Making It in the Bay

Housing Plans Could Force Berkeley Flea Market to Relocate

City of Berkeley, BART, and Berkeley Flea Market board discussing options in light of development proposed at Ashby station

NBC Universal, Inc.

The city of Berkeley and BART are looking to transform parking lots into homes to help ease the housing crisis. But their plans could require them to displace a long-running flea market.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, the Berkeley Flea Market will likely be asked to relocate so that this new housing can be built.

The flea market has been part of the community since the 1970s.

"This market has been here for the past 47 years," noted the market's General Manager Yasin Khan. "You know, it’s a landmark for Berkeley itself. Cause it's known worldwide."

Friday, Khan was working to prepare for the weekend's market. He explained that the market's board has been part of ongoing negotiations with BART and the city.

"And I cannot comment too much on it because we’re still in negotiations," Khan shared.

Khan did comment on the market itself, explaining that on a typical weekend the event can draw in as many as 100 vendors. He wants to see the market continue operating and believes many other people do as well.

"There are a lot of people who do business during the weekends and support their families from here, so it means a lot," he said of the market, noting that many people rely on the market for income.

"The homeless people come here, I give them stuff to sell, they are mostly disadvantaged people and they don’t pay nothing when they come and sell," Khan explained.

The details of the housing plan are still being worked out, but BART spokesperson Jim Allison explained that the two parking lots next to the Ashby station will be used for housing. Ultimately, the decision about this housing development will be up to Berkeley City Council.

"So we’re working with the city of Berkeley to find some options for the flea market in the future so that they can continue to operate and thrive because we recognize they’re an important part of the cultural fabric of Berkeley," Allison explained, noting that BART has had five meetings with the flea market board of directors.

Allison said he expects this fall or winter that BART will have some options for the future of the flea market to bring before the council. The City of Berkeley also noted that a vote for the zoning of these housing developments will go before the city council on June 2 and the council vote regarding the flea market will take place later this year.

"We are expecting we would have some options for the flea market that would be a permanent site, where they would have maybe even better amenities than they have now," Allison said.

Allison added that at least 35% of the housing at the Ashby station development would be affordable housing.

BART explained that the area the flea market takes up each weekend is about one-third of the area they have to build housing on the property, which means that to keep the flea market at its same location would mean having one-third fewer homes on the property. BART says that it expects this development will house at least 1,000 additional people.

Some people living and working nearby shared worries about how affordable this housing would actually be at a time when affordable housing in the area is more scarce than it used to be.

“Being a product of this city graduating out of Berkeley High, growing up around here, I’ve seen the need for housing, and I see the artistry around here as well,” said Keith Jacobs, who was working right across from the Ashby station on Friday. He worries that the construction of the new housing development could block off roads and be a hindrance to longtime businesses in the area.

"Everybody wants to help, it's not not-in-my-backyard, it's 'don’t push me out to help them,'" Jacobs said. "It’s a twist on it, you want to help, but you want to help together."

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín sent NBC Bay Area the following statement about the flea market:

"The City is committed to working with the Flea Market to secure a new location in the area. The Flea Market is an important institution that provides a historic link to our black communities which have called South Berkeley home for generations."

Community members can weigh in about the development proposed for the Ashby BART station through the El Cerrito-Berkeley Corridor Access Plan online survey. The survey is open through May 18.

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