Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez could see the writing on the wall from a mile away. More like 6,000 miles, actually, all the way from China, where he’s visiting Weihai as part of a Santa Barbara sister cities tour. In an email Monday, Gutierrez predicted he’d be passed over for a position on a committee formed to help the weekend Farmers’ Market relocate from its current home at the Cota Street Commuter Lot ― the likely site of a new police station ― to another property in town. He said his attempts so far to engage on the issue had been rebuffed, and he expected the trend to continue. He was right.
On Tuesday, the rest of the council followed a request by market director Sam Edelman to appoint members Kristen Sneddon and Eric Friedman to the committee. The three had enjoyed a good working relationship so far, Edelman said, and he wanted it to continue. Councilmember Meagan Harmon was also selected. This was done over Gutierrez’s arguments, made via speakerphone, that he was best suited for the job because, with four full years left on his term, he would be able to see both the station project and market move through to completion, and because farming is near and dear to his heart. “It’s what brought my family to Santa Barbara in the 1960s,” he said. “It’s part of my American dream story.”
In his email, Gutierrez noted the ethnicities of the councilmembers that market leaders have chosen to communicate with on the issue. “It seems as if the farmers have only lobbied white members of the council,” he said. He also expressed frustration that Edelman refused to respond to his multiple requests for market financials and demographic data, including how many farmers live in the city, how many are Latino, how many of their employees belong to a union, the diversity of the market’s staff and board, its contributions to the low-income community, and so on. “As the leader of an organization, he leaves me confused about what his role really is,” Gutierrez wrote.
The two butted heads at a council meeting last month when Gutierrez asked Edelman yet again for the figures. Gutierrez explained he was elected to serve the public safety interests of city residents, not “outside businesses.” “I hear from some people connected to the market that they are choosing not to answer my questions” about who the market truly serves, he said Monday. Noey Turk, president of the Farmers’ Market board, has since taken it upon herself “to answer to the best of her ability,” Gutierrez said, “but made it clear [her responses] may not be accurate.”
According to Turk, 15 of the 118 farm owners in the market live within city limits; 27 are non-white. The market doesn’t keep union data, she said. Its 12-member staff includes five Latino men, three Latina women, a Filipina woman, and three white men. “The Board of Directors is four women, two of whom are non-white, and five men, two of whom are non-white,” she said.
On the financial side of things, the market pays the city $2,762 a year in taxes, Turk told Gutierrez. It distributed $32,409 last year in Market Match funding (and is on track to give out $45,000 this year), it distributes $10,000 annually to CalFresh customers, and individual farmers regularly give to nonprofits like the Food Bank and Veggie Rescue.
For his part, Edelman said he’s now focusing his energy on finding the market a new weekend home. “We’re really just taking a step back and starting from square one,” he said. None of his dealings with the council have been personal, he emphasized, including his interactions with Gutierrez. It’s just business. “I’m all about what’s best for the market,” Edelman said, “and he’s all about what’s best for the police station.” Addressing Gutierrez’s racial concerns, Edelman pointed to the market’s “incredibly diverse board.” Beyond that, he said, “I don’t want to go there.”