Farmers rebel

Saturday farmers’-market debate continues

Richard Coon, chairman of the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market Board of Directors.

Richard Coon, chairman of the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market Board of Directors.

file photo by christine G.K. lapado-breglia

The Chico Certified Farmers Market has given notice to the city that it will not participate in a recently formed commission to address issues surrounding the Saturday-morning downtown farmers’ market.

For years, some downtown business owners have cited the market as a detriment to their Saturday business because, they say, its location on the city parking lot at Wall and Second streets between 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. denies parking opportunities for potential business customers.

At the June 18 City Council meeting, the matter was discussed and it was determined that a group would be formed to find solutions to the conflict. The council, at the suggestion of City Manager Brian Nakamura, also considered passing a motion to not renew the market’s yearly franchise agreement when it expired at the end of the year in an effort to get the matter resolved quickly. After two hours of input from the public, Councilman Scott Gruendl made a motion to form an ad-hoc group, and the council extended the franchise agreement to Dec. 31, 2014.

On July 2, Richard Coon, chairman of the CCFM’s Board of Directors, wrote an email to Nakamura asking him about the group.

“Perhaps I’m overly optimistic (especially in this heat!), but I think that the sooner we start forming our ‘Downtown Working Group’ and start working, the better,” Coon wrote. “I am still hopeful that with good communication between all of the concerned parties we can actually reach some mutually satisfactory conclusions.”

Nakamura responded the same day with a list of suggested members for the group.

“We have put a list together and I was going to contact you early next week, after the 4th of July, to ask if you thought there might be others who should and would participate,” he wrote. “At this point, the list consists of Farmers’ Market representatives, parking advocates, downtown business owners, Chamber and DCBA representatives and others.”

The actual list comprises: Coon, chair of the CCFM board; Katie Simmons, president and CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce; Melanie Bassett, director of the Downtown Chico Business Association; Mike Trolinder, a local business owner who often weighs in on parking matters at public meetings; Nancy Lindahl, owner of Zucchini & Vine and longtime critic of the market; Tom Hall, owner of the Garden Walk Mall, which houses of a number of businesses whose owners have also voiced opposition to the market’s current location; Greg Massa, owner of Massa Organics; Jamie Johansson, owner of Lodestar Farms; Kurt Albrecht of Chaffin Family Orchards; and LaDona Knigge, an associate professor at Chico State who, with students, conducted an economic and parking survey in 2009 with results indicating downtown businesses are not negatively impacted by the market’s location.

Nakamura wrote in his email that time was of the essence in the matter: “City staff agrees that this effort needs to start now as a deadline of December 2014 sounds like it’s far off, but it really is not and we look forward to very rewarding and positive outcomes.”

But Satuday-market supporters, including a group called Friends of the Farmers’ Market, are now questioning the process. The market’s Board of Directors sent a letter on July 9 addressed to Mayor Mary Goloff and Nakamura that basically said the market would not take part in discussions under the proposed conditions. With the franchise agreement set to expire at the end of next year, the letter says, there’s nothing to keep the group members who oppose the market from stalling on any action until the lease runs out.

“Quite frankly,” the letter says, “the ‘commission’ that you have proposed seems simply like a ‘U-Haul’ commission formed to provide an air of legitimacy for the Mayor’s previously stated desire to evict the CCFM from its current location. Regretfully, as it now stands, the CCFM can have no part whatsoever in such a mockery, and will not be able to participate in your current ‘commission.’”

The letter asks that the city rescind the City Council motion to end the franchise agreement at the end of next year, form a commission based on applicants chosen by the council, and pledge to respect the findings of the group regardless of the outcome.

Goloff said she was surprised by the letter.

“We are not proposing we outlaw the farmers’ market,” she said, “We’re looking for a willingness on everybody’s part to enter into a discussion on what is best overall.”

She said she does not think the council should be involved in picking who is in the group:

“It sounds like [the market supporters] are not willing to engage in civil discourse.”