Fees and fairness

Proposed farmers’ market rent hike shows city needs a big-picture policy

There have been several realizations gleaned in the wake of news last week that the city Finance Committee, a subcommittee of the City Council, had proposed that the Chico Certified Farmers Market pay $13,750 annually for its use of a city parking lot every Saturday.

One realization is that, at $144 a year, the market is now getting a really good deal. And that money doesn’t even go to the city; it goes to the Downtown Chico Business Association for its improvement program.

Another is that, while $13,750 seems like a lot of money, it comes out to only $5.50 per vendor per week. Vendors already pay $25 per week to the CCFM, which organizes and publicizes the Saturday market and has a paid director.

A fourth realization—and this may be the most important one—is that there is no consistency in the amounts the city charges groups for use of its property. The $5.50 figure, for example, was based on what the city charges vendors when a group rents the City Plaza. But the plaza has a number of amenities—bathrooms, drinking fountains, benches, grassy areas—the parking lot doesn’t have and, logically, should cost more.

Then there’s the Thursday Night Market, for which the city closes downtown streets 26 times a year. According to Fritz McKinley, director of Building and Development Services for the city, the DCBA, which sponsors the market, pays just $800 to $900 a year to cover the city’s administrative costs and lost parking revenue. That’s a far cry from $13,750.

Though the amounts we’re talking about here aren’t huge, the disparities among them are certain to cause friction. The city needs to stop setting rental fees on an ad-hoc basis (as is happening in the case of the Saturday farmers’ market), create a fee schedule that is reasonable and justifiable, and treat all groups using city property in a fair and equal manner. Otherwise it’s asking for trouble.