Friday, August 11, 2017

A Response to Pat Kernighan

English: Looking towards the Grand Avenue side...
English: Looking towards the Grand Avenue side of Lake Merritt from Lakeshore Avenue. The group of apartments on the hill in the foreground are on Burk and Lagunitas streets and are typical of the apartments found throughout the Adams Point neighborhood. Photo taken and submitted to Wikipedia by Aran Johnson. Category:Images of Oakland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
All arguments are based on a premise, on a foundational conviction from which all else flows. My premise is simple: The Grand Lake Farmers Market under the management of the Agricultural Institute of Marin is an outstanding farmers market by any metric. It is popular as measured by the number and enthusiasm of attendees. It is popular as measured by the number of those attendees who come back again and again. If you use the utilitarian measure of what creates the greatest good for the greatest number, it scores high, benefiting the surrounding neighborhoods by stimulating adjacent commerce not only on market days but on other days when those introduced to our lovely neighborhood return!

And by the way, Tuesday of this week the Chronicle ran a story headlined, “Mid-Market restaurants brace for life after Hamilton,’” describing how restaurants and bars near San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater profited from the hit musical and now fear what comes after its departure.

Prior to the show’s arrival, many restaurants in the Mid-Market neighborhood struggled to find a foothold. A rash of high-profile closures during the fall and winter — Cadence, Oro, Bon Marche, AQ, Volta — made headlines, spurring doubt about the area’s viability as a dining destination.

The arrival of the musical — and 370,000 ticket holders, according to production company SHN — offered the potential to remove those doubts.

Across the street from the Perennial, the Cadillac’s Rodriguez is bracing for a post- “Hamilton” slowdown, but he is trying to stay positive, hoping to ride the established momentum.

“It’ll still be busier than it was before,” he said. “We’ve been able to build up some new customers because of the exposure we’ve gotten.”

Earlier stories in the Oakland Tribune made a strikingly similar point about our Market and the Grand Lake “renaissance.”  I quote from this recent Chronicle story to re-emphasize that obvious point. Even if the popularity of the market creates a problem or two, its benefits are clear, and a smaller, less vibrant market will cost the neighborhood. That’s why I mention the Chronicle story.

That and the opportunity to call Grand Lake the “Hamilton” of farmers markets.

To sum up, the market generates tax income for the city, on site and off. It builds the neighborhood’s brand and also the city’s brand. Indeed, if I had the time (and I will make the time if it becomes necessary) I am certain I could produce a long list of real estate ads which praise – high among the attractions of the neighborhoods surrounding the market - “our prize-winning Saturday market.”

That’s my premise. It’s a great market, and challenges to AIM’s management of it better make damn good sense. But before I tease out why I think the current challenge to AIM lacks merit, both in content and method, I want to thank former councilperson Pat Kernighan for joining the discussion, since her past as a political heavy hitter – anyone who has served as my councilperson is by definition a heavy hitter – raises the profile of this lively back and forth.

A couple of months ago, when my wife and I attended the “renewal” meeting of the Splash Park advisory group created by Kernighan around 10 years ago - but apparently more or less defunct as an entity for several years - we were immediately made uneasy by obvious antipathy toward AIM from the seven (or eight) of those in attendance who voted at evening’s end to urge the city to institute a Request for Proposal, or RFP, opening the managing of the market to bids from others. Based on what they said in the meeting – not a single word of praise for our market - and what we had read earlier in Ken Katz’ online newsletter, it was clear the seven (or eight) had little use for AIM and expected it to be replaced as market manager as the end result of the implementation of the RFP. Indeed, if no existing market management group stepped up to contend for the job, Katz and company were more than ready “to consider organizing a community non-profit” to take over and run things, as Katz wrote online.  In other words, it seemed to us, the group thought a collection of well-intentioned amateurs would do a better job than AIM.

This distressed me for substantive reasons I have written about on my blog, the link to which I include above. But I was also distressed for a more general reason that had more to do with process than substance. As Jerry Barclay said – and in more or less these words – there aren’t many of us, but we have political clout.  The implication to me was that he was confident the group could get the RFP through without significant support beyond the seven (or eight) people in the room. That’s another reason I’ve spent time publicizing the effort to oust AIM. I do NOT want a decision about the future of the Grand Lake Farmers Market to take place under the radar while the general community has no idea of what is going on until it is too late for them to speak out.

Whatever the final decision is, I want it to take place in the bright sunlight with as many people as possible invested in its outcome.  Kernighan’s joining in this discussion will help publicize this discussion. People will learn more about the particulars of this controversy, and – I hope – raise their voices so that our elected representatives will not be under the impression that seven (or eight) people are the voice of the community.

