$2 million deal offered for San Jose Flea Market vendors facing displacement

A grassroots effort led by San Jose Flea Market vendors to preserve the historic 61-year-old swap meet — and the livelihoods of the hundreds of sellers who rely on it — is on the verge of hitting pay dirt.

Just hours before dozens of people took part in a “Justice for Vendors” march on Thursday, San Jose Councilmember David Cohen informed vendor representatives a deal was in the works to try and keep them afloat if the City Council approves development plans that would eventually close the current market.

As part of the deal, the owners of the market, the Bumb family, have agreed to set aside five acres in the new housing and office development for a new market and to set up a $2 million fund to cover vendors’ moving expenses and any immediate income losses from the original market’s closure.

“It has always been important to me to find a space at the new development for a new market, and it’s honestly an area that had really been left unresolved from past council decisions over the past 15 years,” Cohen, who represents the district that encompasses the market, said in an interview. “I feel like we’re making good progress.”

The years-in-the-making plan to transform the 61.5-acre Flea Market site — known as La Pulga to many Latino residents — into an urban, transit-centered neighborhood with apartment complexes and office buildings adjacent to San Jose’s Berryessa BART station goes to the City Council for a vote on June 22.

If the plan is approved, the property owners have agreed to:

  • Contribute $2 million to create a “vendor business transition fund” to offset vendors’ expenses or income losses stemming from the current market’s closure
  • Match up to $500,000 any additional community contributions made to the fund
  • Create a five-acre urban market within the new development with stall rents “comparable to other open-air markets in the Bay Area”
  • Give current vendors the first shot for spots at the new market
  • Issue at least one year’s notice before the current market is actually closed

Though much smaller in scale, the agreement somewhat mirrors the parameters in the $200 million community benefits package offered by Google in exchange for its recently-approved transit-oriented village on the western edge of downtown San Jose.

The fund will be controlled by an advisory group made up of city staff, vendors and flea market representatives. The Bumb family will provide $200,000 within 120 days of the project’s approval and the remaining $1.8 million when the one-year closure notice to vendors is issued.

Roberto Gonzalez, president of the Vendors Association, said at Thursday’s march that he was “feeling hopeful” but wanted more time to ensure everyone was “seeing eye to eye.”

“We hope we can walk out of this and be proud of protecting vendors and for bringing the ‘Pulga 2.0’ to the city and making it a huge landmark here — not just for the vendors but for the whole community,” he said.

Though they generally like the deal as presented, the vendors and their supporters have asked Cohen to delay the redevelopment vote 90 days so it can be fine-tuned.

“The city and the Bumb family today are basically starting what Google started three years ago, so both parties need the time to get this right,” said Alex Shoor, executive director of Catalyze SV, a nonprofit that advocates for more community engagement in development.

For six decades, San Jose Flea Market has offered hundreds of immigrants and Bay Area residents like Gonzales’ family an opportunity to make a living while providing visitors and community members with a lively destination to bargain for affordable goods.

Juan Ruiz, 41, of San Jose, has worked at La Pulga selling rosaries and traditional Mexican clothing for more than 20 years. Ruiz said if he is unable to secure a spot at the new market, he’s not sure what he’ll do with his business and the goods he’s acquired over the years.

“I’m scared because right now with the coronavirus and everything I still have money through the market,” Ruiz said in an interview. “But if that closes, I have to figure it out to pay for (my daughters’) schools and to pay for everything else. I can’t pay for storage. I can’t pay for my own store. Life is really expensive here in San Jose.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – June 03: San Jose Flea Market vendor Juan Ruiz, right, and his daughters Giselle, 17, left, and Sofia, 11, listen to a speaker during a rally at San Jose City Hall on Thursday, June 3, 2021, in San Jose, Calif. The San Jose Flea Market vendors and community organizers are asking for the developer to provide them with financial assistance and other protections before redeveloping the property and turning into a new mixed-use neighborhood next to the Berryessa BART station. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

George Bumb Sr. founded the San Jose Flea Market in 1960, and his family has owned the property ever since.

But in 2007, when the concept of extending BART to San Jose was still in its early stages, the Bumb family asked the city to rezone their property so it could be transformed into a dense urban neighborhood directly adjacent to what is now the Berryessa BART station.

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