Jose Landin has co-owned the downtown Mexico Bakery location since 2003, and the chain has become a staple of the San Jose food scene. But this beloved place, and several of Landin’s neighbors, could soon be gone.
That’s because VTA plans to build a ventilation system and emergency exit for the upcoming downtown San Jose BART station on the site of the bakery, ENSO Bar and Night Club and 10 residential tenants. The new BART line is currently scheduled for completion in 2030.
On December 1, the VTA board of directors will vote on whether to go ahead with a plan to take legal possession of the two buildings against the will of the owners. When private land is needed for public projects like transit systems or postal facilities, government agencies can sometimes force owners to sell, a controversial process known as eminent domain.
If VTA takes this route, the buildings will be demolished to make room for the BART infrastructure. The transit agency says it can’t build it anywhere else, but Landin, her neighbors and the building’s owners said the decision ignores alternative locations and the move will displace local gems and long-term residents, the most of them people of color. .
“We have 10 families that work with us,” Landin told San Jose Spotlight. “I worry about these families who could lose their jobs.”
A VTA representative argued that the agency has spent years exploring all options for the structure, and while the decision to forcefully purchase the property was certainly unpopular, other options could further delay the new BART line by several years, making it that would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions more.
“I appreciate that the owners are not happy,” said Ron Golem, VTA’s director of real estate and transit-oriented development. “The reality is that you can’t do this in built-up areas without having some impact.”
Trying to negotiate the terms
VTA has been in communication with the owners, Mariam and Rehan Jalil, since 2017, when the agency first determined it would need to build on their land, Golem said. But when the transit agency made a fair market offer of $6 million for the property and attempted to inform the Jalils’ tenants of relocation services available to them, the couple refused to cooperate.
The agency provides eminent-domain-displacees with agents who help them find new homes, as well as funds to cover moving costs and any rent increases for at least three and a half years, Golem said. Business owners can also apply for additional financing if the forced move ultimately devalues their businesses.
The Jalils told San José Spotlight that they decided not to respond to VTA’s offer on principle. It is your home, they said; they and their tenants have been there for decades. When the couple asked VTA to explain why the agency couldn’t build a yard with no buildings on the lot next door, the representatives declined to provide an explanation, the couple said.
“They have not shared anything with us,” Rehan Jalil told San José Spotlight. “Someone has to stand up and say, ‘Why are you doing this?'”
Some local leaders have sided with the Jalils, saying they are concerned that VTA is moving too fast.
“It seems like there are a number of other options that haven’t been explored,” said Scott Knies, executive consultant and former CEO of the Downtown San Jose Association. “If VTA feels they’ve explored them, they certainly haven’t shared them with the community.”
The agency privately offered to share a detailed version of its reasoning with the couple, Golem argued, but only if the Jalils agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement, a legal necessity due to the sensitive details in VTA’s plans. But the Jalils never responded to his offer, he said.
If the VTA board of directors votes to take the building from Jalils, the agency will take possession of the property and continue negotiations with the owners, Golem said. If the couple continues to resist the takeover, a judge will decide the fate of the property.
“Our last option is to go to court,” Golem said.
Even with the city’s relocation resources, ENSO owner Freddie Jackson said his bar’s location is key to maintaining the customer base he’s built since 2009. Moving would devastate his business of 20 employees, he said, including his two brothers.
“I’m supporting my family with this bar,” Jackson told San José Spotlight. “It feels like a punch in the mouth.”
Contact Brian Howey at [email protected] either @SteelandLastre On twitter.