San Jose Flea Market vendors demand lawmakers reject development plans
San Jose Flea Market vendor Alma Jaco (center) said her family built a 25-year career at the market, making up about 50% of their income. Photo by Vicente Vera.

The San Jose Planning Commission’s recommendation for a development plan that dramatically shrinks the size of the flea market was not the outcome vendors and their families wanted.

More than 20 vendors and advocates gathered in front of San Jose City Hall on Tuesday to demand Mayor Sam Liccardo and other councilmembers reject plans for the Berryessa BART Urban Village, a proposed multi-unit housing and commercial development on Berryessa Road near Highway 101.

“This market has allowed us to maintain our family in San Jose, one of the most expensive places in the country,” said Roberto Gonzalez, vendor and president of Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association. “And now it is at risk of being taken from us.”

Like hundreds of other vendors depending on the San Jose Flea Market for work, Gonzalez has seen his family invest decades to make a living out of the rented stalls.

But updated plans for the proposed urban village would shut out two-thirds of vendors because of the market’s reduced size. Without plans to protect or relocate the flea market, vendors who depend on it as a main source of income would be displaced and left without employment.

The final decision lies with the San Jose City Council who will take up the vote on June 22.

“We need to continue our efforts and keep telling our elected officials these plans are flawed, and the concept of a public market is still not enough,” Gonzalez said.

A coalition of organizers announced the “Que La Lucha Sigue” campaign on Tuesday, calling on San Jose lawmakers to reject the Berryessa BART Urban Village plans as they stand.

Concern over gentrification was a common theme among the sign-wielding crowd. “Stop gambling with our lives,” read one poster.

“If the City Council approves this project that is recommended by the Planning Commission, then the ball is entirely in Mr. Bumb’s court,” said San Jose State University urban planning lecturer Kelly Snider.

Referring to San Jose Flea Market owner Brian Bumb, Snider said he would have the ability to raise rents on vendors and even close the flea market unless there is a formal agreement stating otherwise.

Roberto Gonzalez, vendor and president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, called on San Jose lawmakers to reject updated development plans surrounding the flea market at City Hall on Wednesday. Photo by Vicente Vera

Land use consultant Erik Schoennauer, who represents the Bumb family, said vendors have been apprised of the project for more than three years. He said under the latest proposed plan the streets along the open plaza would close on weekends to expand the market area.

“With all of those approaches, we should be able to accommodate most of the vendors,” he said.

Schoennauer said the developers worked with city departments to include a space for a new urban market within the planned public plaza. He said this was in response to vendors telling him their number one priority was to have space for a recreated market.

The Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association formed on March 17 after rumors of the flea market’s closure circulated on social media.

Outrage over the market’s perceived closure led to the San Jose Planning Commission tabling the discussion so vendors and developers would have more time to come to a compromise over the flea market’s future.

Commissioners voted May 12 to recommend the plan, more than two decades in the making, to develop the 61.5-acre site. But this would also reduce the flea market’s footprint from approximately 15 acres to 5 acres if approved by the City Council.

Alma Jaco, whose family sells business apparel at the market, said she spent more time helping the small business as the pandemic tanked the economy. She said she doesn’t want to see her family business pushed out of the area just as the economy is bouncing back.

“It’s like maybe 50% of our main income,” Jaco told San José Spotlight. “That’s why I’m here, because we need to be heard. There are still a lot of vendors who aren’t aware of what’s going on and we need to reach them too.”

Members of the vendors association, including Gonzalez, were temporarily suspended from entering the market space on May 2 for stepping out of a designated space and soliciting other vendors to join the group.

Though the suspension ends this weekend, Gonzalez said he will watch for other ways the market’s management might try and eject association members.

At Tuesday’s rally, the group called for another revised plan, including an economic relief package for vendors if development construction interrupts business and rent-controlled vendor stalls.

Vendors also called for the flea market’s day-to-day operations to be run by the association, considerations for racial equity and business training for current and prospective sellers.

“We’re going to continue doing our outreach at the market, informing every single vendor of these plans that will directly affect their lives and impact them in a negative way,” Gonzalez said.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story contained an incorrect date of a future council meeting.

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