems like ever since we got this proposal, they (the Bumb family) feel like it’s a done deal; like they have all the assurances in the plan they think us vendors need. That’s not the case,” Gonzalez said.

    The San Jose City Council is set to vote on the development project on June 22. Vendors are asking for a 90-day delay so their demands can be heard.

    The project’s representative, land use consultant Erik Schoennauer, said a deferral would endanger the project’s applications for state grants to fund affordable housing units at the site.

    “A delay significantly jeopardizes our opportunities for overall success for the project,” Schoennauer told San José Spotlight on Saturday. “This project is more than just about a flea market. It’s about creating space for 11,000 new jobs. It’s about creating 3,400 new housing units, including affordable housing units. It’s about building the neighborhood parks, creek trails and amenities that existing residents want. There’s a lot on the table.”

    If the vendors’ demands are met, the $2 million will be placed in Flea Market Advisory Group fund.

    The money will be used by the group to hire a third-party analyst to recommend a location and size for the new market, a vendor-focused ownership model, a timeline for the vendors’ relocation and the new market’s construction and a financial setup, such as a cooperative or a community land trust. Vendors are asking that members of the advisory group, who would decide how the $2 million will be spent, consist of vendors, at least one nonprofit selected by the association, representatives from the Silicon Valley Organization, city officials, property owners and community service groups.

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

    Schoennauer says ultimately the council will decide on the flea market’s future when the plan is heard.

    “Until we move forward with the next phase of the process, no one is going to determine the operational plan for a new market, including how long leases should be,” Schoennauer said. “It’s premature to start talking about those things.”

    Gonzalez says the concession from the Bumb family—for the $2 million—is not enough. That would equate to about $4,500 per  vendor—not enough to support them past a few months, he said. Vendors believe the proposed development will displace hundreds of small, minority-owned businesses.

    “They (the owners) state that they want to work with us, but right now they’re basically telling us, ‘Hey, take this deal and shut up,'” Gonzalez said. “We’re hoping we can get true protections for vendors, true protections for our businesses and true protections for our community and our culture.”

    No timeline for construction has been set for the project. Schoennauer says it will take “years” before any construction begins.

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

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