Exercise in futility
Farmers’ market still in limbo, opportunity is lost
When it was all over, six City Council members sat slumped in their chairs, looking tired and discouraged. After discussing the future of the Saturday Chico Certified Farmers’ Market until late in the evening Tuesday (May 7), they’d accomplished nothing and lost a good opportunity in the bargain.
At issue was a Finance Committee recommendation to approve an extension of the market’s franchise agreement. In return for a two-year lease, the CCFM board of directors had agreed to pay $16,000 for sewer and power lines to be extended to the market’s site at Municipal Parking Lot 1. (Cal Water already has extended water lines to the site.)
It was a one-time opportunity that would take advantage of the downtown couplet project to bring in the lines at a reduced cost and replace the sometimes-gross current portable toilets with temporary bathrooms connected to the sewer lines.
Some downtown business owners are convinced the market cuts into their sales by taking up parking spaces and thus discouraging people from coming downtown to shop on Saturdays, which should be their biggest day of the week, they say. They want the market either to move to another site or—a recent proposal—switch to Sundays.
“Businesses are closing downtown,” Nancy Lindahl, owner of Zucchini & Vine, told the council. “This is more of an emergency than you’re willing to consider.”
Market representatives, on the other hand, are convinced that many of the hordes of people it attracts stay downtown after visiting the market, whether to shop or eat. They cite a Chico State study done several years ago that found the market is good for downtown businesses.
The parking lot at City Hall has often been mentioned as a possible alternative location, but the CCFM reps said it wouldn’t work. The parking bays are too short to handle both vendors’ tables and their supply vehicles, and overall the lot can accommodate fewer vendors than the current site.
In addition, said Kurt Albrecht, the CCFM’s treasurer, city officials have said City Hall’s restrooms are off limits for security reasons, so the site offers no advantages in that regard.
Mayor Mary Goloff urged everyone to do what was best for the community, but nobody knew what that was. For Goloff, it was for the market either to move to the City Hall lot or switch to Sundays. “I’m appalled that people are unwilling to try something different,” she said.
Councilman Randall Stone, on the other hand, thought the market’s current location was a done deal, and that the task was to figure out how to make it work.
Councilman Sean Morgan responded by charging that the CCFM had not been flexible and had “nixed every idea” put forth to resolve the matter. He thought switching to Sundays was the best option: “If they’re willing to go to Sunday, we can do this right now,” he said.
But the CCFM hadn’t had time to consult its members about that. Some members said many customers would rather go to church than shopping, and others said many vendors were committed to markets elsewhere on Sundays.
In the end, the council failed to approve the franchise extension, tying at 3-3 (Morgan, Mark Sorensen and Goloff opposed), with Ann Schwab recusing herself because she owns a downtown business. The various groups were no closer to resolution than before and had lost the opportunity to put in the sewer and power lines at a reduced cost.
In other council news: The council took some flak when it was announced that a Rancho Cucamonga firm had been chosen to do its audits for the next three years. Leslie Thole, COO of venerable local firm Matsom & Isom Accountancy, said the council’s failure to “buy local” meant the money—around $300,000—wouldn’t stay in the community. Council members nevertheless voted unanimously to hire Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co. for three years but also to develop a way of weighting locality in making future picks.