(And when I phrase it that way, doesn’t it kind of remind you of the recent Trumpcare debacle? The opponents of AIM want to repeal and replace, as it were: boot AIM and then – fingers crossed – put something better in its place, maybe a “skinny repeal” of AIM’s tenure which everyone hates but is expected to vote for anyway.)

Responding to my wife’s takedown of RFPs, a couple of people on Nextdoor have written about their beauty and simplicity, suggesting there is no reason to fear they might produce anything other than a just and logical outcome.  Indeed, maybe a proposed market RFP could say something like, “Hey, people. We need somebody to run this little farmers market here. Interested? Everyone welcome!” And justice will prevail. Of course, that’s not the way it works. The RFP will have criteria and stipulations that will – if they are adroitly done – limit those who make their way through the initial filter to become finalists, and then those will be filtered too.

My wife is not the only one who has mucked through this sort of process. I’ve been a university professor for more than 30 years and have helped create many RFPs, though in academia we call them Job Announcements.  The jostling, the maneuvering, the politicking around a simple job description is amusing to hear about - unless you’ve actually gone through the process yourself.  If you care about the parameters for who gets hired, you work hard to control the verbiage. Whether two job qualifications are joined by an “and” rather than an “or” can turn out to be decisive.  A phrase omitted “to tighten up the description” can come back and bite you hard. A friend no longer has a job because I failed to scrutinize the revision of a final list of required courses closely enough.

But let’s assume as some have argued on this very website that the creation of this particular RFP is sweet, simple and utterly apolitical. As the opponents of AIM have made clear – and indeed Kernighan makes clear in her comments – the folks challenging AIM don’t trust AIM.  Thus, from their perspective, no matter what AIM promises in a bid to get back in as market manager, why believe those promises?  Why believe they will not evade and avoid even if contractually committed? Saying AIM can reapply as market manager is as sweet a piece of misdirection as David Copperfield ever managed. If an RFP is created under these circumstances – poisoned root, poisoned fruit - AIM is effectively out of the picture, and on that I’ll wager.

At this point, perhaps you accuse me of some legerdemain of my own. I have attempted to discredit the wisdom of creating an RFP. But what, you ask, is then to be done to get AIM to make a better market as it moves forward. Robertson, you say, are you pooh-poohing all of the complaints made by AIM opponents about the quality of its management of the Grand Lake Market?

Well, yeah, some of them I am. I will briefly break down these complaints into three categories, starting with the one I respect the least:

1)    The market is too popular. Katz has responded:  no no no. Never said it. We love the fact the market is popular. But then he will complain about the “congestion” at the market and how it must be reduced. In the common understanding of the term, when an area with a comparative small footprint is popular, it will be congested, i.e., lots of people will be close together rubbing elbows. The short answer to this is that if people don’t like being close together rubbing elbows, they won’t come to the market and get close together and rub elbows.  In a public venue where people are not compelled to gather, the problem self corrects. As the continued high attendance at the market makes clear, the congestion is apparently not a burden for those congested.
But, of course, he means more than that. The popularity of the market means parking is scarce to which I reply that people still come flocking to the market, so apparently it’s not too scarce. He also complains about the vendors parking their trucks under the expressway and thus taking up parking spaces. But again: People are still thronging the market even with those spaces occupied. I think much of the agitation about congestion is a solution in search of a problem. My wife will address more of these questions, and in more detail, later in this response.
2)    The market is damaging the park. This complaint I take more seriously, but it’s not reason enough to unceremoniously toss out AIM. Again, see my wife’s comments below.
3)    The market should be paying more to the city. I’ve already written about this. The market generates tax income for the city through its vendors whose products are taxed and, more significant, through taxes paid on purchases made by marketgoers on Saturday and by people who have been introduced to our lovely neighborhood by the market and come back other days.  As my wife so beautifully writes about later, it shows Oakland at its best, at its most inclusive, functioning as a living advertisement for not just our neighborhood but for our city. As she and I have learned as we collect signatures at the market, people from all across the Bay Area come to our market – and not a few from other states and other countries dragged down by friends and family to witness the Oakland spirit come alive. Before setting a figure on what AIM should pay, let’s do a cost-benefit analysis of how much the city benefits directly and indirectly from the market. Certainly, AIM should pay the going rate for its time in the park, but what that rate should be should not be speculative and based on comparing a farmers market to a wedding in the park. City staff should do research and figure out what a fair rate is and ….

                     Negotiate directly with AIM.

