By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Farmer's Market at its former location on Allison Avenue may soon come back to its roots in the La Mesa downtown village
March 22, 2018 (La Mesa) – On Tuesday, La Mesa’s City Council will consider a proposal by the La Mesa Village Association to move and expand the farmer’s market back to the downtown village, with street closures for the event each Friday. Staff has recommended approval in its report.
Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, March 27 at its 6 p.m. meeting in City Council Chambers, 8130 Allison Ave.
The issue has fostered a lively discussion on social media, with some residents and local merchants welcoming the proposed change to invigorate downtown and boost traffic for local businesses. But others vigorously oppose the change, citing concerns over not enough parking, having to carry groceries too far, and dissuading patrons from coming into downtown on Friday night, when restaurants are typically busiest.
The La Mesa Village Farmer’s Market was originally located in the Allison Avenue Municipal Parking lot, one block off La Mesa Boulevard in the village. It was moved to the Civic Center on the opposite side of Spring Street in 2011 to lessen parking impacts during a two-year downtown streetscape improvement project, and has remained at the Civic Center for the past seven years, operating successfully, according to the staff report.
The proposal calls for the city to end its role as sponsor of the market. The LMVA and its management partner, Brian’s Farmers’ Markets, will apply for a special event permit and if approved by Council, apply through the County to open a new certified farmers’ market on la Mesa Blvd. between Palm Avenue and 4th Street. All current vendors at the farmer’s market would be invited to participate.
The new farmer’s market would host 50 to 55 vendors – nearly double the current size. The market would include food trucks and arts and crafts vendors as well as farmers selling fruits, vegetables, fresh flowers and packaged foods. No alcohol would be sold.
Street closures from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays starting April 20th would include La Mesa Blvd. from Palm Ave to 4th St. and 3rd St. from La Mesa Blvd. to the alley between Lemon Ave. and La Mesa Blvd.
LMVA has asked that the city not seek cost recovery for the event, however staff indicates that the city seek recovery of costs estimated at $9,000 in the event’s first year.
The LMVA circulated a survey to downtown businesses, La Mesa residents and visitors to the village.
Aaron Dean, chair of the LMVA, says, “The response from almost everyone has been an overwhelming YES!” He adds that over 200 responses to a survey have been received from neighbors and almost all businesses in the village, with only three merchants opposed. “Farmers Markets are historically very good for retailers and restaurants and create a great sense of community,” he says.
He's added that the market has to move, at least temporarily, due to the a parking lot at the current located slated to be used for storing equipment for a pipeline upgrade project.
On social media, some residents voiced support for bringing the event back to the village, including a local merchant. Another asked “How about music?”
But most residents posting on a Next Door forum voiced opposition and several said that they were unaware of the change, which was discussed primarily in the downtown village area, and contend that La Mesa residents and others who drive from nearby areas outside the village should have been consulted, too.
One resident wrote, “We very much like the village, but hardly ever go because of a lack of parking; adding the market to La Mesa Blvd. will make certain that we don’t support either the market or the local merchants on Friday evenings. I can’t believe that anyone would think that this move is a good idea.” Another voiced concern about a "party" atmosphere in the area each week.
Some recalled parking issues when the farmer’s market was on Allison, even before all of the new restaurants opened up along La Mesa Blvd. One suggested changing the day to Saturday or Sunday mornings, but Dean says that’s “not a possibility” due to farmers’ commitments elsewhere on those days.
Dean concludes, “The current farmers are excited for the change and hope many more people will come out, as the current market is not well attended.” He added that he wants to see efforts made to inform market-goers of parking options. The LMVA leader says he hopes research will prove correct and that the new market location “will be a success for all.”