Voters could determine the future of Chico Farmers' Market

CHICO, Calif. - The debate over the future of the Chico's Farmers' Market could soon go to a vote of the people.

On Thursday morning, supporters of the Saturday Downtown Farmers' Market filed an initiative with the city.  They will gather signatures to put their battle with the city on the November ballot.

If passed, the market would double in size.  Instead of taking up two rows of parking at the lot on East Third and Flume Streets, it would expand to all four rows.  The lease would last for six years.

Farmers' Market Spokesperson Cheryl King said she is confident the group has the support of the people.

"I really do believe the people of Chico like the Farmers' Market," said King. "It's a community event. They come down on Saturday, they bring their small children, they buy local food."   

But nearby businesses said the market hurts their bottom lines.  They said the market takes up valuable parking spots and in some cases acts as a direct competitor.  They said the market's plan to double its size is unreasonable.

This expansion proposal and others like it have been deadlocked in the City Council for a long time. 

Val Montague, owner of Zot's Hot Dog and Deli, said he is opposed to the market's expansion.

"We've never had a problem with them being there; it's just their expansion," said Montague.  "By losing 80 parking spaces, if a car moves once an hour, that's a total of 400 parking spaces that we're going to lose. And that's going to affect us greatly as merchants."

If the initiative does not pass, the Farmers' Market will cease to exist on January 1st, 2015.  The market could appeal to the City Council to extend the status quo, a year-to-year agreement with the same space.  The council could also offer alternate locations like the smaller lot next to City Hall.  For now, supporters of the Farmers' Market said anything short of victory isn't being considered.

Taking the matter to a vote of the people, supporters call it democracy in action.  But opponents call it a power play that threatens their livelihoods.   

It's possible that the vote could never make it to the ballot, if the Farmers' Market and council can reach an agreement before November.

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