Remember my initial premise. AIM has run an outstanding market. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Don’t kill the golden goose. Two birds in the hand are worth more than what might be an eagle in the bush. (No, wait. It’s a piece of newspaper caught on a branch.) It is only fair and it is no more than common sense to reject what seems to be – at least in part - an animus-driven effort to create an RFP the result of which will almost certainly be AIM’s termination as market manager. You dislike the word “certainly”? Let us say that there is a high probability that if the city creates an RFP, AIM will not succeed itself as manager of our farmers market, and whoever follows with do a lesser job. And if that kind of crapshoot excites you, there’s a bus leaving for Reno in 15 minutes.

One of the points Kernighan makes in her comments above is that AIM was difficult to deal with in the past, which – if so - might not bode well for successful face-to-face negotiations.  Of course, AIM apparently has its own collective memories about who said what to whom and when and how and with what authority, etc. etc. To this whole litany of he said/she said, I respond: DOESN’T MATTER. LET IT GO. I am convinced that going forward we now have AIM’s full attention. Before I was a journalism professor, I taught English Lit, and I cannot resist quoting Samuel Johnson:  "When a man knows he is to be hanged, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Now that AIM is faced with Official Oakland - not with members of a neighborhood group having no official brief to negotiate with the market but only to advise a councilmember who is in fact no longer a councilmember - yes, we have AIM’s attention. Every day the public spotlight is shining brighter on any possible long-term future partnership between AIM and the city of Oakland, and since AIM is not dumb (you can’t be dumb and run a market as challenging as ours) I wager it will respond to reasonable demands for reasonable rent for their use of our park, and to any other reasonable requests. But the city of Oakland is not going to balance its budget on an increase in what AIM pays for use of Splash Pad Park to stage its outstanding market.

And, by the way, as Kernighan points out, Oakland’s other markets don’t pay anything for using the streets on which they set up (and close down for hours at a time) which she says makes all the difference.

Perhaps Kernighan has already provided the best perspective on the situation:

Oakland Tribune Story Headlined Farmers' Markets: Who Benefits? (6/1/11)

But in Oakland, there seems to be no agreement as to the idea behind the city's farmers' markets. Are they about economic vitality, but not about tax revenue? Fruits and vegetables, but also arts and crafts? According to Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, whose district includes Grand Lake, the city hasn't gotten around to that question.

 "The city council has never passed a comprehensive policy with regard to farmers' markets," she said. "I think the thinking," with the first market in Old Oakland in 1989, "was that providing fresh fruits and vegetables is a benefit to the people." The second component, she said, which developed later, is that "it's a festive public gathering that tends to attract people to the neighborhood.

"The Grand Lake market has become phenomenally successful beyond our wildest dreams," Kernighan continued. She described the lines outside Arizmendi, Lakeshore Cafe, Starbucks, and Peet's on Saturday mornings; the pedestrian traffic that slows to a standstill on Lakeshore, the parking difficulties that encourage residents to walk to the market from a half-mile away. The market, she and others began to realize, "has really some wonderful benefits, but it also had some downsides that need to be dealt with."

I agree.  City Council should work out policies governing all of Oakland’s farmers markets.  In the meantime, AIM deserves to continue in its role managing a market that has proved “phenomenally successful beyond our wildest dreams.”

Kernighan suggests in her remarks posted on Nextdoor earlier this week that my wife and I are oversimplifying this controversy. First, let me say that what we hope to do is serve as a catalyst for conversation.  I’m not setting myself up as the one-stop destination for definitive instruction on this topic. Much has been written about possible futures for our market. Read. Judge. At the top of my blog is a link to Katz’ proposed market guidelines. Speak out and reach out to our elected representatives. My wife and I represent but one perspective, which I will now sum up as simply – and, I know, as repetitively - as possible.

1)    We love the current Grand Lake Farmers Market, as it presents itself when we view it from a distance and as we experience it when we shop there. Thinking globally, even those who currently challenge AIM seem to accept its market has invigorated the neighborhood economy.
2)    Of the recommendations about how the market should be changed going forward, some seem trivial and others seem flat out wrong.  None seem so substantive to me that we should terminate AIM as market manager without directly negotiating in good faith with them on those issues around which there is consensus.
3)    Given the attitude toward AIM on the part of some of those who are pushing for an RFP – and perhaps that attitude is based at least in part on tone-deaf response by AIM in years past – I think creating an RFP is de facto termination of AIM as market manager.
4)    If AIM is terminated, I think the probability that any subsequent manager will do as good a market is low.
5)    In any negotiations with AIM at this moment, the city has the stronger hand. Use it. Negotiate.

