VTA moves ahead to seize key downtown San Jose sites for BART project

SAN JOSE — Officials are moving to seize key downtown San Jose sites for future BART facilities — but some business entrepreneurs claim a transit agency has failed to be transparent in the byzantine process.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has approved what is officially called a “resolution of necessity” — in reality the first step to seize crucial properties — as part of the future construction of a BART project to extend the rail line beneath downtown San Jose.

Among the properties involved: a retail, restaurant and residential building with addresses consisting of 91 and 97 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose.

The VTA’s 11-0 vote clears the way for the transit agency to negotiate with property owners, commercial tenants and residential renters in the mixed-use building — and to ultimately evict the occupants before the building is bulldozed for the BART project.

Downtown San Jose parcels that are the location of buildings at 91 and 97 E. Santa Clara St., shown within the outline. Boundaries are approximate. (Google Maps)

Miriam Jalil, a principal executive with Goldrock Holdings, an entity that owns two properties that face seizure by the VTA, said she was dismayed that the VTA approved the first step in a process to take ownership of the real estate and displace the tenants in the buildings on two parcels that Goldrock owns.

“I’m very disappointed with this decision,” Jalil said in an interview with this news organization after the VTA’s vote Thursday night. “I am disappointed in the process and the lack of transparency and fairness. We expect fairness from government officials and we did not receive that.”

Jalil claims the VTA is using inaccurate valuations for properties needed for BART’s Downtown San Jose station. Jalil asserts that VTA miscalculations, in her view, have created a flawed foundation for an eminent domain proceeding so the transit agency can grab the properties.

The business tenants that potentially would be displaced if the VTA completes its quest to take ownership of the parcels include Enso Bar and Nightclub, Mexico Bakery, and 3rd and Bourbon restaurant. Tenants who live in eight residential units above the commercial spaces will be forced to find new homes.

“We know that we are affecting people and their livelihoods,” Ron Golem, VTA’s director of real estate and transit-oriented development, said during a presentation ahead of the vote to approve the agency’s attempt to seize the properties.

The VTA is seeking the sites, as well as an adjacent surface lot with a basketball court and other ground-level amenities, to accommodate the construction and operation of ventilation and emergency access components for BART’s Downtown San Jose Station.

Jalil is perplexed because she and some of her tenants believe it would be easier for the VTA to use parcels adjacent to her property as well as next to a pair of office towers on the same block for the emergency access and ventilation facilities.

If VTA uses the surface lots, Jabil reasons, the transit agency wouldn’t have to flatten her properties and evict her tenants.

Now that the VTA has approved a resolution of necessity for the properties, the transit agency is expected to engage in talks with the owners of the three lots that the agency seeks to own.

Jalil says she also has documents that show the VTA has given preferential treatment in property values to the real estate investment firm that owns adjacent office towers at 75 E. Santa Clara St. and 4 N. Second St. as well as surface lots next to the highrises.

“The way we have been treated from the beginning, there has been unfairness and a lack of transparency,” Jalil said. “We expect the VTA and government officials to honestly represent the right information.”

Golem believes the VTA has acted fairly in its treatment of the Jalil-led property owners and the tenants in the buildings that could face the wrecking ball.

When asked by a VTA board member whether the agency’s staff has treated the Jalil group and its tenants unfairly, Golem replied, “absolutely not.”

Golem says the VTA will do all it can to assist the property owners and the tenants when they are obliged to exit the buildings.

“We really do make an effort to beat the bushes” to help businesses find new locations when they are displaced by transit projects, Golem said.

But some of the tenants in the 91-97 E. Santa Clara buildings believe that the emergency access and ventilation components could be built on the adjacent courtyard behind their sites.

“I have committed decades of my life to building and supporting this minority-owned business in this location in downtown San Jose,” Freddie Jackson, owner of the Enso nightclub, wrote in a letter to the VTA. “If VTA moves its emergency exit just a bit into the courtyard lot, we can save the entire building full of tenants.”

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