San Jose Planning Commission OKs Berryessa public market plan
Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association representatives Mariana Mejia, Roberto Gonzalez and Keila Escobedo Vega review their petition. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Vendors worried about the future of the San Jose Flea Market were dealt a blow Wednesday night.

The San Jose Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend a revised development plan for the Berryessa BART Urban Village Plan, a 61.5-acre portion of the flea market site located on Berryessa Road near Highway 101. The site is zoned to include up to 365,000 square feet of commercial space and up to 2,800 residential units.

Commissioner Jorge Garcia was the lone no vote. Commissioner Mariel Caballero was absent.

“I don’t see the benefit of all these paycheck protection programs and stimulus programs if we’re turning around and displacing small business owners at this time,” Garcia said, “particularly when the dust has yet to settle from the pandemic.”

Commissioners Wednesday considered a plan more than two decades in the making to develop the beloved flea market site into a multi-unit housing and commercial hub. If approved by the City Council, the plan will reduce the flea market’s footprint from approximately 15 acres to 5 acres.

A proposed sketch of the project’s final design. The urban market is highlighted in red. Photo courtesy City of San Jose/Erik Schoennauer.

Rolando Bonilla, vice chair of the commission, noted that compromises were made between the developers and the vendors, and that plans for the market could still be looked at by the San Jose City Council.

“We do have an opportunity to send something to the City Council that we have heard when we started this conversation,” Bonilla said.

The commission’s recommendation does not guarantee approval for the project. The City Council will vote on a future date to approve the project’s construction or deny it.

Commissioners requested a timeline for construction be included for the council’s consideration.

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. The move means the San Jose Flea Market is safe from closure, as many vendors feared, and will be guaranteed some space.

But the proposed site is smaller than the existing market, which means vendors will either have to shrink their businesses or find a new location. The current flea market site is 61 acres, with approximately 46 acres used for parking. There are about 430 vendors who collectively rent out approximately 750 stalls.

Erik Schoennauer, a land use lobbyist who is the project’s representative, said under the proposed plan the streets along an 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.

Dozens of vendors and community members commented at Wednesday’s meeting, asking commissioners to deny the plan, citing the displacement of hundreds of vendors.

“Too many people depend on this place,” said Manuel Rivera through a Spanish translator. Rivera said he’s worked with his sister at the flea market since 1978. “Now the space is going to be too small. What’s going to happen to the people who have been here for generations?”

Several residents said they worked at the market for decades, and have depended on it for steady income to support their families and send their children to college. They said they feared the project would deny future families that opportunity.

“Take into consideration the situation we are in now and how many families will be unemployed based on what you decide,” said Lidia Landa who spoke through Spanish translation.

Representatives for the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association—a loose-knit advocacy group that represents the market’s vendors—panned the plan.

“We are calling on the Planning Commission to recommend denial of the deeply flawed and inequitable plan,” Roberto Gonzalez told San José Spotlight on Wednesday. Gonzalez is a vendor at the flea market and president of the vendors association.

The association’s demands include an economic relief package for all vendors should construction of the development interrupt businesses, rent-controlled vendor stalls, calls 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 vendors.

“We also not only have to balance the economic concerns of the vendors, but we also have to balance out the fact that this is private property,” Bonilla said. “It was always about getting people together.”

Several Berryessa residents and housing advocates spoke in favor of the project, saying it would bring affordable housing, job opportunities and economic growth to the area.

“The Bay Area is in a dire housing shortage,” said Kat Wortham, director of health and housing policy for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. “Building more housing and commercial space next to BART is good for workers, for the environment and good for San Jose.”

Berryessa resident Kevin Pan touted the new jobs that the project could potentially bring. He, along with several nearby residents, said that rejecting the plan would continue parking problems and noise pollution around the residential areas next to the flea market.

“If we don’t build the urban village, why did we spend money to build a BART?” Pan asked. “We have Safeway and CVS, we don’t really need a flea market. I get that the vendors have hardship, but what about the residents?”

The San Jose City Council will meet at a later date to consider the market proposal.

“You’re not taking into consideration the fact that the flea market is a historic place for California,” said vendor Daniel Luna through Spanish translation. “What you’re doing is pretty much erasing it off the map, erasing the culture too.”

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

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