UPDATE: San Jose lawmakers approve Berryessa urban village, shrink flea market
Mariana Mejia, vice president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, speaks to a customer about the city's plans for development. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Months of negotiations, rallies and proposals ended Tuesday with the San Jose City Council voting unanimously to approve a multi-million square foot development at the site of the San Jose Flea Market.

Councilmembers approved the Berryessa BART Urban Village project, a plan to rezone a 61.5-acre portion of the flea market site to include up to 3.4 million square feet of mixed-use space and up to 3,450 homes.

As part of the development, the flea market will shrink to five acres—one-third of its current size. The new market space could squeeze some vendors out, creating fear that they will lose their businesses.

“Development and progress is not an easy journey,” Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said, noting in Spanish that she was proud of what the vendors accomplished in furthering negotiations. “We keep talking about making decisions with an equity lens. This could not be a better example of making decisions with equity.”

Carrasco asked if the owners would be open to allowing vendors to opt in to 12-month licensing agreements for their stalls. Loren Vaccarezza, representing the Bumb family, said he believes the current offer of six month licenses is enough.

“We thought about this internally,” Vaccarezza told the council, saying that some vendors like the option of having short-term licenses, such as selling only in the spring. “Our market and our vendors is a complex situation. Not all our vendors want six-month licenses or 12-month licenses.”

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.

As part of the project, the Bumb family, owners of the flea market, will give $5 million to a transition fund—double their previous offer—to help vendors relocate to the new market.

“As everyone knows last week, I didn’t support the extra time because I heard from colleagues that we were 98% there and I didn’t want to risk the deal,” Cohen said.

He added that he wanted to make sure that the fund would have at least $5 million in it to avoid relying on American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government.

A flea market advisory group comprising vendors, city officials and representatives from the market’s owners will decide how to dole out the money. The exact membership of the group will be determined at a later date.

“We’re setting up the bare bones today,” Councilmember Raul Peralez said.

Councilmember Maya Esparza wanted assurances from the city that developers and city officials will engage with vendors moving forward.

“We’re hearing concerns from vendors and the community of their fears of being locked out of a process. No one other than the flea market has that contact with the vendors,” Esparza said.

Nanci Klein, the city’s director of economic development, assured Esparza that the city would reach out to the vendors in the planning process.

Erik Schoennauer, land use consultant and representative of the Bumb family, said they appreciated the council’s unanimous support of the Berryessa BART Urban Village.

“This is the best possible outcome, with a plan to support the vendors and a plan for major job and housing development at our city’s first BART station,” he told San José Spotlight.

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 Bumb family will give $500,000 to the relocation fund by October. They will give an additional $2 million when they issue a one-year notice for vendors to leave the current flea market on or before July 1, 2023. The last $2.5 million will disperse on the current flea market’s final day of operation.

“We are grateful the City Council gave us more time to come to an agreement because the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association did have a valuable meeting with flea market owner representatives and city officials on Friday,” Roberto Gonzalez, president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, told San José Spotlight before the vote. “We are hopeful that these conversations will bring a quadruple-win agreement—one that will benefit the vendors, our community, the flea market owners and the city.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo issued a memo Tuesday asking the city to explore ways to expand the market on weekends to accommodate more vendors, such as expanding beneath BART’s elevated tracks. He also suggested in his memo using dollars from the American Rescue Plan, taxes from the development of the project and economic development grants to further bolster the flea market vendor fund.

He called the process an “extraordinarily and difficult endeavor.”

“There could be a substantial possibility that we could accommodate all or nearly all the vendors who want to be there, certainly on the weekend,” Liccardo said.

The latest agreement is far short of what the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, a group representing the market’s approximately 430 vendors, proposed on Friday.

According to a document obtained by San José Spotlight, the vendors association asked the Bumb family for $15 million and a 10-acre market. They also demanded three-year leases for current vendors, that the vendors association be given the sole right to represent retailers and the rights to all intellectual property, logos and historical records related to the flea market.

The vendors association aggressively protested against the proposed development, holding rallies and staging a hunger strike for more than 50 hours last week in an effort to delay the vote.

The San Jose City Council failed to reach a consensus on the project after a marathon meeting that ended Wednesday, voting 6-5 to delay a decision until today. That led Cohen to call a meeting with the association, Schoennauer and Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Raul Peralez, who both supported the one-week delay.

In addition to the revised agreement, the Bumb family promises not to evict any vendors before the current flea market closes, to give first choice to current vendors to move into the new market and to offer rents comparable to other local open-air markets.

“It really is my hope that these families don’t continue to live paycheck to paycheck, but rather see themselves as investors in their future,” Carrasco said. “And the Bumb family, who has been successful, teach and guide them with principles they’ve learned from and impart that wisdom.”

Peralez said that although he supports the project, he looks forward to working with the vendors and city in the future

“I’m not completely pleased, but I think we’ve likely gotten this as far as we can go,” Peralez said.

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

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