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For thousands of local residents, the Hollywood Farmers’ Market offers an oasis. Each Sunday, amid the flashing lights of movie theatres and record stores on Sunset Boulevard, market patrons walk two blocks lined with fresh Provencal herbs and seasonal produce like persimmons, chard, and untold varieties of apples.
But this weekly foodie Mecca is now threatened by that most Angeleno of predators: a tussle over parking. The Los Angeles Film School has complained that the market blocks access to one of its parking lots, and as a result the farmers’ market has not been able to get its street closure permits renewed by the city.
The future of the market remains up in the air. On Monday, representatives from the farmers’ market, the film school and the city reached a verbal agreement to allow the market to continue as is until January 9, 2011. After that, however, the market may have to relocate or partially close.
News about the market, which has been a Hollywood staple since 1991, incited panic in the usually docile crowd on Sunday. Shoppers snatched at pens to sign petitions in support of preserving the farmers’ market while volunteers sporting “Save the Hollywood Farmers’ Market” shirts scampered from one vendor to another, handing out fliers. A Facebook group devoted to the same goal already has more than 1,000 members.
Jonathan Dorf has been a regular at the market for the past three years, which he said offers a bigger variety of organic produce than other farmers’ markets in the area.
“In this stupid car culture, this is Los Angeles’ opportunity for at least one day to have this vibrant foot traffic and a concentration of people actually running into each other,” Dorf said. “I ran into a friend on Sunday who I hadn’t seen in a while. That kind of thing is so important about the market.”
In years past, the Hollywood Farmers’ Market did not need the film school’s permission to obtain street closures. But last year the city council passed an ordinance that requires farmers’ markets to pay the fees associated with street closures that had previously been funded by the city, and to obtain signatures from at least 51 percent of the businesses on the streets they are petitioning to close.
The Los Angeles Film School has refused to sign, citing increasing demand for access to facilities on weekends. According to a school spokesperson, Antoine Ibrahim, enrollment at the film school, which was founded in 1999, has doubled in the past year from 700 students to almost 1,500. While classes are not in session on Sundays, students can come in to use the labs and work on projects, and Ibrahim said those students need access to the parking lot that is blocked off by the farmers’ market.
“We’re growing really fast,” Ibrahim said. “Parking is a big deal as we get bigger.”
Ibrahim stressed that the school hopes to work with the farmers’ market and the community to find an amicable solution. The office of City Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District, is working to help broker a solution.
On Monday, Garcetti took to Twitter in an effort to assuage constituents’ fears. “@66lee We love HFM and have worked way too hard to support it financially and with city help. Working hard to resolve legal issues. Thx!” he Tweeted.
Various solutions have been discussed, which would move the section of the market currently on Ivar Avenue south of Selma Avenue to another nearby street — perhaps to the block of Ivar Avenue north of Hollywood Boulevard, which would bisect the market with a busy street. If no solution is reached, the market may simply lose access to the block where half of its approximately 100 farmers set up shop.
Pompea Smith, chief executive officer of the non-profit organization that runs the market, maintains that changes to the Hollywood market could also endanger other farmers’ markets around Los Angeles that her group operates. The Hollywood market, which she calls the “mother of all markets”, brings in about $300,000 annually, which helps fund markets that lose money in areas like Watts, where fresh produce is harder to come by.
“It would be a drastic change if we could not operate that section of the market (Ivar Avenue between Sunset Boulevard and Selma Avenue),” Smith said. “We would have to close some of the other markets, our office would have to get smaller. It would be a major change, and we can’t afford it.”
Market vendors, too, have expressed concern for their financial futures if the market were to be reduced in size.
Though Smith remains optimistic about finding an amicable solution that would allow the market to remain where it has been for 20 years, the school has not made many friends among market-goers. On the Facebook page, people suggested that the school, which charges an average of $6 to park in the lot blocked by the market, simply wanted to maximize its profits from the lot. Students can park at a reduced rate.
“The film school is not being a good neighbor,” Dorf said. “There is plenty of other parking around, but this market is special. When I have friends who come visit, one of the things I make a point of doing is taking them to that market. They’re always blown away.”
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