One last thing. Kernighan says that AIM “rallied its troops” to defend it. Ha.  I guess I’m flattered to be considered worthy of being called out of barracks, word warrior, pen in hand. Since the market’s earliest days, and until a few weeks ago, our contacts with AIM were precisely zero. My wife and I became involved because we went to a community meeting and were upset by what we saw unfolding. At first, when we showed up at the market to hand out flyers, AIM management didn’t know what to make of us. I’m not certain what they make of us now. We have had some interaction with AIM but not much. We are not in the pay of Big Vegetable (Marin division).

And now more from my wife:

We appreciate Pat Kernighan’s public service.  However, we disagree with a portion of what she says and assume that some of her comments were based on being given erroneous information because much of what she says is what some on the re-constituted farmers market committee claim.

“Hello neighbors, this is Pat Kernighan, former City Councilperson for District 2, now happily retired. I have been reading the debate about the Grandlake Farmers Market with dismay, as I'm seeing accusations and statements that are not true. I am also seeing an over-simplification about what would make for the best future of the Farmers Market. It is not simply a question of keeping or changing the current market management. It is more about deciding what operational standards we want as a community for the market. For starters, let me clear up a couple of incorrect statements that appear in the Save Our Market flyer that is being distributed: 1. No one in the community that I know of, or in City government, is proposing that the Grandlake market be shut down or that the current management company, AIM (Agricultural Institute of Marin), be barred from managing the market.”

(SAVE OUR MARKET:  Neither of those things was said by us nor written by us!  Neither of those assertions is in our flyer. The market will continue (in one form or another) when all this is over, and if there is an RFP, I am sure AIM will not be banned from reapplying – though we confidently predict that at the end of the day it will NOT be chosen to succeed itself.  We have no way of knowing what the ‘anti-AIM’ individuals are claiming we have said.  What we have stated verbally and in writing is that anti-AIM individuals are attempting to oust the Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM) as managers of our wonderful farmers market.  We have heard them state that as their goal, and they have put it in writing.  Again, neither my husband nor I ever suggested that anyone is trying to remove the Farmers Market from the park.  We simply support City staff’s January 24, 2017 Council Report be followed which was to provide AIM with a “5-year lease.”  And we also ask why is the AIM market being singled out for an RFP when the Old Oakland Farmers Market, a market operating longer in the same place, is not?  That market is a far less complex and yet not nearly as good as Grand Lake, so should not an RFP be issued as an incentive for them to shape up or perhaps to bring in a group which would create a better market?)

“2. No one is advocating that the craft vendors or prepared food vendors be eliminated from the market.”

(Actually, when we attended the meeting of the re-constituted farmers market advisory committee several months ago, attendees DID lobby for exactly THAT!  Our neighbor who attended the meeting with my husband and me referred to them as the ‘contingent.’  The ‘contingent’ - by my count more than half of the anti-AIM people present - stated a ‘farmers only’ policy was their goal, and that they had stopped attending the Grand Lake market and now shopped only at those kinds of markets elsewhere.   Again, at least four of the seven individuals in the Katz group did specifically state that their goal was to have FARMERS only.  They pressed for that over and over again --- to get rid of vendor-types other than farmers.  The group did not vote on this issue, but the majority of the anti-AIM group (‘contingent!’) did lobby to eliminate crafts and prepared foods.  We attended the ‘re-constituted’ farmers market committee meeting, and we heard clearly what was said.  If what was said has been reported otherwise, then the report is incorrect.)

“What IS being proposed by a group of community members, (who have spent years volunteering on behalf of the market and the park),”

(They are not the only local individuals who volunteered large amounts of time.  Those of us who actually worked to save Splash Pad Park from development in 1998 and 1999 and who worked to create its farmers market [some now claim to have done both, but did neither] also spent years of our lives to help create a better neighborhood and a better CITY, and the park would not have been saved or our wonderful market created if we had not put so much time and effort into the park and market!  In addition to Oakland Tribune columnist Peggy Stinnett, there were four women in the neighborhood who worked to save Splash Pad from development and who helped start the farmers market so that we could show the park was used and therefore not expendable.  I was one.  The other three were Nancy Rieser, Caroline Kim and Laura Haas.)

 “is that the City should set operational guidelines”

 (Operational guidelines are a good idea.)

“for any market manager about things like protecting the park surfaces (especially the grass) by laying plywood under the booths”

(Most booths at the market do try to protect the surfaces.  That is not to say that a better job could not be done, making sure that all vendors comply.)

“and a tarp under the greasy popcorn machine,”

 (I find it interesting that some individuals are so upset about staining of the sidewalk at the park, when they seem not to notice worse staining on the walks directly across the street.  Why is the staining of walks on one side of the street a bad thing and of no concern on the other?  I would argue that, considering the numbers of years the market has operated, the staining is actually minimal.  But, of course, the walks could use a good steam cleaning, up and down the neighborhood!)

