Market measure?

Farmers’-market supporters consider drafting ballot initiative

Richard Coon, the CCFM's board chairman, says the city of Chico isn’t returning his emails.

Richard Coon, the CCFM's board chairman, says the city of Chico isn’t returning his emails.

file photo by christine G.K. Lapado-breglia

Proponents of keeping the Saturday-morning Chico Certified Farmers’ Market at its present location—Municipal Parking Lot No. 1 at East Second and Wall streets—will rally tonight (Oct. 3) to discuss the weekly event’s past and its possible future, which could include placing the CCFM’s ultimate fate in the hands of voters. The “Farmers’ Market Appreciation Night” will take place at 6 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church (285 E. Fifth St.)

The event is organized by a group of CCFM supporters called Friends of the Farmers’ Market. One of the group’s organizers, former Chico Mayor Karl Ory, explained that FFM has existed since 2006, but became a more public entity following the Chico City Council’s June 18 vote to extend the market’s franchise agreement to Dec. 14, while leaving its long-term future in limbo. Ory said the FFM has so far collected contact information from more than 2,000 market supporters.

The market, held each Saturday throughout the year, has been a point of contention for several years for some downtown business owners who claim it takes parking spaces from potential customers and negatively impacts their commerce.

“It’s an opportunity for the market to tell its whole story,” Ory said, “to articulate the benefits it has on the community and share the vision for its future, including amenities and improvements we’d like to start moving forward.”

One of the moves market supporters are considering is to draft an initiative so that voters could weigh in on a long-term location solution by approving an ordinance to keep it in its present place. Both FFM and CCFM organizers say the idea for an initiative is still in its infancy.

“It’s one of several options we’re looking at, but it’s too early to make that decision, and not something we will go into lightly,” Ory said. “But we’re definitely looking at what the contents of an initiative might include, and the logistics and legality of taking that route.

“On the simplest level, we’d ask the voters to enact a longer-term franchise agreement for the market,” Ory continued. “But we’re still looking at just how long we’d ask for, how much of the parking lot we’d like to secure, and what else could be included in an initiative.”

Ory’s assertion that the ballot-initiative option is a last resort was echoed by Richard Coon, chairman of the CCFM’s Board of Directors: “We really don’t want to take that route, because the initiative process is a lot of work and we’d rather focus on feeding Chico,” he said, quipping, “We’re farmers, not politicians.”

At the June 18 Chico City Council meeting then-Councilman (now Mayor) Scott Gruendl moved to form an ad-hoc group to discuss long-term solutions to the ongoing market debate. In July, the CCFM opted out of participating in this group when City Manager Brian Nakamura emailed Coon a list of “Farmers’ Market representatives, parking advocates, downtown business owners, Chamber and DCBA representatives and others” that the CCFM board felt didn’t fairly represent both sides (See “Farmers rebel,” Newslines, July 11).

The list includes Coon and three other farmers, market advocate LaDona Knigge, as well as downtown business owners Nancy Lindahl and Tom Hall, and three other downtown-business representatives.

“There was no guarantee that the commission would have any validity whatsoever, because the City Council wouldn’t agree to follow the recommendations the commission came up with,” Coon said. “The city had stacked this commission with people from the Downtown Chico Business Association who’d already stated publicly that they wanted the market gone.”

Coon said lack of activity on the city’s part since this latest impasse is what prompted market supporters to consider other options, including drafting an initiative. He said numerous emails asking city officials for status updates, including messages sent late last month, have gone unanswered, as have the CCFM’s suggestions on how to keep both sides happy, including an offer from the CCFM to pay parking-meter revenues for the hours it operates.

“We just can’t figure it out,” Coon said. “We’ve asked the city for clarification in writing and gotten no response. The city’s admittedly got bigger fish to fry, but we’re heading down the road we are because we can’t get any answers from them.”

Coon said the roughly 100 farmers, crafters and vendors who participate in the CCFM are overwhelmingly in favor of staying in their current location. He said moving to the other proposed downtown location, in the Chico Municipal Center parking lot, would mean having to dismiss 21 vendors.

“The farmers’ market and the allied Friends of the Farmers’ Market are convinced, until we’re told otherwise, that our franchise ends December 2014, with no extensions and no offer to go anywhere else in the downtown area,” Coon said. “The only course open to us is to involve the community and use the political process.”