San Jose Flea Market vendors upset with long-term rent option
Protestors hold signs in support of flea market vendors in June 2021. File photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    San Jose Flea Market vendors are upset by a new agreement that requires six months of rent in advance to get a better long-term rental option.

    Vendors asked the market owners for something akin to long-term leases for protection against immediate displacement. But it appears they misinterpreted the flea market’s license offer as a lease.

    A flyer circulated by the flea market last month informed vendors of the six-month license agreement option, and noted they now must pay a $300 damage deposit. The month-to-month license option still remains in place.

    Vendors and community advocates spent months protesting a plan to rezone a 61.5 acre-portion of the flea market site into the Berryessa BART Urban Village project—a mixed-use space with up to 3,450 homes. The flea market, which houses roughly 430 vendors, will be reduced to one-third its current size, resting on five acres. Over the summer, the Bumb family, who owns the property, agreed to create six-month license agreements and to put millions in a fund to help vendors relocate to the new five-acre site.

    Alex Shoor, executive director of community advocacy group Catalyze SV, said it’s preposterous to expect working class vendors to fork over six months of rent in advance.

    “This isn’t Google, this isn’t Apple—these are folks who need support and protections,” Shoor told San José Spotlight. “It’s a continued pattern of behavior that says, ‘we don’t want you here anymore.'”

    Confusing terms

    Roberto Gonzalez, president of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, told San José Spotlight he believed the vendors were promised leases. Monthly rates vary depending on location and vendor, but vendors typically pay several hundred dollars each month. Gonzalez said most of them can’t pay six months of rent upfront. He pointed out his own family owes $2,490 for the upcoming month.

    “This is not what we asked for, this is not what we want,” Gonzalez said. He added it would be more appropriate to have a six-month agreement where vendors pay month-to-month.

    Rich Alvari, spokesperson for the flea market, says representatives never discussed the possibility of a lease. According to Alvari, the market owners agreed to extend the license agreement to six months.

    There are a few critical distinctions between leases and license agreements. But flea market representatives say the biggest difference is that under a license agreement, it’s common to get prepayment for rent, even if it’s for multiple months.

    Alvari told San José Spotlight the market has always used license agreements for vendors, and that leases don’t work with its business model. He added that the market’s representatives explained this at length to the flea market association, vendors, councilmembers and the mayor during a June 25 meeting.

    “We were very clear on the license (versus) lease distinction,” Alvari said. “(The flea market association) knew this was a license agreement when they asked for the six-month agreement, and they know it now.”

    When asked about this, Gonzalez said he thought the license agreement was the same as a lease.

    “We said we wanted protection,” Gonzalez said, adding that many vendors, including himself, are low-income. “We’re not raking in millions—or thousands—of dollars. So with them understanding that and still coming out with these types of terms is discouraging.”

    A new fee

    Gonzalez said vendors are also confused about the $300 deposit, with some questioning why they’re paying hundreds of dollars to protect concrete ground.

    “There’s a lot of anger from vendors, (asking) ‘why is this happening?’” Gonzalez said.

    According to a statement from the flea market, the refundable deposit is “long overdue” because the market has incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair and replacement costs over the years caused by vendors. Alvari cited as examples the trash left behind by vendors, and the cost of refurbishing spaces.

    Gonzalez reached out to San Jose councilmembers for help to see if they could put pressure on the market owners to negotiate better terms.

    Councilmember David Cohen, whose district includes the market, told San José Spotlight he informed the vendors association that the city has no authority over any contract arrangements between the two parties. He said he expressed his confidence that the association will find a resolution.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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