The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has approved a plan to use its power of eminent domain to purchase two commercial buildings and residential buildings on Santa Clara Street as part of its staging area for the BART subway extension project.
The VTA says it needs to use eminent domain – the right of a government to take private property for public use by financially compensating the landowners for the fair market value – because of the urgency to meet its expected 2030 opening date for the BART extension through downtown San Jose.
The extension will be inside a tunnel, which means minimal disruption of existing buildings or traffic, but VTA said it needs to buy and demolish some structures to build an emergency exit and ventilation system.
The BART Silicon Valley Phase II Project will be “the largest single public infrastructure project ever constructed in Santa Clara County,” according to official VTA documents. It will extend BART service approximately six miles from the current Berryessa/North San Jose Station (opened in 2020), through Diridon Station to Santa Clara University, in Santa Clara.
Freddie Jones, owner of Enso Nightclub since 2008, said he is disappointed and frustrated by the lack of communication between VTA and businesses negatively affected by the BART construction..
“I've been in business there for 14 years now. I've been part of that bar for 21 years, said Jones. “It’s extremely disappointing to have that type of run come to an end, for something I felt like can be moved somewhere else, or it can be at least finalized plan wise before they started making these types of decisions.”
Jones said he’s being compensated $25,000 to move and reopen his business in another location.
“I live in a place where real estate is the highest on the planet,”he said.
Jones said he told VTA officials that ENSO nightclub is not for sale, which prompted the VTA eminent domain decision. He said it’s likely he will have to leave the state.
“I just don't want to move, so it's not like we're holding on for higher funds or waiting for this crazy payout,”said Jones. “I'd rather just work and be doing my thing. Like I've had a good run, and I don't want it to end like this. I’ve been successful in this corner, I'm good at what I do.”
Jones and his property owners proposed at the Dec. 1 meeting that VTA buy the building next door instead with its basketball court and courtyard available..
Ron Golem, Director of Real Estate and Transit-Oriented Development at VTA, argued against this approach, saying it would delay the opening of the BART extension through San Jose more than one year, requiring additional safety inspections and environmental review of the soil.
“It would make construction of the facility much more challenging, lengthen construction by 12 months, cause up to 24 months of project delay, and ... add up to $200 million to the cost of the BART Phase 2 extension,” said Golem in an email response to San Jose Inside.
Jones and his neighbors at Mexico Bakery questioned the necessity of demolishing locally owned small businesses to make way for mass transit.
“Acquisition of an office tower and demolishing it to build an emergency exit and ventilation facility would result in less public good and greater private injury, failing to meet the legal standard for eminent domain, and we expect a court would reject any such effort for that reason,” said Golem.
“The basketball court and amenity space to the north of ENSO. on North 3rd Street is needed in any scenario (including one described below) as a construction staging area for the emergency egress and ventilation facility,” he said.
This is not the first time VTA has taken land for a tunnel project for public transportation needs. In the 80s’ VTA bought sections of San Jose’s downtown business district using eminent domain to build the light rail system.
“We're a little guy on the block. So here we are,” said Jones.