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COVID Recovery: East San Jose Neighborhood Calls On City To Buy Vacant Storefronts To Aid Struggling Businesses

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- A plan to revitalize one San Jose neighborhood hit hard by COVID-19 has a unique twist: Get the city to buy up vacant storefronts to help struggling businesses get back on their feet.

"This was one of our favorite hangouts. Some of the best menudo, and they're gone. They couldn't make it," said Jesse Haro, in front of a boarded up Mexican restaurant.

Haro, of the Alum Rock Village Action Committee, can go up and down Alum Rock Avenue talking about all the stores and restaurants in this neighborhood business district that have closed or are in danger of closing because of the pandemic.

"A lot of the businesses in the village, they are immigrant businesses and have really been struggling," he told KPIX 5.

Now, his group has come up with plan to revitalize the area.

East San Jose Boarded Up Businesses
A boarded up restaurant in East San Jose. (CBS)

"What we are proposing is that the City of San Jose purchase these empty buildings and then turn around and make these buildings available to small businesses, here in East San Jose," said Rolando Bonilla, who is both a local entrepreneur and a member of the San Jose Planning Commission.

Bonilla said the plan could be a win-win if San Jose then rents to businesses at lower than market rate.

"We're not asking the city to give us a handout," he said. "We're asking them to strategically invest out tax dollars to buy assets that are going to continue appreciating in value," he said.

The city has done similar deals in the past, including investing $6 million in San Pedro Square downtown.

Neighbors say the neighborhood could use the help.

"It needs to be more community-oriented, I guess you could say that, because I don't see a lot of that here," said Adamari Preciado.

Bonilla said this area, where many frontline workers live, paid a higher price than most during the pandemic.

"And now we're asking the city to step up, make an investment, the way we made an investment in sustaining the rest of the city and the rest of the region," he said.

Mayor Sam Liccardo's office is mulling the idea but did not have a comment. A spokesperson said the city is facing hard times of its own with a $40 million budget deficit this year.

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