Jose Landin has co-owned Mexico Bakery’s downtown location since 2003, and the chain has become a staple of San Jose’s foodie scene. But this beloved location—and several of Landin’s neighbors—could all be gone soon.
That’s because VTA plans to build a ventilation system and emergency exit for the forthcoming downtown San Jose BART station on the site where the bakery, ENSO Bar and Night Club and 10 residential tenants live. The new BART line is currently scheduled for completion by 2030.
On Dec. 1, the VTA board of directors will vote on whether to move forward with a plan to take legal possession of the two buildings against the will of the property owners. When private land is needed for public projects like transit systems or postal facilities, government agencies can sometimes force property owners to sell, a controversial process known as eminent domain.
If VTA takes this route, the buildings will be demolished to make space for BART infrastructure. The public transit agency claims it can’t build it anywhere else, but Landin, his neighbors and the building’s owners said the decision ignores alternative locations, and that the move will displace local gems and long-term residents, most of them people of color.
“We have 10 families that work with us,” Landin told San Jose Spotlight. “I’m worried about these families that might lose their jobs.”
A VTA representative argued the agency has spent years exploring every option for the structure, and while the move to forcibly buy the property was admittedly unpopular, other options could further delay the new BART line by several years, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions more.
“I appreciate that the owners are not happy,” said Ron Golem, director of real estate and transit-oriented development for VTA. “The reality is, you can’t do this in built-up areas without having some impact.”
Trying to negotiate terms
VTA has been in communication with the property owners, Mariam and Rehan Jalil, since 2017—when the agency first determined it would need to build on their land, Golem said. But when the public transit agency made a fair-market offer of $6 million on the property and attempted to inform the Jalils’ tenants of the relocation services available to them, the couple refused to cooperate.
The agency provides those displaced by eminent domain with agents that help them find new homes, as well as funding to cover moving costs and any rent increases for at least three and a half years, Golem said. Business owners can also apply for additional funding if the forced move ultimately devalues their businesses.
The Jalils told San José Spotlight they decided not to respond to VTA’s offer on principle. It’s home, they said—they and their tenants have been there for decades. When the couple asked VTA to explain why the agency couldn’t build on the lot next door, a courtyard without any buildings, representatives declined to provide an explanation, the couple said.
“They have not shared anything with us,” Rehan Jalil told San José Spotlight. “Somebody has to stand up and say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
Some local leaders have sided with the Jalils, saying they’re concerned VTA is moving too fast.
“It seems like there’s a number of other options that haven’t been explored,” said Scott Knies, executive consultant and former CEO of the San Jose Downtown Association. “If the VTA feels like they’ve explored them, they certainly haven’t shared them with the community.”
The agency privately offered to share a detailed version of its reasoning to the couple, Golem argued, but only if the Jalils agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement—a legal necessity due to the sensitive details in VTA’s plans. But the Jalils never responded to their offer, he said.
If the VTA board of directors votes to take the Jalils’ building, the agency will take possession of the property and continue negotiations with the owners, Golem said. If the couple continues to resist the takeover, a judge will decide the property’s fate.
“Our last choice is to go to court,” Golem said.
Even with the city’s relocation resources, ENSO owner Freddie Jackson said his bar’s location is key to maintaining the customer base he’s built since 2009. Moving would devastate his business of 20 employees, he said, including his two brothers.
“I’m supporting my family with this bar,” Jackson told San José Spotlight. “It feels like a punch in the mouth.”