Late Thursday evening, City Councilmember David Ryu’s office announced that the community meeting to discuss the Larchmont Farmers Market, and the new playground planned for a portion of the parking lot where the Market is located, which was scheduled for this Saturday, “will continue as a telephone meeting,” due to the restrictions on large public gatherings in light of the novel coronavirus. Ryu encouraged people to stay home and dial in to the meeting, which will be listen-only. To join in, call (425) 535-9268 on Saturday, March 14, at 2 p.m. In addition to Ryu, speakers will include Craig Raines of the City’s Recreation & Parks Department, and Melissa Farwell, from Raw Inspiration, the Larchmont Farmers Market manager. Questions for the speakers can be e-mailed in advance or during the meeting to CD4 Field Deputy Rob Fisher, at [email protected]. Ryu’s message to the community about the meeting included a FAQ, a letter from Farwell, and images of the proposed park.
Gary Gilbert, a Windsor Square resident who has been leading the effort to preserve the Larchmont Farmers Market in its current location and configuration, responded to Ryu with the following message:
Thank you for giving me all that time today. It’s much appreciated. Unfortunately, I’ve spoken to my support team (former public officials, city planners, attorneys, and business leaders) and they unanimously agree with me that I can’t recommend the proposed phone call with my neighbors, the 1250 people who signed the petition to end the playground, and who were looking forward to a frank, two way communication, an open community meeting to finally get to express their feelings on the play space and the market. Instead, like so many others, we prefer that you follow the guidelines released today by Mayor Garcetti, to postpone or cancel the meeting until after April 20th, 2020, and to continue to postpone construction on the project until we can safely get together and revisit the situation.
I hope you understand. And most important, stay safe.
Gilbert then urged the now more than 1,400 people who have signed his petition to preserve the market not to call in to the meeting but instead e-mail Fisher at the above address or call 323-957-6415 and “request the meeting we were promised.”
Mark Pampanin, a spokesman for Ryu’s office, told the Buzz this morning that he is not surprised to hear that some people are disappointed the community meeting could not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he said it is better to share the information now than not to share it, and added that he is pleased that the market management representative Farwell will be in on the call, since the Farmer’s Market seems to be the central issue.
While Pampanin was not able to answer our question about why the meeting could not be postponed until after the public health crisis subsides, he did say “the dialogue will not stop on Saturday, we will keep this discussion going.”
Gilbert hopes to make sure that does indeed happen. He told the Buzz he hopes to hold the council office to its commitment to have a community dialogue about the park, and he has asked Ryu to make a statement that no construction on the playground will start until a community conversation can take place, whenever that might be. Gilbert also shared with the Buzz several e-mails he has received from residents who wrote to Ryu saying they are are worried that Saturday’s phone briefing with e-mailed questions might be considered a substitute for the community dialogue and urged Ryu to pause the whole issue until a community meeting can take place.
Among those letters, John Kaliski, an architect and urban planner who lives in Windsor Village, wrote:
“A telephone call-in of the type proposed, a one-way dialogue for anyone listening, will not accomplish this, and unfortunately will only foster more community unrest on the part of the hundreds, indeed thousands of people who have taken an interest in this Larchmont Farmers Market issue. If the City Planning Department can postpone publicly scheduled HPOZ meetings due to Coronavirus and tell applicants they will have to wait until at least April 20th, and communicate that during their wait that the City will work with them to maintain their development rights (I am a member of the Windsor Village, Wilshire Park, etc. HPOZ Advisory Board and this was communicated to us today by LADCP), it is hard for me to understand why this meeting, in the middle of a pandemic, can not be postponed until after April 20th, allowing for a genuine community dialogue.”
In another letter, Windsor Square resident Neil Kramer challenged the underlying issue for potential disruption of the farmer’s market:
I am an Arden Boulevard resident who is deeply concerned with the Council office’s approach to the discredited notion of a play space in the Larchmont Boulevard parking lot. An enormous amount of community effort has been devoted to correcting an error by the Council office, the local neighborhood councils, and others. In a time of global tumult, this small matter should be halted by the Council office so we can concentrate on the larger issues affecting all of us.
The original notion that a park would prevent cannabis stores on Larchmont Boulevard has been debunked at many levels. The parking lot is not within the domain of Recreation and Parks, so a play space there leased from Transportation would not trigger a cannabis prohibition. The limits on cannabis permits has already been reached, so stores would have to move from existing locations to open on the Boulevard. The large number of vacant stores on the Boulevard demonstrates that rents, not municipal prohibitions, are largely responsible for the absence of cannabis shops. Parents of small children have not indicated any desire for a tiny play space in a parking lot in a shopping district.
In view of the extensive opposition to the play space, the inability of the Councilmember to have an in-person public meeting with concerned stakeholders due to the virus, the perception by many that the Councilmember is beholden to the publisher of the Larchmont Chronicle, who has endorsed Mr. Ryu for re-election and who is the originator of the play-space- as-inoculation-against-cannabis-shops scheme, it would be prudent for Mr. Ryu to call an immediate halt to all work and expenditure on this project.
For now, Pampanin said the council office is going ahead with the phone meeting. He also said Farwell is hoping the farmer’s market will be open as usual this Sunday, though some practices such as tasting samples might be curtailed to conform with stricter guidelines now required by the County Health Department in light of the coronavirus outbreak. We will keep you posted if this changes.