The San Luis Obispo City Council threatened the Downtown Association at its May 18 meeting: If the Downtown Association doesn’t conclude a deal with the Farmers’ Market Association, the council might not renew their contract.
The two associations have been sparring for more than three and a half months over who should run the farmers’ part of the Thursday night farmers’ market. Negotiations were deadlocked, so the city called a meeting to resolve the impasse, at which it volunteered the city manager and city attorney to broker a deal. In February, the city council told both sides they should negotiate a compromise so the Farmers’ Association would manage produce sales at the market.
The farmers thanked the council for trying to mediate. Members of the Downtown Association had a different take: Most told the council they doubted whether their board would agree to city-mediated negotiations and some said the city should not be involved.
John Huffman, a Downtown Associaton board member, said the issue of who should run the farmers’ part of the market was the purview of the Downtown Association.
“You have a contract with the association,” Huffman told the city council. Who the Downtown Association contracts “is not your decision and not the public’s decision,” he said.
Deborah Cash, executive director of the Downtown Association, told the council she was unsure whether her board would accept the city’s offer of a new mediation team. She defended the association’s actions.
“As for farmers only being able to run a market: Really? While it
sounds pretty nice to the ear, it’s not really true. The market place
is the venue for the farmers to sell their produce and they should have
an advisory voice in making sure their needs are met. But no more
should a chef run a restaurant or a dog lover should run a pet store
does it hold true that all people in their industries make good
managers,” Cash said.
The city has until May 30 to declare whether it intends to terminate its contract with the Downtown Association. The city is in the middle of the two-year contract and would have a year to negotiate a new contract or find another market manager.
The city had asked the Downtown Association for another 30 days so that negotiations could continue before the city would be forced to decide about renewing the contract. The Downtown Association turned the city down, forcing the council to call the special meeting.
The lingering question is whether the city council will use what Councilmember Allen Settle calls “the nuclear option”—actually moving to change or terminate the Downtown Association’s contract. The city collects taxes from downtown business owners and funnels that money to the Downtown Association. The city estimates it will collect $216,000 this fiscal year from downtown business owners to finance the association.
The Downtown Association unilaterally took control of the farmers’ section from the Farmers Association January 28. No farmers had any say in the changeover and many farmers didn’t hear of the changeover until shortly before it happened.