Vendors worried about the future of the San Jose flea market were hit on 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 part of the flea market site located on Berryessa Road near the freeway 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 only one to vote against. Commissioner Mariel Caballero was absent.
“I don’t see the benefit of all of these paycheck protection programs and stimulus programs if we turn around and move small business owners right now,” Garcia said, “especially when the dust has not yet settled from the pandemic. “
Commissioners on Wednesday reviewed a plan that has been in the works for more than two decades to transform the beloved flea market site into a multi-unit housing and shopping hub. If approved by city council, the plan will reduce the flea market footprint from about 15 acres to 5 acres.
Rolando Bonilla, vice-chairman of the commission, noted that compromises have been made between developers and sellers, and that plans for the market may still be considered by San Jose City Council.
“We have the option of sending something to City Council that we heard when we started this conversation,” Bonilla said.
The commission’s recommendation does not guarantee approval of the project. City Council will vote at a later date to approve or deny construction of the project.
Commissioners requested that a construction schedule be included for consideration by council.
Market representatives and council member David Cohen, whose district includes the market, reached an agreement on May 5 to establish 3.5 acres for an urban market at 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, meaning sellers will either have to downsize or find a new location. The current flea market site spans 61 acres, of which approximately 46 acres are used for parking. There are approximately 430 vendors who collectively rent approximately 750 booths.
Erik Schoennauer, a land use lobbyist who is the project representative, said under the proposed plan, streets along an open plaza would close on weekends to expand the market area.
“With all of these approaches, we should be able to accommodate most 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,” Manuel Rivera said through a Spanish translator. Rivera said he has been working with his sister at the flea market since 1978. “Now the space is going to be too small. What will happen to the people who have been here for generations?
Several residents said they had worked in the market for decades and depended on it for a steady income to support their families and send their children to college. They said they feared the project would deprive future families of this opportunity.
“Take into consideration the situation we find ourselves in now and the number of families that will be unemployed depending on what you decide,” said Lidia Landa, who spoke through Spanish translation.
Representatives of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, an advocacy group that represents market vendors, drew up the plan.
“We ask the Planning Commission to recommend the rejection of the deeply flawed and inequitable plan,” Roberto Gonzalez told the San José Spotlight on Wednesday. Gonzalez is a flea market vendor and president of the vendors association.
The association’s demands include an economic back-up plan for all vendors if the construction of the development disrupts businesses, rent-controlled vendor stalls, calls for the daily flea market operations to be handled by the association , considerations for racial equity and business training for current and potential suppliers.
“We also need to not only balance the economic concerns of sellers, but we also need to balance the fact that this is private property,” Bonilla said. “It was always about bringing people together. “
Several Berryessa residents and housing advocates have spoken out in favor of the project, saying it will bring affordable housing, job opportunities and economic growth to the area.
“The Bay Area is experiencing a severe 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, good for the environment and good for San Jose.”
Berryessa resident Kevin Pan touted the new jobs the project could potentially bring. He, along with several nearby residents, said rejection of the plan would continue with problems with parking and noise pollution around residential areas next to the flea market.
“If we don’t build the urban village, why did we spend the money to build a BART? Pan asked. “We have Safeway and CVS, we don’t really need a flea market. I understand that sellers are having difficulty, but what about residents? “
San Jose City Council will meet at a later date to consider the contract proposal.
“You don’t take into account that the flea market is a historic place for California,” seller Daniel Luna said in Spanish translation. “What you’re doing is pretty much erasing it from the map, erasing culture as well.”
Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.