Ideally, we'd be gearing up for a big celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Hollywood Farmers Market about now, maybe planning seasonal menus, responding to various event invitations, possibly even attending a viewing of some student documentary about the market's role in community and food equality in Los Angeles. But instead we're attending public meetings about how the market may (or may not) be changing in the weeks to come. SEE-LA scheduled a public meeting on Sunday to gather public comment on a variety of alternative market footprints that would either grow or shrink the market's size and restore parking access to one of the Los Angeles Film School (LAFS) student lots. The current extended permit expires on May 17th, and unless LAFS does an unlikely 180 on its parking lot access request, the Hollywood Farmers Market needs to adjust to a new layout, or lose approximately 60 vendors.
Michael Woo, Chair of the SEE-LA board, presented each of the options (around five total) with the help of John Kaliski, the architect from Urban Studio who designed Farmer's Kitchen and has been working with SEE-LA to review possible alternatives.
Most of the new layouts actually expand the market by around 30 or more vendors (over the current 250 or so stalls at the market right now), but block off some pretty major thoroughfares in the process. In its current position, the market sits only on secondary streets (Ivar and Selma) and is flanked on all sides by major boulevards (Hollywood to the north, Sunset to the south, Vine to the east, and Cahuenga to the west). All but one of the new layouts require significant new traffic control schemes, which translate into more expenditures to cover those costs. Options included blocking off one or both directions of Hollywood Boulevard and possibly blocking off Vine south of Hollywood to Sunset with a crossbar at Selma.
Regardless of whatever change that may or may not occur, Woo made it pretty clear that SEE-LA was not willing to shoulder the costs associated with the relocation of portions of the market to busier thoroughfares.
"SEE-LA is a non-profit organization. It is not a for profit company. And we would not want to agree to any move which would require us to pay costs that we don't currently have to pay in order to accommodate someone else," said Woo to some applause. "That raises question who is going to pay for things like traffic officers and barriers and things of that nature. In a sense that's not really our problem."
The answer to that question appears to be LAFS. LAFS Vice President of Operations Jenna Langer tentatively raised her hand when Woo asked if there were any representatives from the school in the audience, a move that unexpectedly made her the immediate target of market patrons who up until now have had little or no access to any outlet to vent their frustrations about what had been going on with their farmers market.
"The truth is I really had planned to just come and listen to what the board and the public had to say," said Langer in an interview that took place after the meeting. "I had to take a deep breath before I raised my hand."
Considering the reactions directed at her and the film school, her hesitation showed some foresight (one member of the audience called LAFS a "for profit creeping menace") even though her responses were pretty measured. She tried to cement that it was never LAFS's intent to close down the Hollywood Farmers Market and give the audience a clearer picture of what LAFS was all about.
"It was one of the first opportunities the school has had to present our side of the story and to clear up some misperceptions or misunderstandings," said Langer. "I'm sure a number of folks left without changing their views about us. But I think once people realized that it's not just about 120 parking spaces I think it helps us find a good resolution and have a bigger conversation with both sides being heard."
Indeed one of the more common questions posed at the meeting was why students couldn't park elsewhere and walk. And when the subject of cost came up, market patron Donna Williams asked for more details about what the LAFS would be willing to do to help the market.
"Is [LAFS] willing to pay the additional fees?" asked Williams. "How much, and more specifically, for how long?"
The short answer is yes, the LAFS is offering resources, money included, to accommodate the market's move to a new location. Exactly how much and how long is still being discussed.
"We're waiting for more info from the farmers market and I actually talked to Woo late last week about this," said Langer. "He said that they would put together a list of all of the additional costs or resources they would need to shift the location of the market and they were going to forward that to Council President Garcetti for discussion. I would like to see some kind of longer term partnership. Looking at some kind of sponsorship and that would be something beyond a onetime negotiation of resources."
The one thing that is known is that the market's extended permit expires on May 17th. LAFS anticipates another five to six month extension to accommodate the logistical planning and eventual relocation of the market.
But back to the purpose of the meeting, which was to get public comments on the proposed layouts that were up for consideration. Jenny Scoble, a long time resident and property owner in Hollywood, summed up what a lot of people were saying both out loud and in private conversation.
"The thing with moving the market into Vine St. or Hollywood is that it creates a lot of inconvenience for the community," said Scoble, citing recent closures for big brand named events along Hollywood Blvd. "It also changes the character of the market. There's a certain character to them when they are not on a big wide boulevard. Otherwise they become like street fairs. If they are in a small street they have a certain atmosphere. It's an integral part of the market."
Regardless, SEE-LA is seriously considering the alternatives, which could actually allow the market to grow while giving LAFS their parking access. For now, review of the options continues and another, longer street permit extension for SEE-LA is expected.