Editorial: SLO council wise to call for mediation

We can already hear the guffaws. Only in SLO — or perhaps Berkeley — would the City Council call in a mediator to help resolve a turf war over a farmers market.

Never mind; we don’t give a fig for how this might play elsewhere.

We believe the SLO City Council was eminently wise to turn to mediation — rather than bless the Downtown Association’s seemingly sudden decision to take charge of the entire operation.

After all, the farmers — through their Farmers’ Market Association — have been in charge of produce sales at the downtown market for at least 20 years. Why change now?

The Downtown Association says it isn’t trying to muscle out the farmers, yet that’s the public’s perception. There’s even been a call to boycott downtown merchants on Thursday nights in a show of support for farmers. And the dispute has reached beyond the city limits — signs supporting the farmers have been displayed at other community markets, making this a countywide brouhaha.

Frankly, we find it unfortunate that the public is being asked to choose up sides in a he-said/she-said dispute that has, until now, played out mostly behind closed doors.

Yet human nature being what it is, any organization — from a youth sports league to a Fortune 500 firm — is bound to have its share of politics and power struggles.

We just hope this one can end in a compromise that will give both the Downtown Association and the farmers a strong voice in how the market is run.

We believe that’s for the best, because both parties are indispensable to the success of what’s become the downtown’s signature event — one that draws both tourists and locals alike and provides opportunities for both shopping and socializing.

As the Downtown Association points out, the event has evolved from a simple market into a street fair that offers a range of activities — entertainment, outdoor dining, fundraising opportunities for nonprofits, educational booths, as well as produce sales. It requires strong organizational skills to arrange all that, which the Downtown Association has ably provided.

Yet farm-fresh produce should always remain the heart and soul of the event, deserving of top billing.

Agriculture is, after all, one of our county’s top industries and an integral part of our history and heritage. We should showcase that with pride — and recognize that without the growers themselves, we would not have such a wonderful bounty of crops.

There should be room at the table for both the Downtown Association and the farmers to plan and coordinate the weekly Farmers Market. We commend the City Council for trying to achieve that through mediation.