“that pedestrian aisles for shopping be a minimum width to eliminate congestion,”

(There is no factual evidence to support the need for wider aisles.  In fact, I have worked for a couple of the most prestigious architectural firms in the country, and one of those firms, a specialist in retail, sometimes designed retail spaces to create an experience similar to those found in a Middle East market.  Speaking as an architect and designer, the width of the aisles does not seem too narrow.  On Saturday, when the park is filled, the business - the ‘congestion’ - makes the whole park seems rather like a bazaar.  Because of that, the intimate atmosphere is delightful, and it is a pleasant place to spend a morning.  Families bring their children to the market, and if they felt it too congested, they would not be bringing their small children.  It seems to me that, this is one of the things Ken and Jerry are pushing for.  Just because they believe it does not make it true, does not mean that most people attending the market react as they do, and it does not mean their position is a valid one.    

What I would say about the aisles - and I have been told so by market attendees - is that they want the ‘gravel’ removed and replaced by a solid surface.  They want that because the gravel path is a hazard!  During the design phase of the park, I attended a single design meeting at the request of committee members who thought Katz was “overly influencing” the rest of the committee.  At that meeting I very strongly advised Ken and Walter Hood, the landscape architect, not to install gravel in walkways -- based on my public project management experience -- because it was a maintenance problem and a liability problem.  Ken and Hood approved the gravel, and Ken is now blaming AIM for its condition.  The gravel’s condition can never be made ‘good’ because the wrong material was selected for the wrong place.  More gravel will not make the wrong material right!!!!!!! Ken and the architect made an error in judgment, and now Ken blames the farmers market for his bad decision. The city signed off on the initial design and oversaw its construction and thus incurred responsibility for current conditions.)   

“that rules for truck parking be made so that a reasonable amount of parking is left for customers of the market,” 

(This is now Katz’ position.  However, the starting point for the re-designed Splash Park around 15 years ago was to have the vendor trucks park in the parking spaces under the freeway and adjacent to the park.  In fact, it was suggested by Katz at a preliminary community design meeting, and I thought it then a good idea, told him so, and it is still a good idea today.  Vendors parking further from their booths would be a hardship on vendors because they would need to hire more people and/or leave their booths unattended when they leave so that they might replenish their stock.  And again, what would be the precise benefit of creating a few more parking spaces?  Ken seems to think the market is already too crowded.  It’s not clear who would benefit from this proposed change, but it is clear who would suffer – the vendors, particularly the farmers.) 

“that there be established a maximum footprint for the market, and that the market management pay the city a reasonable fee that would go for repair of wear and tear on the park.’

(No one would oppose AIM paying a reasonable amount – an increased amount - for ‘leasing’ the park.  However, on Saturdays the use of the park - per square foot per person - is greater at our small Splash Pad Park than any other park area in the City.  Because that is true, City maintenance dollars should reflect the park use.  As for limiting the market to a “maximum footprint,” I find it delightful that the park is being utilized to its fullest.  Cut the size of the market and you diminish the benefits of the market to the neighborhood since some of those benefits are not a matter of direct economics but also an intangible based on the market’s size and energy.)  

“are the issues that should be the subject of a community discussion, in my opinion.”

(That is a good point.  No one objecting to community input.  What some in the community object to – including us - is that a few Crocker individuals have already imposed their views; are trying to dictate what is done in the market; to dictate who runs the market; and what the market should be. They, believe it or not, are in the minority!)    

“Finally, the group is also asking that the City issue an open and competitive Request for Proposals for management of the Grandlake farmers market, with these types of guidelines included.”

(As indicated by petition signatures and other responses, it’s clear hundreds of individuals object to an RFP but support the ‘lease agreement’ proposed by City staff in its January 24, 2017 Council Report.  In the past in a story in the Oakland Tribune, as my husband noted above, you proposed the creation of guidelines for all farmers markets in the city.  We believe that a good idea.  Of course, guidelines could easily be a part of a lease agreement with AIM, and that would be a good precedent, a template for citywide rules.)

Currently the market is operated by the Agricultural Institute of Marin, known as AIM. I believe the RFP idea is what set off the controversy and motivated AIM to rally the troops in support of its continued management.”

