Monday, August 14, 2017

FAQ: Grand Lake Farmers Market

Q 1: How do you know AIM's Grand Lake Farmers Market is good for local business?

A 1:  In 2011 then-Councilperson Pat Kernighan was quoted in the Oakland Tribune:

"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."

(Later in the piece Kernighan said the concerns of the business community were being met.)

JMR:  Some involved in this controversy are skeptical of AIM, so I haven't reached out to AIM for survey data because AIM opponents might discount it, though I'm sure AIM has plenty.  I did find this online, however.  I'd guess our neighborhood was more in need of a boost than North Berkeley.

Though the North Berkeley market is the smallest of the Ecology Center’s three farmers’ markets in the city, a 2012 survey showed that the addition of the market increased visitors to the North Berkeley Business District, and in turn, boosted local businesses.  The survey revealed that 56% of shoppers come to the area specifically to attend the market and 72% of market shoppers reported spending an average of $34 at other local businesses as well—adding up to over $2 million in annual sales for North Berkeley businesses.

Q 2:  Do you accept that AIM should leave the facility in the same state that they found it, including repairing damage, cleaning garbage.  Why should the city have to take on this burden?

A 2:  This site has a history.  Back in 1998/1999 Councilmember John Russo - whether Pat Kernighan had become his chief of staff at that period I don't recall - proposed giving the park to developers to build a Trader Joe's.  As part of the effort to stop that from happening, the idea arose to bring a farmers market to show the park was not derelict, useless space.  (My wife has written of this elsewhere on this blog.)  After the developers were repulsed, the City paid for a remake of the park specifically with the continued presence of a farmers market in mind.  Some bad design choices were made, particularly in the choice of materials for the pathways.  AIM should not bear alone the responsibility of an ongoing problem with walking surfaces.  As for the City sharing the general burden of paying for general maintenance, if you accept my answer to the previous question that Grand Lake Market is an economic asset to the community both in the narrow sense of bringing tax dollars and retail sales to the adjacent shopping districts and as a symbol of Oakland as a vibrant, tolerant place - as a brand builder - then deciding who pays for what is not as self evident as AIM's critics say.

My premise is that the current market is not a burden to the city and is not ruining the park for users the other six days of the week.  My wife and I have started dropping by the park the day after market, and we have seen a park that is absolutely in better condition than it was 20 years ago and, compared to other, less heavily used Oakland parks looks - okay.  The City and AIM need to discuss the issue, but I'd like to hear AIM's opinion on how responsive the City has been to maintenance issues.

Q 3:  Why are you so hostile to RFPs?

A 3:  RFPs sometimes produce fair outcomes. But the process itself is no guarantee.  It’s a classic exercise in GIGO: garbage in garbage out.  Since the proponents of this particular RFP are hostile to AIM, an RFP under their influence will be designed to eliminate or disadvantage AIM. 

Moreover, it’s useful to take a look at what one proponent has called the no-RFP movement.  That is, they are opposed to RFPs in general.  These critics of RFPs point out the general weakness in the process, some of which have direct relevance to the attacks on AIM.  Following, evaluations of the RFP process:

VIEW 1:  For the past 7 years I have lived on the vendor side.  I have been the recipient of multiple RFPs and spent thousands of hours trying to fit our solution into the clients’ process and perspective.  My conclusion is that there are 5 major things wrong with RFPs that do not end up accomplishing the goal.  These include:

* Solutions instead of Problems – In general, RFP’s dictate solutions to your vendors instead of engaging them to solve the problem. (Emphasis added.)

* Eliminating Vendors Expertise – An RFP generally asks vendors to fit their solution into a box.  This tends to eliminate the vendors’ expertise around their product and probably doesn’t lead to better prices.

* RFPs are Biased – RFP’s are often written to favor one particular vendor – making them somewhat biased and not leading to transparency in the decision making process.

* Partnership – RFP’s tend to eliminate the ability for a client and vendor to actually partner and communicate about an opportunity or problem. (MR: Since AIM is doing a good job, the City should work with AIM directly before looking elsewhere.)

* Eliminates Innovation – the process tends to eliminate creativity and best practices from the discussion.

In fact, in most cases we have stopped participating in RFP’s because ... the RFP generally eliminates our ability to sit down and engage in a conversation with the client.

VIEW 2:  Several  years ago at the SXSW conference in Austin, they held a panel attacking the general notion of RFPs.

 Imagine you want to buy a car. A good car that will be fast, reliable and will last a while. So you ask several car shops to send you a 20 page document describing the car and its many benefits, then you base your car purchase on the best written document. That's what an RFP is. It's like shopping for a car without test driving. Why would you want to commit to a nice set of wheels before taking it out for a spin? 

Using RFPs to select vendors makes as much sense as shopping for a car blindfolded.  If you're looking for creative solutions, why use a process that removes creativity?  Proposals only tell you how good a vendor is at writing proposals. The No RFPs movement, started on the heels of SXSW 2012, is continuing to catch on.

JMR:  I like this description because for almost 20 years we have been taking our market "out for a spin."

VIEW 3:  And this online essay illustrates the danger of a checklist RFP in which nonessential criteria can end up outweighing essential ones.
(The content of many RFPs) remind me of my old profile. Very little of it was relevant to relationships. It was mostly anecdotal information about myself.

Too Much Emphasis and Focus on Superficial Things

I’m 6′ 2", played football in college, and have a law degree from Stanford.

Not really. But it sounded good, right?

Throw in a picture of a guy with dark eyes and great hair, and pretty soon I’m someone’s soul mate.

The RFP process does the same thing. If the responding proposal lets the client check off enough boxes (budget, timing, experience, technology), it starts to feel like a match.

But, in truth, it might not be a match at all since all the important stuff — philosophy, company culture, company values, internal processes, and other hard-to-quantify but essential factors — aren’t captured effectively in a proposal. (Emphasis added)

JMR:  The above criticisms suggest how even the best-intentioned RFP can go wrong, and I disagree with the intentions behind the proposed Grand Lake Farmers Market one.

Q 4:  Who says the current vendors will go away if new management comes in?

A 4:  This is why I advise those who love the market to talk to their favorite vendors. For instance, one vendor who declines to give her name says she was told that she would be expelled from the market under new management.  But this is secondhand stuff.  I am going to ask some sources to attach their names to comments on this issue.

What I am generally told- without attribution - is this.  It’s difficult to be precise about how many existing vendors would be purged, how many others squeezed out, how many others would move on to more profitable venues as the energy of our market wanes.  Other organizations already have different farmers and food purveyors, different rules and so on. Some change in vendors would be guaranteed even in the best case.  Also, vendors would be looking for a market that offers the best opportunity to make the most money.  Even if a new manager lowered stall fees, a new reduced market would have less traffic.  Also, AIM would try to help their vendors land on their feet.  I've been told AIM would do its best to find an alternate location for a Saturday market. 

If you have particular vendors that you enjoy and with whom you have a personal relationship - if you want to see them continue to prosper - ask them about the criticisms of AIM and the proposed solutions,

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