Would-be buyers examine the offerings of vendor booths at the Santo Tomas Swap Meet in Calexico on June 30.
After more than 40 years the once-popular marketplace closed for good at the end of the day. If offered thousands of items at prices often lower than brick-and-mortar stores but a fire in December and a subsequent dispute with city officials over
alleged code violations spelled its doom. | MARIO CONDE PHOTO
CALEXICO — Calexico city officials are apparently working behind the scenes with at least one representative of the closed Santo Tomas Swap Meet to either reopen the facility within three months “or get something new there,” it has been learned.
Council Member Morris
Reisen said during a brief interview Dec. 16 the location’s former general
manager, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, has been working with Assistant City Manager
Miguel Figueroa on several options for the site at 1102 V.V. Williams Ave. They
include reopening or new retail stores
Those efforts have the
blessing of property owners, the Martinez family, Reisen added.
“He’s working on it.
We’re going to give our part. We’re going to do more,” Reisen said, referring
to the city’s efforts to be more accommodating to working with the Gonzalez and
the Martinez family.
“I’d rather have the swap
meet back than apartments. … I feel really bad they weren’t open for this
Christmas,” he added.
It was a Dec. 8, 2018,
fire that closed Santo Tomas intermittently until the owners shut it down for
good in June amid allegations of fire and safety code violations. The fire
cause was found to be faulty electrical wiring.
Neither Gonzalez nor Figueroa
could be immediately reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Calexico Mayor
Bill Hodge announced recently he and Reisen were forming a special committee
addressing issues regarding the outdoor marketplace’s closure. The city has
faced regular criticism from former swap meet vendors over its role in the
Hodge, who revealed the
effort at a Dec. 9 council meeting, also could not be reached for comment.
Reisen said he and Hodge
wanted the special committee on the agenda for the council’s Dec. 18 meeting,
but added Figueroa talked them out of it because of the ongoing discussions
between the Figueroa and Gonzalez.
Not realizing the city
and Gonzalez were in some sort of talks, Calexico City Manager David Dale was
asked during an interview Dec. 13 whether a new committee addressing lingering
Santo Tomas issues was keeping open an old wound.
“It’s not a dead issue.
If they want to reopen Santo Tomas, they will need to submit a plan and get it
approved by the (project review committee),” Dale said.
“We are still open to
this as we have been from the beginning, and even during the trials and
negotiations,” he added. “It was the ownership who decided that they did not
feel it was a viable financial investment to bring the site up to code and
In trying to assist Santo
Tomas operators in reopening, Reisen said he wants the council to give more
“leeway,” including not requiring a $5 million surety bond to reopen, something
that had been required by the city during its first round of negotiations with
Santo Tomas prior to its closure.
Reisen said Dec. 16 he
and Hodge have been joined by Council Member David Romero in their support of
the special committee.
Support Not Unanimous
Not all council members
seem to be so enthusiastic about the committee, though. When contacted about
Hodge’s Dec. 9 announcement, Lewis Pacheco said he was confused by the point of
continuing to address Santo Tomas-related issues.
“It was a little strange
of an announcement. I don’t know what to think about it,” Pacheco said during a
Dec. 16 interview. “I really don’t know what those council members are
considering or thinking or generating meetings for.”
Pacheco said the primary
concern should be making sure the code violations are corrected before anything
“A lot of issues need to
be addressed. It needs more than just wishful thinking … there are more steps
to deal with it,” he said. “I was a little surprised to hear that (Hodge’s
Reisen said the committee
had not met as of Dec. 16, but that he had a planned meeting with Gonzalez on
the afternoon of Dec. 19. Reisen said he would talk about the contents of the
meetings after it occurred.
Reisen also did not
mention how the vendors might be involved in any special committee discussions,
something Hodge said would be part of the meetings.
It isn’t known how many
vendors were left out of work by the closure, but a number of them opened local
storefronts. Others reportedly opened in Mexicali, several relocated to the
Calexico In-door Swap Meet at Grant Street and Cesar Chavez Boulevard and
others moved to the Las Palmas swap meet on Ollie Avenue.
More than 20 vendors were
part of a claim against the city for lost wages that was rejected by the city
in August. An attorney for the vendors said at the time of the rejection his
law firm was still weighing whether it would file a lawsuit against the city.
The filing deadline would be in mid-January, attorney David Vassalli of Walter
Clark Legal Group of Rancho Mirage has said.
Hodge’s special committee
announcement was made during council member reports Dec. 9.
“This ad hoc committee’s
purpose is to (one) … foster a positive relationship between the city, Santo
Tomas owners and vendors; two, to act in good faith to address current
grievances or issues, and try to correct them; and three, to examine and
understand the new swap meet ordinance,” the mayor said.
“These are just a few
purposes, and there will be many more. We’ll be contacting certain individuals
about this ad hoc committee,” Hodge continued.