Market confusion

City Council subcommittee suffers miscommunication

A letter from Chico Certified Farmers’ Market Chairman Richard Coon is at the center of confusion among members of a newly formed City Council subcommittee.

A letter from Chico Certified Farmers’ Market Chairman Richard Coon is at the center of confusion among members of a newly formed City Council subcommittee.

CN&R File Photo

A little more than two weeks since the Chico City Council formed a subcommittee to try to put an end to the stalemate between the city and the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market, confusion reigns.

If the two sides cannot come to an agreement either to move the market from its current location on the city parking lot at Second and Wall streets or stay where it is, CCFM’s franchise agreement will expire at the end of the year, bringing a possible end to the popular Saturday event.

The subcommittee consists of Councilman Randall Stone, Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen and Mark Wolfe, director of the city’s Community Development Department.

An inquiry into communications between market representatives and the subcommittee resulted in very different interpretations of events. Sorensen said Richard Coon, a farmer and chair of the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market board of directors, sent the committee a letter that said the CCFM was unwilling or didn’t have the time to come to the table and hammer out an agreement.

“It’s a little difficult when one side doesn’t want to talk,” Sorensen said. “We could at least decide on an option to make things better for the market and not impact the downtown businesses that are affected by it. But finding a win-win solution is not going to happen if they’re not talking about it.”

Stone and Coon said they were surprised to hear Sorensen’s account.

“That is not at all the way I read [Coon’s] letter,” Stone said. “In fact, that is literally not what it said. That doesn’t bode well for any kind of substantial agreement, I guess.”

Stone had sent a letter to the CCFM April 17 requesting a meeting to discuss the Saturday market. He said he received a response from Coon a few days later in the form of a letter dropped off at his office, where the two met for a brief discussion. It was decided they could meet sometime between May 5 and 9 because of the holidays—Easter and Passover—and because Wolfe was going to be out of town until then.

Coon’s letter says that he has shared Stone’s letter with his colleagues on the CCFM board of directors.

“As you know,” the letter reads, “it’s spring and we’re swamped at our respective farms right now. We are coordinating our schedules and will get back to you as soon as possible with a list of possible meeting dates and times.”

Coon said he was not sure why Sorensen thought he didn’t want to talk.

“Yeah, I said we were happy to meet,” Coon said. “I talked to Randall Stone three or four times about it because I didn’t know exactly what was going on.”

That’s a change from last July, when the CCFM opted not to take part in discussions with an ad-hoc group picked by the city to come up with a long-term solution for the market. At the time, the CCFM said the group included too many market opponents.

Coon explained that the recent issue was further muddled by an email he received from Mayor Scott Gruendl that said the two sides should meet “in lieu of litigation.” That was in reference to the gathering of signatures to qualify a measure for the November ballot that if passed would give the CCFM a six-year franchise deal to stay and expand in its current location.

But recently retired City Attorney Lori Barker said such a measure does not comply with the state Constitution.

Coon said the CCFM consulted an attorney in response to Gruendl’s email.

“If they want to sue someone it should be the Friends of the Market, which is circulating the petition,” Coon said.

For its part, the Friends of the Market, which consists of former mayors Karl Ory and Michael McGinnis as well as business owner Cheryl King, has collected 6,000 signatures and will turn them over to the city by mid-May. They need 4,700 valid signatures to qualify the measure.

Ory noted that communications from the city have been mostly with CCFM rather than his group.

“This is fine but they are not the proponents of the initiative,” he said. “If the committee wants us to shred the petitions, they probably ought to talk to the proponents, though we are not inclined to shred any petitions.”

Ory said the Friends of the Market attorney assured them they are not violating the state Constitution with their effort.

“These things sometimes are up to which judge you’re in front of, but I don’t see this as a legal issue,” he said. “This is a pretty straightforward question for the council members. Yes or no. Do they support the initiative or not?

“There is absolutely no constitutional question that Mark Sorensen will vote on whether or not to give the market six years and a little bit more space. Hopefully that’s a yes.”

Coon said he finds himself in a less-than-comfortable position.

“It’s all so weird,” he said. “Suddenly I am in a titanic battle between the progressives and the conservatives. All we want to do is sell our stuff.”