San Jose flea market vendors begin hunger strike ahead of city council development vote

Berryessa Flea Market vendors started a hunger strike on Monday, demanding city leaders and developers protect vendors from being displaced by new development. 

The strike started a day before the San Jose City Council voted 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. 

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. 

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

"It’s unfortunate that they feel that the solution that we were able to come up with was not adequate. But, it hasn’t changed our level of urgency at all," said Lam Nguyen. 

Councilmember David Cohen represents the district the flea market sits in, Nguyen, a spokesperson for the councilman, says they've worked hard to come up with a positive solution. 

Councilmember Cohen's office has been working the Bumb family, who owns the land, to get at least five acres for the vendors. 

"The original entitlement for the land use itself does not require the Bumb family in any way to have a flea market space at all," Nguyen said..

Because the space is private land, Nguyen says they don't have much leverage in negotiations with developers.

The Bumb family 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.

But, the vendors say five acres of land and a $2.5 million relocation budget is just not enough to keep the market's culture in San Jose nor is it enough to keep the vendors afloat.  

"They’re offering $2.5 million split up between 450 to 500 vendors it would be roughly $4,000 per vendor that wouldn’t get us through, I don’t even think, two months of business interruption," said Roberto Gonzalez, vendor and president of the Berryessa flea market. 

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

"We sit on 38 acres right now, all of the stalls. So, to believe that in five acres were able to fit all of that and keep the culture that is La Pula, or the Flea Market, intact needs the necessary time and studies and analysis to be able to bring that same culture to any new market that would be proposed," Gonzalez said. 

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." 

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.

The vendors held a press conference to announce the hunger strike at noon Monday at San Jose City Hall Plaza, 200 E. Santa Clara St.

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