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The Threat to Fresh Veggies

Though it hasn’t been around long and it’s tiny by Los Angeles standards, the Larchmont Boulevard Farmers Market has built a loyal following on the upscale little shopping street. Southern California farmers get a crowd of locals there, eager for fresh fruit and vegetables. The boulevard’s business association credits the market, which operates every Sunday, with drawing customers on the slowest day of the week.

However, an onerous permit fee being considered by the Los Angeles City Council could leave the event, and about a dozen other farmers markets that use city-owned land, dying on the vine.

The permit fee issue popped up during an ongoing City Council review of how permits are granted to groups that use city property for festivals, carnivals, marathons and other events.

The review sparked unexpected controversy when a dozen or so farmers markets that set up stalls on city-owned land learned that they might face fees that could knock some of them out of business. That would be a shame. As market fan Huell Howser, host of the public TV show “California’s Gold,” says, outdoor markets “give our city a sense of place and neighborhood by bringing people together.”

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The permit fees have been on the city books for years but haven’t always been enforced. Council members also have been able to seek exemptions for some events. The proposal that is now moving through council committees would demand fees for events sponsored by for-profit groups but give nonprofits free use of city land.

Even operators of nonprofit markets worry they may be affected because the farmers who sell there certainly hope to profit, making the markets’ status under the proposed rules uncertain. And council members could no longer seek exemptions.

Market operators -- and the farmers who sell produce at the markets -- shouldn’t expect a free ride. But while an annual marathon or street carnival has to pay only once, markets could be forced to pay $528 each weekend. That onerous fee could force Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, which operates the big Hollywood Farmers’ Market, to drop two smaller markets in low-income neighborhoods, according to Pompea Smith, chief executive of the nonprofit organization.

The city should simply create a separate, more-affordable category for farmers markets, given their high civic value.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, who shops at the Larchmont market, is adamant that city fees not push markets out of business: “Whatever the cost is in lost fees could never be duplicated in the value that the community gets from these open-air farmers markets.” No doubt thousands of arugula lovers would agree.


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