San Jose flea market vendors start hunger strike ahead of vote on market's future

The San Jose City Council plans to vote on a proposed development project for the current site of the Berryessa Flea Market. Vendors staged a hunger strike, demanding that city leaders and developers protect them from being displaced by the new development.

The Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association said it's not backing down until a reasonable resolution is reached. Councilmember David Cohen, who represents District 4 where the flea market sits, said he's working toward a positive solution for all parties involved.

"We're going on a hunger strike, an indefinite hunger strike, until we are able to ensure that every single person here will be able to continue their business," said Roberto Gonzalez, head of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association.

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.

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.

Lam Nguyen, the spokesperson for Cohen, said they've pulled together a viable solution, working with the Bumb family, who owns the land, to get a least five acres for the vendors.

"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," Nguyen said.

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 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. He added that because the flea market is on private land, they really don't have any leverage in getting more acres.

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 that 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 without interruption," Gonzalez said.

"I completely understand the frustration and if I were them I wouldn’t trust the city either," said Nguyen.

Both councilmember Cohen's office and the vendors agree that the merchants' voice was not included in the rezoning plans.

The vendors want a 90-day delay in Tuesday's vote to provide more time for negotiations. And they won't back down until that happens.

"It’s not just me and my family stall that’s there. It’s thousands of families that work there, thousands of families that go to the market every weekend to have a good afternoon and that’s who we’re fighting for," Gonzalez said.