Farmer’s Market Executive: Voting initiative for downtown redevelopment does not represent our interests
A mixed-use plan that includes affordable housing – part of the overall Santa Cruz downtown library renovation project – has been a hot topic since its inception, but has more recently become a point of contention between the pro-growth of the city and the weak – growth factions.
On September 13, the Our Downtown group – led by Rick Longinotti and John Hall, among others – sent a letter to Santa Cruz City Council imploring its members to reconsider the plan for Lot 4 (the plot bounded by Lincoln, Cedar and Cathcart streets), advocating a permanent park for the downtown farmer’s market over the proposed mixed-use development. But the city council, in a 6-1 vote the next day, approved the contractor’s contract, refusing to deviate from the original mixed-use plan.
In an exclusive interview with Santa Cruz Community Farmers Markets executive director Nesh Dhillon this week, Lookout learned that the group had never been in communication with Our Downtown – let alone considered it an advocate.
“We have nothing to do with this ballot initiative,” Dhillon said. “It’s good if people are ‘rah rah’ about their support, but at the end of the day we decide where we go.”
Below are some other takeaways from the conversation. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Have you heard of Our Downtown before the release of this initiative?
You hear names and all these new groups popping up… there’s some cross-pollination between factions, I guess, but I’ve never heard of this group before, no.
This group, other groups, have strong opinions about where they would like to have the farmers market, which is interesting. I don’t even know who these guys are – I never spoke to this group, they never spoke to us. There are people who plead for the market to be somewhere, but it is they, it is not us.
As an organization, we will determine where we need to end up.
Has anyone from Our Downtown contacted you regarding this proposal?
I’ve spoken to John Hall before, mostly about his work for Town center towns. I knew the initiative was taking place because he told me, but I hadn’t seen anything of the language or anything – nothing was presented.
The mission of Downtown Commons is to secure an open space in the downtown corridor and to think that the best space for that is lot 4. They always advocate an open space for the community to organize, during special events. , a permanent farmers market, however it is designed. The farmers market is just one part of many things that should be part of the permanent space.
That’s good, much bigger than this event that happens four to five hours a week – we’re just lumped together.
It would be silly and not a good use of space to say that the only thing that can exist here is the farmers market – what about the antique fair? What about special events? What about a central plaza or a designated place with infrastructure? The farmers market is just one part of many parts.
We have been very direct and transparent with these groups that we speak for ourselves, no one else is speaking for us. The farmer’s market speaks for the farmer’s market. John’s heart is in the right place, but they just go about it with a different process.
When Measure S was first approved, what did you think about how it might affect the downtown farmers market?
I never really thought too much about the adoption of the current measures and development plans for Lot 4 – they were not aligned at that time. The downtown library situation (currently on Church Street) is perhaps the most drastic situation in that they would only be building a new one.
This was never a problem as it wasn’t really a question until a couple of years ago that they would potentially build the new library on Lot 4. That’s when we have started actively with the city to seek alternative locations.
How was the experience of working with the city to find a new space for the market?
It has been phenomenal – they have been very supportive and very receptive throughout the process. Bonnie lipscomb [the city’s director of economic development] specifically has been very proactive and supportive; when we asked their team to see it from a certain angle, they always followed. This has been great as we have learned a lot in the process like what our market footprint can do, how the market can be drastically improved to make it better for the public, and how we can increase market growth. and profitability for our farmers.
It’s a thriving market on weekdays, but it would be much better if we had the infrastructure to support it. Fortunately, the city has been in step with our needs.
Did you get the impression that the market wanted to stay on lot 4, or did that match the market’s goal for another location?
What is important for us is to find a suitable permanent location so that we never have to see this discussion again. I think that’s a reasonable demand and I think it’s appropriate since the market has been around since 1990, showcasing the best of regional farming and providing space for food start-ups like Companion Bakeshop and Farmhouse Culture.
Recognizing that this is a strong potential for development on Lot 4, it would only behoove us (at the market) to consider other locations. When things start to gel and move in one direction, we can start working on finding a replacement site, and that’s where we are now.
We don’t have to stay at Lot 4 – we’re looking for a location that would allow us never to have to move again. Lot 4 has never been offered except for an outside group.
What do you think of the redevelopment of surface land in the city center and what is the link with this project?
Well, Lot 4 is just one piece of downtown’s biggest puzzle. There are a lot of surface parking lots that have been analyzed over many, many years – decades – to be redeveloped.
What is important for us is to find a suitable permanent location so that we never have to see this discussion again.
There has always been a fear that the lot will be developed, with a similar process prior to the 2008 downturn. We have always been aware of this and know that at some point we had to seriously consider other options, so it didn’t. has never been a surprise.
It’s interesting how closely the whole concept of surface lot development relates to housing, best-used space, sustainability, higher density, and the downtown corridor. The library is also one of them – the argument that the old library is beyond repair must be taken seriously. Is this lot going to be demolished? What are we going to do with this space?
Everyone talks about the need for more housing for the workforce, but there aren’t many places to build housing without creating friction and problems with neighborhoods. It makes more sense to place the dwellings in the downtown corridor. I would really like to see more housing options for the people who live here, and downtown seems to have the least impact.
What does this voting initiative mean overall?
I guess this ballot initiative is not just about the farmers market, but bigger and bigger things involving the downtown corridor, downtown development and housing. That’s good, much bigger than this event that happens four to five hours a week – we’re just lumped together.
There are these groups out there with a vision of what they want to see and where they want to see it, and that’s their prerogative, but it’s not us, it’s not our voice. We have been on a common quest to find a permanent home for the market in places that would support market growth, we just didn’t understand where it would be. Once this process starts to get bigger and bigger and we get more serious, we’ll know where we’re going.
John Hall responds
Lookout has contacted Longinotti and Hall for comment. Hall responded by email:
“Nesh and I have had a series of great discussions about Lot 4 and the downtown farmers market over the years, and over the past few months I have let him know that a voting initiative is underway. development. He very kindly offered me the opportunity to speak with the Farmers Market Council on August 30th and we had an in-depth discussion on the details of the poll initiative.
We strongly believe that compared to any realistic alternative, the current location of the Downtown Farmers Market, Lot 4, is its best location. The market is very successful there, and with better landscaping, permanent installations and other amenities it can be even better. If Our Downtown, Our Future’s voting initiative is successful, we look forward to working with the farmer’s market, the city and the community to make Lot 4 a public centerpiece of downtown Santa Cruz.
Check back with Lookout for further updates on the initiative and plans for Lot 4.