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Rezoning of San Jose business districts could displace retailers

Dozens of Spanish-speaking businesses in the bullseye of rezoning on Willow Street rallied to force the city to rethink its position.

Other business districts may not be so lucky.

San Jose officials are exploring land-use changes to four business districts: Willow Street, North 13th Street, Willow Glen and Taylor Street in Japantown. The city wants to redesign ethnically diverse business communities with multi-story apartments. This requires rezoning commercial neighborhoods to include residential construction.

Most of the businesses along Willow Street between Highway 87 and South First Street, known as Calle Willow to the locals, are Latino-speaking and lower-income. Residents worry the change in zoning will bring more expensive apartments, which will cause rents to rise and family businesses to be displaced or close.

“Right now this community is like a small city of Latino culture,” Miriam Raigoza, owner of Unlimited Barber Shop, told San José Spotlight through a Spanish interpreter. “The culture could change with this policy.”

Community organizers, business owners and nonprofits such as Sacred Heart Community Service rallied Wednesday along Calle Willow with signs asking supporters to save the neighborhood from being rezoned. Signs in Spanish urged the city to remove the neighborhood from the plans.

Colorful storefronts line Calle Willow. Photo courtesy of Rosalinda Aguilar.

“There’s a lot of concern about driving out low-income people who are already here, and also losing out on the cultural flavor of the neighborhood,” Brett Bymaster, executive director of Healing Grove Health Center, told San José Spotlight. The center sits just blocks from Calle Willow.

Bymaster pointed to an apartment building called The Neo, located at 975 S. First Street. “It’s expensive and those units haven’t been filled,” he said.

Willow Street is one example of how rezoning diverse neighborhood pockets could change the face of the city. Community meetings were held at Willow Street, North 13th Street, Lincoln Avenue and Taylor Street, where  residents and city officials offered different solutions for the maximum number of homes in each neighborhood.

Officials recommended the San Jose Planning Commission remove Calle Willow from consideration of any changes to its zoning after hearing from residents. The commission will vote on recommendations for each of the districts Nov. 10.

City officials are looking at the business districts along the north side of Taylor Street, and Willow Glen—along Lincoln Avenue between Coe and Minnesota avenues—to rezone and add between 50 to 65 housing units depending on lot size.

Calle Willow and the surrounding Guadalupe-Washington neighborhood have seen rapid change in the past few years as more tech workers move into the city.

The current density of the Calle Willow business district. Image courtesy of San Jose.

The neighborhood’s latest struggle with the influx of tech workers saw the impending painting over of a mural depicting Latino culture. The new owner of the building where the mural is painted wants to fill it with tech workers.

Some displacement could already be happening, according to some business owners. Maria Mendoza, owner of El Aguaje Agua Purificada located at 218 Willow Street, sells purified water. The building is in the process of being sold to another owner, which could mean higher rents.

“Please think of the community, the low-income community that lives here,” Mendoza told San José Spotlight in Spanish through an interpreter. “This policy will not only affect small business owners, but people living around here. Rents will be high.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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