A three-mile walk in 80-degree heat is difficult as is. But for San Jose Flea Market vendor Cesar Pardo, he felt it was his duty to support his fellow retailers.
Dozens of vendors—along with representatives from labor and advocacy groups Latinos United for a New America (LUNA), Working Partnerships USA, SIREN, Catalyze SV and other supporters—marched from their stalls at the San Jose Flea Market to City Hall Thursday to protest a plan that will greatly reduce the footprint of the historic market.
“We’re trying to support everybody because everyone here is like family,” said Pardo, who sells skin rejuvenation products at the flea market. “Pretty soon they might be telling everybody it’s their last month to sell. We don’t want the flea market to disappear because people come from all over the world here to walk and buy things.”
Last month, the San Jose Planning Commission recommended the Berryessa BART Urban Village Plan, which seeks to rezone a 61.5-acre southern portion of the flea market site on Berryessa Road near Highway 101 to allow up to 3,450 new homes and expand commercial space to as much as 3.4 million square feet.
Vendors at the flea market are skeptical of the project, claiming it will displace hundreds of workers and leave dozens of men and women—disproportionately Latino, people of color and low-income workers—without a job.
The San Jose City Council will vote on the plan on June 22. If approved, it will reduce the vendor space footprint from 15 acres to five acres, about a third of the entire market’s footprint.
Representatives from the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association—a loose-knit group of vendors—organized Thursday’s march on social media to sway the council in rejecting the project.
Can you join us tomorrow June 3 at 4:30pm to protect Flea Market vendors and stand up for justice development without displacement!
The vendors depends on the flea market. Thousand of families livelihoods #BayArea #sanjose #savethefleamarket #protest pic.twitter.com/a0NNTrhHa3
— BERRYESSA FLEA MARKET VENDORS ASSOCIATION (@FleaVendors) June 3, 2021
“We’re hopeful they’re taking us into consideration, and moving forward we hope we’ll be able to find an equitable, win-win solution,” said Roberto Gonzalez, president of the association. He, along with three other vendors, formed the group in March to protest the development.
Market representatives and Councilmember David Cohen, whose district includes the market, reached an agreement on May 5 to establish 3.5 acres for an urban market on the current site, which has since been upped to five acres.
The proposed site is smaller than the existing market, which means vendors will either have to shrink their businesses or find a new location. There are about 430 vendors who collectively rent out approximately 750 stalls.
The public market plan has many vendors worried they’ll lose their businesses.
“None of the vendors would be able to live in the fancy apartments that have been built right across from it… In my personal opinion it’s like they’re pushing us out of the area,” said Mayra Pelagio, an organizer with LUNA. She said one of her first jobs was working at the flea market selling plants over a decade ago.
The plan’s representatives, land use lobbyist Erik Schoennauer and the Bumb family—owners of the flea market—say vendors’ worries are unfounded.
“We’re addressing all the stated concerns of the vendors. There would be no reason not to approve the project,” Schoennauer told San José Spotlight hours before the march. “The project has a lot of benefits for the city and community.”
Schoennauer said that on weekends when the market usually operates, the owners will close down streets within the development so that vendors have more room to set up. When the streets are closed, he said, the space will nearly equal the market’s current footprint and accommodate most of the vendors.
The plan will bring 11,000 jobs and greenery along the nearby creek, according to Schoennauer. The Bumb family promised all vendors at least a one-year notice before beginning any construction on the new market space.
Vendors claim that rent for a brick-and-mortar stall would be significantly higher than what they’re paying now, and that opening and closing streets would cause new storage problems. The vendors association demands retailers be included in the plans and an economic relief package if they’re displaced.
“There hasn’t been much progress aside from what they (the city) has said publicly,” said Kaled Escobedo Vega, one of the founding members of the association.
The city first approved rezoning the flea market site in 2007, and the market’s 120-acre footprint gradually shrunk over the years. Nearly 1,000 apartments opened in the area, and the newest addition to the property is a multi-business plaza near the market anchored by a Safeway that opened in April.
In anticipation of the city’s first BART station, which opened less than half a mile from the market, city officials envisioned a dense urban development with walkable, transit-friendly space containing residential and commercial uses centered around the station.
While officials pushed the idea of dense development in Berryessa for almost two decades, vendors fear that it will be at the expense of their livelihoods. With many speaking English as a second language, the association fears that vendors won’t be able to get a job anywhere else.
Gonzalez said the association isn’t opposed to the project, as long as vendors are included in making decisions about the flea market’s future. He said leaving vendors out of the plan threatens the region’s “biggest small business incubator.”
“We want to have something not only for the current vendors but for the future. Something we can be proud of, something the city can be proud of,” Gonzalez said. “Where better to have that business incubator than in Silicon Valley?”