(Who are these troops?  Me and my husband?  Concerned by what we thought was a below-the-radar effort – my husband loves this phrase - to undermine the market, we showed up at the market and started giving out flyers, with no encouragement from AIM. They didn’t know who we were!  As residents of this neighborhood since 1991, my husband and I have seen what the market has done to revitalize our neighborhood and our City!  We have seen the market voted and re-voted the ‘BEST,’ the ‘PREMIER’ farmers market in the East Bay, and we have seen the park, on Saturdays, become a magnet for our friends and family.  The market is right up there with Fairyland as a family friendly place.  My husband and I were the first people who objected to John Russo’s proposal to develop the park by installing a Trader Joe’s.  Prior to that proposal, we had supported Russo, voted for Russo – also for Kernighan and Guillen by the way.  At an evening meal at Spettro’s, John and his wife even shared a dish named after John with us.  Just as we objected to a specific position of Russo, we now object to the majority 7:5 vote of the ‘re-constituted- farmers market committee’ calling for a market RFP.  We were stunned to hear the reasons the ‘re-constituted’ committee members gave for wanting to get rid of AIM.  What happened is that we, with a neighbor, attended the re-constituted farmers market committee where we heard Katz, Barclay and their associates discuss the market, state their goals and make their proposals, and we said ‘NO!’ to their proposals and goals.  We personally had not had any contact with the Marin farmers market group since we heard them give their successful proposal for running a Grand Lake Farmers Market **in 1999**.  The reasons we supported them back then instead of our 2nd choice, the Old Oakland farmers market manager, was not only that they were more sophisticated but also because of their broader market strategy: to do things to create foot traffic in the neighborhood and by doing that revitalize our failing retail.  When we learned of what the ‘re-constituted’ committee wanted to do, we developed our flyer and created a petition and started a web page on our own.  AIM did not recruit us. 

Because we believe AIM’s Grand Lake Farmers Market at Splash Pad Park to have had such an overwhelming positive impact on our City, on our business district and on our neighborhood, we - on our own - are doing what we can to preserve what we believe to be the BEST of the BEST!  Oakland Magazine and the East Bay Express and other groups call AIM’s market that!  Preserving AIM’s good market we think is worth our effort.

AIM is not perfect, but it is good, very good.  We’ve attended other farmers markets, but no other market gives us the joy that we feel at AIM’s Grand Lake Market.  We love the mix of vendors, we love the market, but most of all, being good liberals, it makes us positively giddy to see the vitality of the market, a vitality created by the diversity of those attending the market.  The market brings together old and young, rich and not so rich and people of every race and of many religions and of many ways of being and living.  It is as beautiful a gathering of people as we have ever seen.  Our market is not accidental.  Our wonderful market was created by AIM, and they created it even when, for a while, some in City Hall did things to cause it to fail, among other things closing it down between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  AIM prevailed, and the market not only survived, it prospered.  It eventually became not just a purveyor of foods and goods but the HEART of our neighborhood, a place where the beautiful diversity of our City, our community, becomes one.  We support AIM today because the market is what it is.  AIM did not ask us to lobby for them.  They did not know us and we did not know them.  What we knew and what we know is that our market is a beautiful place, a place that we want to keep and indeed, something that should be ‘exported’ to other areas.  We support AIM because we believe it has created something that we all can be proud of.  AIM deserves to stay because of what it has created.)

“By the way, if such an RFP was issued by the City, AIM could certainly compete along with any other proposers (among whom would likely be the entities that manage the other East Bay farmers markets). I spent many years interacting with AIM and with the community members who have volunteered for years on the Farmers Market Advisory Committee and who have suggested doing the RFP. I have some observations. But first, a bit of history to explain how we got to this point. When the farmers market started operating in the newly constructed Splash Pad park in 2004, the market was about a third the size it is now. As it grew in popularity and size, so did the attendant problems like traffic congestion, trash left behind, lack of parking in the general neighborhood on Saturdays, and damage to the park.”  

(No one has said that everything is perfect.  However, AIM has been blamed for some things that are, in context, insignificant, and for some things that it and its market did not cause.  And part of the problem is the result of the market’s popularity.  Actually, Splash Pad Park, per square foot, is on Saturdays the most heavily used park area in the City of Oakland.  Because of its use, the City should provide the park with more maintenance and, as part of a lease, could stipulate maintenance standards on AIM.  Parking is indeed an issue.  However, the comparatively recent changes in parking on Lakeshore Avenue along Lake Merritt were poorly designed, and if the City had thought Saturday parking was an issue, they should have put a good parking layout at the edge of Lake Merritt when It was refurbished.  But if a good parking layout was not done then, it could be done now.)

“Several businesses on Grand and Lakeshore complained that the market was taking all the parking on Saturdays and siphoning off customers of restaurants.

