City Council Keeps the Possibility of a Sierra Madre Farmers Market Alive

At last night’s meeting, the council voted to direct staff to issue yet another Request for Proposals to potential operators to run a Sierra Madre Farmers Market

By Justin Chapman, Sierra Madre Patch, 3/23/2011

The struggle to revive a farmers market within the Sierra Madre city limits continues now that the City Council has approved a motion directing staff to issue another Request for Proposals (RFP) that specifies Hermosa Avenue between Mariposa and Sierra Madre Boulevard, which can host a total of 21 vendors, as the new location for a potential market.
The motion to approve, made by Councilmember John Buchanan at Tuesday's meeting, passed 3-1, with the only "no" vote by Councilmember MaryAnn MacGillivray. Councilmember Josh Moran recused himself from the discussion and abstained from voting because he said one of the four proposed locations for the market was less than 500 feet from his house.
"I don't know why we're still pushing this," said MacGillivray at last night's meeting. "Community Services already looked at it and decided not to issue another RFP. No one's coming here telling us they want it. It seems just the City Council wants it."
"The community wants it," replied Mayor Joe Mosca. "We've been getting calls about it. I don't have dreams about farmers markets. It worked before and was something that was driving the city."
The newly approved RFP stipulates that it must also be an organic market and that a certain percentage should be set aside for vendors who sell fruits and vegetables. It also dictates the new location as well as new operating hours, from 4 to 8 p.m. and ending at 7 p.m. during the winter. The RFP also states that the market is to operate on Wednesdays, the same day as the previous market.
For several months, the push for a Sierra Madre market seemed dead in the water after the operator of the now-defunct Sierra Madre Farmers Market, Scholastic Gardens, informed the city that it was getting out of the farmers market business due to poor economic performance. The company's decision effectively shuttered the market that used to be held just south of Sierra Madre Boulevard in the public parking lot along Mariposa Avenue. A lot of vendors, shoppers and even Scholastic Gardens complained that the old location was too hidden from public view and claimed that was the reason the market didn't last or get enough business.
"The Mariposa lot just wasn't appropriate," said Mosca. "This new location is a very good site with greater visibility."
Based on a staff report presented to the Community and Personnel Services Commission on Dec. 20, the commissioners voted to "discontinue hosting a Farmers Market in the City of Sierra Madre due to the costs associated and with the availability of farmers markets in the surrounding communities." That report was based on the staff's financial analysis and location scouting, which resulted in issuing an RFP to more than 30 potential operators, according to Elisa Weaver, Director of Community and Personnel Services. Only one operator responded, but the costs it required were too high for the city.
"We did do an RFP this fall," Weaver told Patch in January. "But we only received one bid contingent on us being able to move the market, and as much as we liked that idea, the cost is extremely high. Too high for us to find a manager that we can put in our budget."
The commissioners concurred with the findings of the report. They opted not to give the city a second RFP given that the first one got only one response and because of the high costs associated with starting another market and the lack of other potential locations for a more visible market. Then in February the City Council directed staff to continue evaluating other locations to reinstitute a farmer's market.
At Tuesday night's meeting, Weaver came back to the council with a draft RFP that recommended four locations for the possible new market, including Hermosa Avenue, which the City Council approved, as well as the south side of the Auburn parking lot, the Montecito parking lot and the previous location of the Mariposa parking lot, with a list of pros and cons for all four options.
According to City Attorney Sandra Levin, an operator chosen by the city would be granted a five year term to run the market, with an option for the city to cancel any agreement with the operator with 10 days notice.
The analysis portion of the report initiated by Weaver, which she read during last night's meeting, states that "the primary purpose of the Farmers Market is to offer members of the local community the convenience of purchasing fresh produce from local farmers, encourage sustainable agriculture, benefit local businesses and accommodate a weekly, family-oriented gathering place for residents. The goal of the Farmers Market is to continue providing fresh food alternatives in an effort to promote healthy eating."