By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
At the end of March, La Mesa City Council voted to allow the city’s Friday farmers market in the Village to operate as is until the end of July. The council also initiated the city staff to start looking at other entities to possibly take over the market by putting out a request for proposals (RFP) for a new farmers market, and also give the current market operators, La Mesa Village Association (LMVA), a chance to amend its conditional use permit (CUP) to make the market more palatable for businesses in the Village that claim the market is hurting their bottom line.
The public RFP process attracted four options that the City Council will likely consider.
The LMVA submitted an RFP that would keep the market where and when it is already, on Friday evenings in the downtown Village. LMVA chair Peter Soutowood said the new RFP, however, does include some changes which had previously been suggested by city staff in a report. Those changes include starting the market later to allow restaurants more access to parking during lunch; having drop off and pickup areas for ride-share users; using funds to market La Mesa to visitors; and removing banners from the back of vendor booths. A city staff suggestion to operate a shuttle was left out of the new RFP because it was cost prohibitive. The LMVA would consider reducing hot food vendors — another suggestion by city staff — if granted another CUP, although Soutowood said the association members would do so grudgingly.
Soutowood said the Village is still the best place to hold the market because of its walkability and proximity to transit — and also its aesthetics.
“The market is — as much as the stands [vendors] — it is the experience of being somewhere lovely, and the Village is the loveliest place to have the market,” he said.
There are two proposals that would bring the famers market back to its previous location of the Civic Center parking lot. One of those proposals is from current market manager Brian Beevers, who would prefer to stay with the LMVA and operate the market in the Village but has opted to have a backup plan in case the City Council votes to remove it from downtown.
La Mesa Chamber of Commerce also proposed a market that it would manage in the Civic Center parking lot. Chamber president Mary England said would bring the chamber’s expertise and hundreds of volunteers to enhance marketing and make the markets successful in the old location.
The final RFP was from Grossmont Center to move the Friday market to its parking lot. Trevor Moore, Grossmont Center’s director of public relations and events, said that moving the market would provide stability for the event.
“People want something to be done that will at least solidify the long-term plan for that market,” he said. “It’s been in a state of flux the last few years, which is not good for farmers markets in general. So we feel, with our long-term vision for the center and where we’re going as a shopping center in 2020, we feel that we should be the long-term host of either that market or [a] market of that sort that makes sense for the people of East County.”
The City Council is expected to vote on the farmers market proposals at one of its July meeting, most likely July 23.
Besides the RFP to run La Mesa’s Friday market, other groups in the city are also considering starting markets of their own. Brew Coffee Spot owner Joe Paraiso said he is considering hosting markets in his parking lot, which has already hosted car shows in the past. And activists representing the west side of La Mesa have previously floated the idea of operating markets in that part of the city as well.