SAN JOSE (BCN/CBS SF) — Berryessa Flea Market vendors started a hunger strike on Monday, demanding San Jose leaders and developers protect vendors from being displaced by new development.

The strike comes a day before the San Jose City Council votes on rezoning plans that would force the closure of two-thirds of the Berryessa Flea Market, to allow for the development of tech offices, apartments and retail near transit – known as the Berryessa BART Urban Village.

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The 430 vendors, who are largely immigrant and family-operated vendors, have relied on the operations of the market since it opened more than 60 years ago. They worry the development will permanently close all the vendors.

“It’s not about land. It’s not about money,” said Chava Bustamante, a vendor supporter and hunger strike participant. “It is about dignity. Dignity for the vendors and their families to make sure that they have the ability to make a living.”

Hunger strikers hope to gain leverage from City Hall to help determine own their futures and fortunes.

“What we’re asking for is a process that we could trust in, put in our input and make sure that our voices are actually heard,” said President of the Flea Market Vendors Association Roberto Gonzalez.

This is because the 3.4 million square foot urban development project would shrink the flea market’s land from 15 to 5 acres.

The Bumb family, which owns the land, has promised to not evict any vendors before the current flea market closes and to give families a one-year notice before they are expected to leave. This means warnings could be issued no earlier than July 1, 2023.

The Bumb family also would contribute $2.5 million to support vendors with relocation costs. About $500,000 will go out in October and the additional $2 million dispersed at the one-year closing mark.

“This transit village has been in the works for 20 years,” said Erik Schoennauer, a land use consultant and spokesperson for the flea market.

But vendors want a plan from the city to preserve their livelihood and the future of the flea market, known as La Pulga.

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During a Friday protest at San Jose City Hall Plaza, vendors called on the city to defer the Tuesday vote for 90 days, allowing the city to mediate negotiations between the Bumb family and vendors.

“So far from what we have heard of the city, they are throwing their hands in the air and saying we have done all we can do and this is the best you are going to get so shut up and take it,” a vendor said in a video posted on the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association’ Twitter page. “But we are not going to take it.”

The open air Flea Market began in 1960, and has evolved into a remarkable small business incubator.

Many immigrant Latino and Asian families turned their tiny stalls into financial success stories.

“Being at the Flea Market has allowed our business to give education to my husband and my kids,” said second-generation vendor Alma Jacobo.

Through those negotiations, the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association hopes to create a community benefits plan with the Bumbs, more land and financial assistance to recreate the Flea Market, assistance for impacted vendors and a process that centers vendors in planning for the future of the community-owned Flea Market.

The project under consideration Tuesday is zoned to include roughly 365,000 square feet of commercial space and 2,800 residential units — rezoning a 61.5-acre portion of the site for up to 3.4 million square feet of commercial space and up to 3,450 homes.

“Join the group and let’s work together to work on detailed plans for the future urban market,” Schoennauer said.
But vendors worry that the plan is already a done deal and that most of them would be squeezed out of the re-imagined and smaller marketplace.
“We’ve been talking a lot in the last few years about equity.  Where is the equity for these vendors if they are going to be displaced?” asked Chava Bustamante.

On Tuesday, lawmakers will also consider creating a Flea Market Advisory Group, which will have vendor representation, to plan how money will be allocated to vendors and how vendors will be offered a new spot.

The Tuesday meeting will begin at 11 a.m. and can be accessed via zoom at https://sanjoseca.zoom.us/j/91325378626.

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