“The Larchmont Farmers Market is not leaving Larchmont,” announced City Council Member David Ryu at a community meeting about the fate of the Larchmont Farmers market with a new playground proposed for the Larchmont city parking lot. The meeting was held at Marlborough School on Saturday, with about 80 participants attending via phone, and 20 people in the room. “I want to make it absolutely clear…I love the Farmers Market, I do not support and I would not support any plan that threatens the Farmers Market. It will be staying in the same location,” said Ryu.
At the same time, Ryu said he is also a “strong proponent and strong supporter of any green space, play area, open space.” Ryu explained that he grew up without much play space, and said that “any opportunity I get to create green space, I will take.” He added that he would like to convert the entire parking lot into green space and hopes that a time would come when that would be feasible.
Ryu said the playground project does not threaten the Farmers Market, and the market can stay in its current location before, during and after construction of the playground, without losing any vendors. Ryu explained that he has worked out a new configuration, with a “larger footprint for the Farmers Market on Larchmont Blvd., with more booths on the street and sidewalks immediately adjacent to the parking lot.”
Last week, Ryu had announced that he would conduct a community meeting to address questions raised by Gary Gilbert, a Windsor Square resident who organized a grassroots movement to support the Market after rumors surfaced that Melissa Farwell, representing Market management organization Raw Inspirations, told farmers and vendors that the market would be moving north of Beverly on Larchmont, in anticipation of the playground construction. As the COVID-19 health crisis blossomed, and large public gatherings were discouraged, Ryu changed the format to a listen-in only telephone meeting.
Following Ryu’s opening remarks at the meeting, Farwell read a prepared statement that was sent out from Ryu’s office before the meeting, along with other materials. Next, Craig Raines, a landscape architect from the LA Department of Recreation and Parks, and project manager for the Larchmont Playground Park, presented details of the playground project. Raines also reviewed the timeline and explained the project was designed in-house at RAP, working closely with the Larchmont community.
Following the presentations, Nick Grief, CD4 Chief of Staff, read questions submitted by telephone participants from the community. In response to the first question, “Would the market commit to staying where it is right now, if the playground is not built?,” Farwell said the market has always wanted a larger footprint and would still love to expand in another nearby location.
“Ongoing, we have outgrown our space, whether the playground is there or not there, and we would like a larger space to move the market,” said Farwell.
Ryu said he didn’t have the authority to order the market to stay, but said if it moved, it would still have to comply with all city rules.
Farwell also said that in light of the COVID-19 restrictions, starting on Sunday, the market will be smaller for a while, to allow for greater social distancing. Also no sampling will be permitted.
In response to questions about the playground’s details, Raines explained that the playground park will be approximately 1,200 square feet, designed for 2-5 year olds with parents or guardians. He said the contractor is now ready to start the project on April 1. The total cost is approximately $272,000, and construction is estimated to take two months. He said that 10 parking spaces will be removed for the project; six spots will be used by the park and four spots will be used for a loading zone. Raines said no special studies were done for the park, and it is exempt from CEQA review.
Ryu was asked about outreach to develop the playground. He said he tried to have as much community outreach and participation as possible, and offered to meet with anyone interested following the call, and that his staff would e-mail everyone who participated. He declined to name specific individuals who proposed the park, but said he has also been approached by young families who want the park, and that the Windsor Square Association has been considering the idea for decades. Beyond that, however, no wider survey was done to determine support.
Regarding the opposition expressed to the park, Ryu said he is aware that more than 1,600 people recently signed a petition opposing the park. He said he believes many of them were opposed because of the potential loss of the Farmers Market, and he hopes they will be satisfied now to know that market is not moving. He reiterated his desire to create green space wherever possible, adding that “this is a pilot project and we will see how this works out.” When one attendee asked why protester Gilbert wasn’t at the meeting, Ryu said Gilbert was listening in via phone, and offered to read a statement submitted by Gilbert, as well as statements from other community leaders.
Asked about the origin of the park idea, Ryu said he there were some families who simply wanted a space for children on Larchmont, and there were others – as long rumored – who were hoping a park, which qualifies as a “sensitive use,” might prevent a cannabis operator from locating on the street. Ryu said he supports the park because he wants green space, and there’s no guarantee it would prevent a cannabis business, because it’s a matter of a legal interpretation. Ryu said he is open to any and all ideas about creating more green space, including upgrades to the nearby Robert L. Burns Park.
Despite repeated questions, Farwell did not commit to staying in the current location indefinitely, instead explaining how moving to a larger space would allow her to offer current vendors more space, as well as add more vendors and provide more amenities for the community, such as seating areas and activities for children. After the meeting, we asked Farwell if she would speak with the Larchmont business community before making a move, and she said she would consider it.
Following the extensive question and answer period, Ryu invited Larry Guzin, President of the Windsor Square Association, John Winther, President of the Larchmont Boulevard Association, and Caroline Moser, President of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council to speak in support of the playground. Heather Duffy Boylston also sent in a statement of opposition from the Larchmont Business Improvement District, and Bill Simon read a statement from Gary Gilbert.
In reaction to Saturday’s meeting, Gilbert shared the following statement with the Buzz today.
“What Councilmember David Ryu did Saturday afternoon was unfortunate, using the tragedy of a worldwide pandemic to avoid directly hearing his constituents’ ideas on a project he knows is flawed.
Councilmember Ryu sat in my home and gave me his word to hear what the community had to say in an open and honest exchange of ideas. Since then, almost two thousand members of this community have stepped up and publicly signed a petition to tell him that they don’t want this ill-conceived tot-lot, yet he will not cancel it, nor even postpone it.
Looking back, I wish he had the decency to tell me that there was no reason to organize a community meeting because it’s now clear to me he had no interest in hearing what the community had to say. We could have saved a lot of time. And a contrived, last-minute one-way phone-in forum, where the public doesn’t get to speak and where his own staff decides which questions are asked and which aren’t, is not a substitute for an authentic town meeting. Pretending so was a shameful embarrassment for his entire office.
During the meeting, Councilmember Ryu repeated the same dishonest story fed to him by the few tot-lot advocates, that there is strong support for this idea, but in truth there is very little. The truth is that John Welborne and a very small group of followers have anointed themselves the moral compass of the community and commandeered all decision making, in order to prevent a cannabis dispensary from coming to Larchmont. They falsely claimed strong support and snuck this pernicious mess by everyone. Worse, they failed during their design and planning to consider any of the consequences or impacts of their rushed ideas, and as a result they incompetently threatened our beloved farmers market, the heart of this community, and much more.
Councilmember Ryu unfortunately enabled this sequence of events, and enables people like Welborne to do it again, and he continues to ignore the will of the community as a whole. What is most troubling about this all, is that they just might get away with it.
What would be preferable to the community, if the Councilmember insists on adding a green space to Larchmont, is to halt this ill-advised project, which he himself stated wouldn’t necessarily prevent cannabis retailing (and shouldn’t the community have THAT discussion as well?). Together, we can create a true community town hall, to hear from the many merchants, green advocates, street patrons and other stakeholders, to come up with a plan that best serves the entire community.
It looks like the Larchmont Farmers’ Market will remain where it belongs, in the heart of the Boulevard, and yes, that’s a big win, but right now, unless this community finds a way, we will be forced to look at this sad substitute for a genuine green space every day, as a constant reminder of how we all failed.
Councilmember Ryu should step up, do the right thing, admit he was misled, listen to the people who elected him, stop this construction, and join with us to promote a better plan for Larchmont and a more thoughtful approach that addresses the actual wants of the entire neighborhood,” wrote Gilbert.
Click here to listen to the entire meeting.