Déjà vu

It’s only been a few years since a survey showed the farmers’ market helps downtown

One of my new jobs as editor of the CN&R is compiling and editing letters to the editor. I love the letters section. I always have. It’s fascinating to read what people think about something, and there are times when certain issues just won’t die. This week, for example, I received yet another letter about the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market. I couldn’t fit it into the print paper, but it’s running online.

We have had letters about the CCFM each week for the last month, ever since the City Council came to a stalemate vote on whether or not to extend the market’s lease of its home on a city parking lot. A majority of those letters have come from residents who say the market should stay at Second and Wall streets.

The council doesn’t surprise me too often, but its recent decision caught me off guard. In fact, I’m still trying to figure it out. Extending the lease would have allowed the market to provide its customers and vendors with better restroom facilities. The only reasonable conclusion is that the three council members who voted nay want the market to move to another location. Two of the no voters, Mark Sorensen and freshman Councilman Sean Morgan, weren’t on the dais for the last major debate on the market back in 2009, but Mary Goloff, now in her second term and mayor, should be experiencing some major déjà vu.

Back then it was the same old argument: A handful of downtown businesses said their customers avoid shopping on Saturday because the market takes up too much parking. Some presented anecdotal evidence to back up their claims. They did so again recently.

The thing is, the council has already received quantifiable data showing that the market draws 3,000 to 3,500 people downtown each Saturday and that a majority of them (two-thirds) shopped or were planning to shop elsewhere downtown. Two-thirds said the market was their main reason for coming downtown. Moreover, 88 percent said they didn’t have a difficult time parking.

Those stats from 2009 are out of the classrooms of Chico State professors LaDona Knigge and Richard Gitleson, whose students spent 90 hours conducting the survey. It was done for free, but that doesn’t mean it’s not legitimate. Back in 2008, Chico State students, under the direction of a professor, conducted an audit of the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions. It cost $30,000 and will aid the city in its state-mandated goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Discussion on the market is on the council’s next agenda (see Downstroke, page 8). The council members should reacquaint themselves with the market survey and take it into consideration regarding any future action, especially as it relates to the economic viability of downtown. If the market’s lease isn’t renewed for its current location, CCFM vendors could decide to vacate the region entirely, and opt instead for, say, a parking lot at a private strip-mall on the other side of Chico. Based on the survey, that would be disastrous for downtown. Now is not the time to take that gamble.