Taking the initiative
Farmers’ market supporters turn to the voters
On Thursday, Jan. 30, representatives of the Saturday Chico Certified Farmers’ Market gathered at the Chico Municipal Center and handed the City Clerk’s Office paperwork to qualify a ballot initiative that, if passed, would give the market a six-year lease and expanded use of the Second and Wall streets municipal parking lot that the market has used for the past 21 years.
In recent years, there has been pressure from some downtown merchants and property owners to move the market and free up the parking spaces these merchants say are needed to accommodate their Saturday customers.
Farmers’ market supporters have long argued that its presence actually attracts shoppers to the downtown area. The supporters have resisted efforts to pick up and move to the municipal center parking lot two blocks to the south. They say they don’t want to mess with the market’s long run of success. The market’s current franchise agreement with the city is set to expire at the end of the year, and friction between the two entities has made a renewal somewhat less than certain.
Cheryl King, the spokeswoman for the market, was on hand to answer questions from the local media, including those from an aggressive television reporter who asked at one point: “When do you cry ‘Uncle’? When do you say ‘we lose’ and that’s it?”
King said that decision was not hers to make.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” she said. “I have to talk to everybody else, including the farmers. This is really about the farmers.”
King explained that once the city attorney gives the initiative a title and a summary, supporters will publish their notice of intent in the local newspaper and two weeks later begin collecting signatures to qualify the measure.
“So, at the beginning of March we will be circulating the petitions, and we’ll need about 4,700—or 10 percent of the registered voters in the city of Chico—to sign,” she said. “We hope to wrap that up by June so it will be on the November ballot.”
King noted that the market has the signatures of more than 3,500 people listed as friends of the farmers’ market, but that they are not necessarily registered voters within the city limits.
Former Chico Mayor Mike McGinnis is also behind the effort to keep the market at its present location. “I think that when you look at the 21-year history of the market being at that corner, all you’ve seen is increased growth in the downtown,” he said. “This is about the farmers and the economic stability of the city of Chico.”
Karl Ory, another former mayor and supporter of the market, said the initiative, if passed, calls for the farmers’ market to pay the city $5,000 per year, up considerably from the $164 it has been paying for its franchise agreement.
“Most markets [in other California cities] are not charged,” Ory said. “We did a survey, and most of them are seen as a benefit economically.”
Why do farmers’ market supporters oppose moving from the existing location to the nearby municipal lot?
“It’s not broken, so I think you need a compelling reason to start messing with a successful operation,” Ory said. “And that [municipal center] lot would provide space for 20 [percent] to 25 percent fewer vendors. So rather than having room to grow, they’d have to reduce the number [of vendors].”
When Assistant City Clerk Dani Brinkley received the paperwork for the initiative, Ory handed her a check for $200 for anticipated filing fees. But Brinkley did not take the check, explaining the city has the option to collect a fee, but that it’s not a requirement. The act seemed to give the market folks a sense of optimism heading into the initiative process.