• PG Planning Commission Reviews Farmers’ Market

    By Cameron Douglas

    The Pacific Grove Farmer’s Market, struggling through bad weather and a serious economic downturn, faced the Pacific Grove Planning Commission as part of its six-month review on March 5. Sounding like a replay of most other reviews the Farmers Market has faced, the same questions arose: How is the downtown Pacific Grove Farmers’ Market doing? Does it live up to its initial proposal? How is it affecting local businesses? Should it be moved to another location? Would it be better on a different day? Should it be opened up to other vendors in Monterey County? Should it continue at all?

    The same complaint resurfaced: Blocking Lighthouse Avenue, where the event is held, adversely affects business in the immediately vicinity. Pacific Grove citizens, by and large, are happy with the event, however, and spoke in favor of continuing it. The possibility of moving the Market to another location was suggested and will be explored. Many citizens spoke in favor of expanding vendors to include other communities.

    City Planner Lynn Burgess pointed out that the original proposal called for 90-day reviews and the Commission’s meeting was a little ahead of schedule. She explained the City Council had approved the hours of 4 to 8 p.m., with the market to be held “somewhere on Lighthouse,” and that the Planning Commission has the discretion to modify the location on Lighthouse. Beyond that, the Commission’s function is to make recommendations to the City Council.

    Commissioner MacDonald expressed concern about Lighthouse Avenue being closed off as early as 1:30, and asked if it could be kept open until 3 o’clock. Celia Martinez of Public Works answered that the PG Police Department had specified the street be closed by 2 p.m. to give them time to address any parking violations and tow vehicles if necessary.

    Commissioner Davis commented on the small, temporary signs displayed for the Market. Martinez said that better, more permanent signage would go up along Lighthouse Avenue if the market were allowed to continue there.

    Iris Peppard, Executive Director of Everyone’s Harvest, addressed the Commission with an update. (Everyone’s Harvest runs three certified Farmers’ Markets in Marina, Pacific Grove and East Salinas.) “Right now, we have six local businesses participating in the Pacific Grove Market,” she said. “We offered all businesses in Pacific Grove a free booth space for the month of February. We had three people call us about that, but the weather’s been really bad on Mondays, so they haven’t tried it out yet. We have extended that offer to mid-March. We need at least 13 vendors to really make the Market go, and it doesn’t seem like there’s been much interest.”

    Peppard acknowledged that the location of the Pacific Grove Farmers’ Market has become an issue, and expressed her willingness to accommodate the City. Due to the low number of PG vendors, she made a formal request to open up to other vendors in Monterey County, with PG businesses given priority on the waiting list. Ms. Peppard confirmed that in certified Farmers’ Markets, growers who sell produce are certified producers, which means the Agricultural Commissioner goes to their land, verifies what they’re growing and determines when those goods are to be harvested and sold.

    Commissioner Perleman raised the possibility of holding the Market in the parking lot behind the Lighthouse Cinema, and asked whether the slant of the land is a factor. “It’s a little bit of a slope,” said Peppard, “but I’d like to put a table out there and try it.”

    Bill Valuch, Chairman of the Downtown Business Improvement District Advisory Board, addressed the Commission. “One of our responsibilities is to represent the welfare of businesses in the downtown district,” said Valuch. He stated that the original proposal suggested the Farmers’ Market would help businesses. He praised the Market as an excellent event for the residents of Pacific Grove. He said that Everyone’s Harvest has been very cooperative, but the weekly closure of Lighthouse Avenue from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m. has had an adverse effect on many businesses. “It is a fact that the Monday event has cut into the sales of many businesses that operate on Lighthouse Avenue.” He requested that the Market be relocated as soon as possible. Commissioner Smith asked if the B.I.D. has any concrete evidence to show an impact on sales. “We have not asked for any proof,” replied Valuch.

    Local writer Joy Colangelo, of Sustainable Pacific Grove, stated her support for the Market to be opened to other vendors in Monterey County, and asked that it not be moved. She called for flexibility and creativity on the part of downtown businesses. Resident Gary Peterson also said he is opposed to moving the Market.

    David Pollacci of Ron’s Liquors said, “This has impacted our business in a big way. Our business is down 30 to 40 percent on Mondays. We’re definitely for the Farmers’ Market, but not the (current) location.” He read a letter from the owners of Fandango’s Restaurant, part of which stated, “We have lost our Monday banquet business as a result of decreased parking availability. You should realize…the impact this (Lighthouse) location has on several major businesses: Trotter’s Antiques, Grove Market, Alpha Stationery, P.G. Hardware, Danelle’s Hair Salon, Fandango’s, Joe Rombie’s, Ron’s Liquors, Washington Mutual and so on.”

    Resident Karen Vaughn said, “In these economic times, anything we can do to bring people into downtown is a good thing.” She wants the city to explore ways to make the Market more successful. She asked it be kept in its present location. “If you push it off onto a side street, behind a building, in a parking lot — [the result would be] out of sight, out of mind.”

    Lee Trotter of Trotter’s Antiques complained that many of her customers no longer come into her business on Mondays, and asked that the Market be moved.

    Ron Schenck, manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, said the Market has not helped businesses. He added that, for one month he kept his store — which normally closes at 4:30 — open until 7:30 on Mondays, and saw “no economic benefit from the Farmers’ Market.”

    Moe Ammar, of the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, said that businesses are affected by the street closure as far as the Sea Breeze Motel. “The visitors who want to go to those places come down Forest Avenue wanting to turn left on Lighthouse, find the street closed and get lost.” Ammar stated that downtown merchants are not helping the market and suggested, “Let’s get together in one room again, hash it out and identify a good location.” He suggested Jewell Park.

    As the session drew to a close, Commission members made their remarks. Steven MacDonald spoke in favor of opening the Market to other vendors in Monterey County. Miller said Central Avenue would be a nice location. Commissioner Bailey said she feels moving the Market in its early stages would hurt it, and that it would be better to wait until the end of summer. She also wants more specific numbers. Commissioner Smith said she is not averse to subcommittee discussion. Davis reminded everyone that only the City Council could approve moving the Market to a location away from Lighthouse. Perleman said he encourages local businesses to set up booths, while at the same time the Market should be opened up to other vendors, and that he wants more data. He also suggested looking at other Farmers’ Markets to learn what works for them. Commissioner Riddell stated the Market is clearly affecting some businesses and that a dialog between the Commission, Everyone’s Harvest and local merchants needs to happen. He suggested setting up an ad hoc commission to meet with merchants.

    The motion to accept Everyone’s Harvest’s offer to allow vendors outside Pacific Grove into The Market — with all other conditions unchanged — failed. Riddell then made a new motion to continue the topic for two more meetings and form an ad hoc commission to discuss all pertinent issues. That motion passed.

    The Commission is made up of seven members: Eric Miller, Steven MacDonald, Linda Bailey, Craig Riddell, Sally Smith, Bob Davis and Max Perlman.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 14, 2009

    Topics: Front PG News, Cameron Douglas


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