(Actually, we’ve talked to some business people who make those claims.  Prior to the farmers market’s establishment, twice restaurants at a now-successful location went out of business because of lack of patronage.  Now the owner blames the market for hurting his business because of tight parking.  But the only day of the week when there is a waiting line to eat at the cafĂ© is on Saturday, during market hours.  What is claimed does not jibe with reality.  I’ve recently talked to business owners who are happy for the foot traffic generated by the farmers market because it brings them business they would not have otherwise.  Nancy Rieser and I did two surveys on Grand – Lakeshore – Lake Park after the start of the original market because the business association made similar claims.  Those surveys showed that most businesses believed the market had a positive effect on their sales.  Often, what is claimed is not substantiated by fact.  Any claim that the net effect of the market is not positive for a majority of neighborhood businesses needs to be very carefully evaluated!) 

“In response, I appointed a Farmers Market community advisory board (in about 2006?) to help sort out the difficulties and help the market be an asset to the community. The concerns of the neighborhood businesses were sorted out fairly early, and then the focus of the committee was on parking, traffic, and minimizing damage to the park. I and some of the folks from the advisory board attempted to work with AIM to get them to take some responsibility for mitigating the negative impacts of the market. It was a frustrating process, to put it mildly. The executive management of AIM wouldn't commit to meeting dates for months at a time; when they did come to a meeting, they sent people without decision-making authority; they refused to provide any financial information about their non-profit or what their income from the Grandlake market was. They only irregularly and grudgingly complied with requests to put down tarps or plywood under the booths that are set up on the grass. This pattern went on for years. The key bone of contention in our discussions was whether AIM would contribute financially to repairing damage to the park on which they operate. They contributed no money to the City for that or any other purpose during the years 2004 to 2013. Though AIM refused to share any financial information with City staff until 2014, we knew from talking with the market vendors that AIM was grossing an estimated $20,000/month -- $240,000/year -- from the fees it charged to the vendors at the Grandlake market. I estimate their expenses for the GL market were no more than $100,000/year for salary for a market manager and insurance. I am happy to have AIM correct me on that figure, but I think it's in the ballpark. So the bottom line is that over a period of nine years, AIM made a net income from the Grandlake market well in excess of $1 million, and they contributed none of it back the community who had generated all that income for them. If not for the advocacy of Ken Katz and Jerry Barclay of the Farmers Market Advisory Committee, I doubt that we would have ever seen any financial sharing with the City.”

(No one is saying that Ken and Jerry have not contributed, but many other individuals have contributed too!  And no one is saying that AIM has been a pushover in negotiations. But sometimes AIM has been “negotiating” with people who are not actual representatives of the city but are self-declared spokespeople of the neighborhood and its interests. That’s why tough contract negotiations directly between AIM and the City are now in order, not an end-run which will result in AIM’s ouster, and with all those who love the current market, saying, “Wait. What? That’s not what I wanted to happen.” Editor’s note: I give one last read to what my wife writes as she does to what I write, and I cannot resist recalling that perhaps apocryphal quotation from Vietnam, which I hope does not foreshadow where these attacks on AIM are going: ‘To save the village we had to destroy it.’)

“But due to the continued advocacy of these two volunteers, AIM finally spent $35,000 for a contractor to restore the decomposed granite paths,”

(Replacing the ‘gravelly parts’ of walks is a waste of money because the material will not hold up!  What is put down today, will be kicked out tomorrow!)

“and in 2014 or 2015 agreed to pay $1,000/month toward a fund for future repair needs of the park on which they operate. During the years of fruitless negotiations, AIM's consistent mantra was that their mission is to support the viability of small farms and to educate the public about healthy food; therefore they needed every bit of income for that purpose. They were also in the process of raising several million dollars to build a permanent, 7-day-a-week farmers market building in the Marin Civic Center that would provide a consistent place for Marin farmers to sell their produce. We agreed those were valuable pursuits, but argued that surely they could return some portion of their Grandlake profits to help repair the damage to the Oakland park they operated in. 

(And, if I remember, that was the same argument given for building a Trader Joe’s on the site, to pay for park maintenance)

“It wasn't until 2014, when Jerry and Ken proposed that the City do an RFP to open up the market management, that AIM suddenly became more cooperative with the City. For fairness and context, I will note that the City's policies with regard to use of City property is inconsistent depending on the type of use. Other farmers markets in Oakland do not pay a fee,

(Threats can be useful, and this one has certainly gotten everyone’s attention. But also: only AIM has been asked to pay a use fee?  And one wonders why they are reluctant?)

“but they all operate on an asphalt parking lot or city street,”

(On the “street!”  But that too requires City services, and I have been told that the Old Oakland Farmers Market has resulted in some lessening of patronage to nearby businesses at market times.  In addition, that market has not had the HUGE positive impact on the business district that AIM has had.  Katz and Barclay argue that the only money the City receives is from direct money paid for rent and for maintenance.  The fact is that AIM’s market was a primary engine behind the renewal of the Grand Lake business district and the increase in Sales TAX revenue to the City.  So, as nice as a bigger fee would be, City coffers have been enhanced by market foot traffic business and TAXES collect because of an increase foot traffic.)

