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LA Film School Wants to Trade Farmers Market Vendors for 120 Parking Spots

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Ten thousand people visit the Hollywood Farmers Market every Sunday.

CREDIT: Flickr / afternoon

A farmers market in the city of Los Angeles is on the verge of being shut down to make room for 120 additional parking spots belonging to a nearby film school.

Hollywood Farmers Market, one of the 48 farmers markets in Los Angeles, has been open for 19 years, serving a community that until recently trailed its glossier neighborhoods of Los Feliz and West Hollywood in economic development. But with new investments generating interest from a different demographic, this staple of the city’s local food movement is being pushed out, and locals are unhappy.

This past Tuesday, a coalition of growers, local activists, market organizers, and consumers staged a rally at Los Angeles City Hall [PDF], demanding the farmers market receives a permit to continue operating. Two weeks ago, the market won a temporary license, but that will expire the second week of 2011.

Hollywood Farmers Market attracts ten thousand shoppers every Sunday, and offers a business outlet for local producers who grow fresh fruits and vegetables on one of the several urban community farms in the area. It also has tents featuring farmers who drive up to four hours to take part in the end-of-week ritual. The market also accepts food stamps, and is a local stimulant to a city that has an unemployment rate nearly three points above the national average.

The imbroglio is petty, in part because it illuminates the city government’s dubious faith in using public money to promote private industry at the expense of more community-oriented development.

Sustainable Economic Environment Los Angeles, the organization that manages the market in Hollywood and several others across the city, has negotiated with previous landlords of the disputed area without a hitch until Los Angeles Film Institute purchased the land six years ago. In 2007, the market bowed to the school’s demands to clear a path so students and faculty could access a parking lot. Earlier this year, the school announced plans to expand, and ordered the market to remove 50 vendors so access to 120 parking spots become available. But the school is closed on Sundays, and the lot it operates generates income from the market because it charges $2 for every shopper who wants to park her car on the premises.

Losing that many vendors is likely to cut the small profit the market makes, and could scare off other vendors who put a lot of resources into setting up a stand every Sunday.

Pompea Smith, who manages the market, says SEE-LA has complied with new city ordinances and the school’s concerns repeatedly, and is surprised City Council will allow Los Angeles Film Institute to bully her market. “The area has changed [over the years], and we complied with the new ordinances so we don’t conflict with city code. We complied with LA Film over the parking,” but there’s little relief for us, she says, yet still the school wants more.

While some describe the City’s position as neutral, a recent law that forces farmers markets and other community events that use public land to foot the bill for traffic enforcement and police presence belies that point. Meanwhile, Council Member Eric Garcetti has been persistent in passing a nearly $5 million tax gift to a film company infamous for sending locally-based industry jobs overseas. That company, Pacifica Ventures, is hoping to the tax-payer money can go toward constructing a new facility, blocks from where Hollywood Farmers Market operates.

“The question,” Ron Kaye, a city activist and former editor of LA’s Daily News said via email, “is why an office building needs a subsidy in a glutted commercial market with high vacancies. It is not a public benefit that justifies a subsidy.”

Fortunately the market can circumvent both the school and the city council if it collects signatures from 51 percent of local residents supporting its stay. The only hitch is businesses must weigh in, too, if the market is to renew its license, which is why Los Angeles Film Institute and a fast food establishment are holding out. Already the market has gathered 3,400 signatures to force the city to get involved on its behalf.

SEE-LA’s campaign to save the farmers market is showing some results; members of City Council are trying to mediate the issue by having the film school and the market come to an agreement over spacing.

According to a survey by the USDA’s division of Marketing Services, farmers markets have been steadily increasing nationally, with nearly 1,200 more markets in 2009 than in 2005, when 4,093 dotted the country. The county of Los Angeles is home to the most farmers markets of any county in the country, according to a statement made by LA’s Mayor in 2009.

Mikhail Zinshteyn is a staff writer for Campus Progress. You can e-mail him at mzinshteyn@googlemail.com.

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