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The Orion

Fate of farmer’s market pending

Gabriel and Evelyn Pamatz, right, sell assorted organic food at the Saturday farmer's market in downtown Chico. Photo credit: Christine Lee

Chico’s Saturday farmers market will close down by the end of this year if a ballot initiative to keep it operating does not pass.

The Chico Certified Farmers Market franchise proposed a ballot initiative to keep the downtown morning market open for six more years after its lease ends in December.

Market supporters have been collecting signatures in order to put the initiative on the November ballot for a vote. They would need at least 10 percent of all registered voters in Chico to sign the petition.

More than 3,000 signatures have been collected and 4,700 are needed, said Natalie Carter, officer manager for the Chico Certified Farmers Market.

“Most of the signatures we collect are valid Chico voters,” Carter said. “I personally saw one signature from Paradise. They want to support it so bad, they just sign it anyway.”

If passed, when the six-year contract expires, its contract with the city will be put on the ballot again for eight years.

Chico City Attorney Lori Barker found the granting of a franchise inappropriate for an initiative, she said.

“Because the California constitution said the initiative process can’t grant a franchise any special duties, granting the farmers market exclusive use of property is an improper subject for an initiative,” Barker said.

Keith Wagner, the attorney representing the market supporters, said the initiative is not granting the franchise new powers but rather allowing them the same powers they’ve always had.

“The farmers market has always been approved by an ordinance adopted legislatively,” he said. “It has been subject to voter’s right of referendum — there’s no difference here. As everybody has recognized, it’s a restatement of existing ordinance. It’s basically the same set of terms.”

Currently, the franchise pays $164 per year to rent the parking lot on East Second and Wall streets, according to Dani Brinkley, the assistant city clerk.

“The intention for the money is to go directly towards improving downtown although the city would have discretion with what happens with the fund,” she said. “It would benefit to have a long-term lease, we can expand and be able to provide community activities.”

If the new ballot initiative passes, the farmers market will pay $5,000 annually to the city to show support of the city and interest in making a beneficial arrangement for all parties, Carter said.

“It’s a deal that’s 25 times better than what they’re getting,” Wagner said. “That doesn’t raise any constitutional questions. That’s not even relevant to questions legally — it’s just a generous offer by the Farmers Market.”

Gabriel Pamatz, a first-year Butte College social science major, said she depends on the Saturday market because it’s one of her main jobs.

“I need this,” Pamatz said. “The market is good because its kind of the only organic farmers market and a lot of people here want it — they want the organic produce we sell here.”

Pamatz and her sister are from Live Oak. They sell asparagus, eggs, oranges and walnuts at the market. Each week they make around $2,000.

They wouldn’t mind helping pay their share of the $5,000 proposed on the initiative, Pamatz said. If the market closes down, they would continue to sell their produce at a market in Berkeley instead.

“A lot of people come and tell us about all these facts about vegetables, about why they don’t eat fruit or vegetables from the stores,” Pamatz said. “They feel like they need organic food to improve their health. People need to see how the farmers care about the people who are trying to be healthy.”

The city has not offered an alternative location for the market, Wagner said.

“Until something happens, the process is moving forward,” Wagner said. “The city attorney has a view that something should happen but nothing adverse has happened. So far, the city isn’t doing anything wrong yet.”

Christine Lee can be reached at [email protected] or @leechris017 on Twitter.

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