“Thus the potential for damage to the venue is negligible. In contrast to farmers markets, the City charges any other non-profit which uses a City park to put on an event over $1,000/DAY in fees.

(It is our understanding that AIM has agreed to pay more than it does now.  If I recall, they suggested $800 a day.) 

“This includes events like free performances for children and fairs promoting local minority businesses, i.e., events for the public benefit that do not charge attendees or make any profit. So what is fair to charge the operator of the Grandlake Farmers Market? I would say somewhere in between those extremes. But the management issue isn't just about money, it is also about whether the market is being managed in a way that the majority of neighbors can enjoy.”

(Based on the hundreds of individuals we have talked to, a decisive MAJORITY, they LIKE the market as it is today, ENJOY the market, LOVE the market, they frequent the market and vote with their feet when they visit the market!)  

“Those issues need discussion by the community regardless of whether it is AIM or some other entity managing.”

(That is why we created a petition, to show what the COMMUNITY, not a few, WANT.)

 “-- For instance, should some of the farmers' trucks be required to park at Lakeview school so there is more customer parking under the freeway?”

(Again, the current parking arrangement was the basis for the re-design of the park!  It was Katz’s idea and it was DONE to create a market that would function well in a tight space.  And why make the market more difficult for vendors simply to add a few parking spaces?)  

“How wide should the pedestrian aisles be to allow comfortable movement within the market?”

(This issue surprises me.  People make their way through the market, linger at the market.  Again, there is no factual evidence that supports this position.  What people don’t like is not the width of the walkways, but the gravel, the gravel that Ken insisted on!)

“How dense with booths should the market be?”

(Again, this is a Katz and Barclay issue.  When we’ve attended the market on days with fewer booths, people have complained to us that they miss the vendors.  So, this does not seem to be an issue of concern to market attendees. Indeed, they seem to take a position opposite of Katz and Barclay.)

“Some folks like it as is, but I've heard from many people that they find it too crowded and go to other farmers markets instead.”

(It’s perfectly fine if some people don’t like the crowds at the market and shop elsewhere.  Nothing pleases everyone.  But we would argue that those who like the market vote with their feet and their feet support AIM’s market as it is.) 

“These questions, in my opinion, would be a useful subject of discussion.

(We agree.  What bothered us about the meeting at which the RFP was voted on was the fact so few members of the community were in attendance.  Again, they said they were few but had considerable political influence!)

“Wrapping this up: Whether the City opens up the market management function to competition with a Request for Proposals or whether they stick with AIM, I believe it is essential that the City establish written operational standards for the market management”

(We heartily support your belief in the establishment of written operational standards.  Without written standards, standards incorporated in a legal document, there is really no basis for expecting demands to be met.  We strongly concur with this, your suggestion, and we believe that this is a good point in time to establish standards!!!!!!!!!)   

“that will provide adequate aisle space for customers within the market,”  

(But, again, I question the need for wider aisles.  There is no empirical evidence that can be cited to show the aisles at the market are too narrow.  Demanding wider aisles might be a backdoor way of forcing vendors out of the market.)

‘protect the park infrastructure from unnecessary damage,”

(This would be good, but let me mention that the walks in front of the now Merritt Bakery are more stained than those around and in Splash Pad Park.  It is something that opponents of AIM decline to notice.)

“contribute to capital repair costs.”

 (That would be great!  However, since Splash Pad Park is, on a Saturdays, the most heavily used public park space in the City, it seems that the City should increase its maintenance of the park.)

“and manage parking and traffic impacts.’

(We have been asking for years for additional parking at the Lakeview School across the street from the market and, as stated earlier, we were highly disappointed in the horrible parking layout at the edge of the lake on Lakeshore Avenue.  It seems that if the City had been concerned about parking in the area, it would have required that the Lake Merritt design consultant hired to re-work the lake’s edge provide a quality design parking.  That design was/is inadequate.  Who but the City is responsible for the bad parking layout along the lake?)

“If community members are inclined to contact City officials about the Grandlake Farmers Market, these are the issues I encourage them to address.”

 (We agree on this!)  

“AIM could certainly meet these standards, but they are unlikely to do so unless required to do it by a written contract.” 

(My husband and I, having worked with consultants ourselves, having worked with contractors, have found that if something is not written down, it is as if it does not exist.  And, for that reason, Moses wrote the 10 commandments in stone.  Few at the time probably were able to read, but the commandments were written and became law and people understood they were serious --- even if not obeyed --- because they were in writing.  Moses set a good example.  Let’s follow his lead and put requirements in writing.)  

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