UPDATE: San Jose council delays potential Calle Willow rezoning
Smart and thoughtful urban planning can be integrated with existing San Jose neighborhoods. Calle Willow is one such example. File photo.

    Small businesses owners in San Jose’s Calle Willow district are fearing displacement. A delayed rezoning vote on their neighborhood isn’t likely to help assuage their fears.

    The San Jose City Council voted Tuesday to delay a vote to remove Willow Street, known to residents as Calle Willow, from a city plan to increase building height limits and encourage residential development there.

    The proposal will be heard on Dec. 7.

    The proposed policy changes have been met with pushback from residents and small business owners in the neighborhood. Calle Willow is part of a plan to change the business districts of North 13th Street, parts of Willow Glen and Taylor Street to allow more residential development.

    In a memo last week, Councilmember Raul Peralez requested city officials explore policies to prevent future displacement of small businesses at Calle Willow after meeting with several business owners.

    “We shouldn’t be simply so eager to develop housing that we don’t care where we’re developing and we say we’re going to develop everywhere,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. He’s met with several Calle Willow small business owners, where he says they’ve been reduced to month-to-month leases by their property owners.

    A zoning change, Peralez feared, will make future rents more uncertain.

    “The same should be said for very specific business corridors,” he said. “(Calle Willow) is one of a few minority-majority business corridors. We can preserve some communities like this and focus our redevelopment and densify other areas.”

    The San Jose Planning Commission voted earlier this month to recommend Calle Willow be removed from consideration for residential development, agreeing with business owners in the neighborhood.

    A mural along Calle Willow. Photo courtesy of Rosalinda Aguilar.

    The heavily Latino district features colorful businesses often catering to the surrounding Spanish-speaking community—everything from Mexican bakeries to floral shops and taquerias. The area includes Willow Street between McLellan and Almaden avenues.

    Business owners feared a change in city policy will bring new, more expensive apartments to the area, which could translate to higher costs of living and rents for existing business owners. An increase in costs, business owners say, will force them to close.

    “How much housing does San Jose need, and why do you need to come disrupt three or four blocks that are so important and crucial to these families and small businesses?” Rosalinda Aguilar, acting president of the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association, told San José Spotlight. “If it has to happen, why can’t we look at blocks and buildings that really wouldn’t cause so much hurt and pain to people like these blocks would?”

    Fears of displacement have impacted other business areas in the city. In June, the council voted in favor of a multi-story retail and housing development at the San Jose Flea Market in the Berryessa neighborhood, though plans for construction are still years away. The development will shrink the flea market and inevitably displace some small business vendors. A group of vendors successfully lobbied the city to include a displacement fund to help vendors out financially in the meantime.

    Guadalupe Washington is struggling with an influx of wealthier residents and more development. A new property owner in the area last month pushed to paint over a mural depicting Latino culture in the neighborhood despite community efforts to save it.

    “I could lose my income, which is the principal income of my family,” Miriam Raigoza, owner of Unlimited Barber Shop on Calle Willow, told San José Spotlight through a Spanish interpreter. “I don’t have a plan or savings because I live day-by-day. If (rents) go higher, my business will disappear.”

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

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