Amid Farmers Market stalemate, San Luis Obispo City Council issues ultimatum

The San Luis Obispo City Council cautioned the Downtown Association on Tuesday that it might lose its contract with the city if an agreement isn’t reached soon with the Farmers’ Market Association.

The two entities have been negotiating over control of the Thursday night Farmers Market produce section without consensus for three months, following a rift that became public in February.

City Manager Katie Lichtig and City Attorney Christine Dietrick will meet with representatives from both groups this week to try to reach an agreement. If that fails, the City Council will hold a special meeting May 28 to discuss other options, which may include amending the city’s contract with the Downtown Association.

The Downtown Association, which is contracted by the city to manage the Thursday night event, informed farmers in mid-January that it planned to take over the produce section from the San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association. That group had managed the produce sales for more than two decades.

In February, the City Council directed both parties to use a mediator to facilitate an agreement that would put the Farmers’ Market Association back in control of the produce section of Farmers Market.Councilman Andrew Carter on Tuesday said that the issues appeared to stem more from a “personality” conflict than a contractual issue.

“I am disappointed that it has taken three and a half months and gone nowhere,” Carter said. “It’s not that complicated.”

Under the current contract, the city has until May 30 to end its agreement with the Downtown Association.

The scuffle between the Downtown Association and the Farmers’ Market Association came to a head in January over struggles to re-configure selling space on Higuera Street near Chorro Street, precipitated in part by the widening of the sidewalk to accommodate dining outside the Wineman Hotel.

Downtown Association Executive Director Deborah Cash and several members of the board of directors and the Thursday Night Promotions Committee, which helps oversee the weekly event, told the council Tuesday that it is a contractual issue that should have been left to the purview of the Downtown Association.

The Farmers’ Market Association had asked the city to intervene.

“This is a community crisis, and this is something we are required to handle,” Councilwoman Jan Howell Marx said.

Neither group made it clear Tuesday what exactly they cannot agree on. However, Lichtig, who met with a representative from each party before Tuesday’s meeting, said she is “cautiously optimistic” that with guidance, an agreement will quickly be reached.