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Council to hear farmers market proposals once again
TCFM, GSFMA both expected to participate in continued RFP market process
council-Jeani Ferrari
Turlock Certified Farmers Market Board member Jeani Ferrari speaks on behalf of the nonprofit market during the March 15 City Council meeting. - photo by CANDY PADILLA/The Journal

The Turlock City Council will once again take up the issue of who will be running a downtown farmers market during their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday — however, if the discussion is anywhere near the four to five hour mark as it has been in the past, the meeting may last until Wednesday as it is the final item on the night's open agenda.

After nearly five hours of discussion at a special Council meeting on March 15 regarding the two proposals received by the City of Turlock to run a downtown farmers' market — from the Turlock Certified Farmers Market, the nonprofit organization which has operated a downtown market for the past five years, and Golden State Farmers Market Association, a for profit business run by local grower Peter Cipponeri —the Council voted 4-1 to give the two entities another chance at finding a way to work together to operate a market and to reply to a number of questions that arose regarding each organization.

Although TCFM Board Chair Elizabeth Claes said at the end of the March 15 meeting that she and the TCFM are done with the RFP process and are withdrawing their proposal, it appears the group may have had second thoughts.

Interim City Manager Michael Cooke confirmed that TCFM did submit paperwork to the City on Friday in reply to the Council's request. Included in the agenda packet is a letter from Stanislaus County Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Steve Logan stating that he confirmed  that TCFM has had a  501(c)3 tax exempt nonprofit status since Sept. 30, 2014, before issuing them a Farmers Market Certificate and that the "Certified Producer" box on the certificate application was checked in error.

The TCFM was also asked to include a Letter of Exemption issued by the Franchise Tax Board and Articles of Incorporation certified by the Secretary of State; three years of taxes or a written explanation as to why they are unavailable; and to identity how much market revenue is allocated to paid wages.

GSFMA also submitted responses to the Council's list of questions through a letter of explanation. In the letter, GSFMA states:

·         It will triple the number of volunteers at the market by developing a program to establish a network of volunteers to help collect produce left at the end of each market to distribute to under privileged families;

·         That volunteers can legally offer their services to a for profit business as the Department of Labor takes the position that paid employees may not volunteer their time to do work they would normally get paid to do, but that GSFMA volunteers would not be considered employees or be doing work that paid employees would normally do;

·         It will charge its vendors a $100 membership fee and $22 per tent day for 2016, with no charge for nonprofit stalls;

·         The $5,000 donation to the City will be a contractual obligation; and

·         GSFMA doesn't anticipate security issues, but the market will get security if the Chief of Police requests it and GSFMA will reimburse the City for dispatching officers to the market for security problems.

GSFMA was also asked to provide verification of its performance at other markets. In its letter, GSFMA states it is in good standing with other markets, but does not provide any verification.

The Council also asked the two entities to try to work together to submit one joint proposal to operate the downtown market. During the public comment session at the March 15 meeting, California Farmers Markets Association director Gail Hayden offered her services to the organizations as an expert in farmers markets with 37-years experience with developing markets across the state. Mayor Gary Soiseth agreed that the groups working with Hayden to come to an agreement would be a good idea.

During the Council meeting, Cipponeri, with his attorney John Klotsche present, agreed to meet with Hayden.

While the TCFM representatives didn't agree to meet with Hayden during the Council meeting, Hayden confirmed that she has since been in contact with the group. Hayden said TCFM representatives appeared open to expanding their definition of "local" producers to include growers from out of the 50-mile radius of Turlock that grow products not available locally, which would expand the number of producers at future markets.

Hayden said she had an appointment to meet with Cipponeri on Friday, but he did not show up. Cipponeri did not respond to requests from the Journal on Friday about why he hasn't met with Hayden or if he has had any discussions with representatives of TCFM.

California Farmers Markets Association and Hayden are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by Sebastian Cipponeri and Cipponeri Farms claiming breach of contract, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, negligent interference with prospective economic advantage and violation of business and professions code. The claims are regarding CFMA's Mountain View, Walnut Creek, San Jose and Saratoga farmers' markets.

Klotsche is named as one of the attorneys for Cipponeri Farms. The lawsuit is ongoing.

On Tuesday, the Council will consider approving a combined proposal and agreement between the City and the two groups, although a joint proposal was not submitted as of close of day Friday. A joint proposal could still be submitted before Tuesday's meeting, however.

The Council could also select a single proposal to award the market operation contract. It is also in the Council's purview to reject all the proposals or continue the decision-making process once again.

Also on Tuesday, the Council is expected to:

Meet at 5 p.m. in a Special Meeting to consider approving the updated Five-Year Capital Improvement Program and the Five-Year Equipment Replacement Program for the City of Turlock.

During the regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. the Council is expected to:

Receive an update on the City's new website;Receive the 2015 Police Annual Report;Consider amending the City  of Turlock's water schedule to change the prohibited watering hours to be between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday;Accept post event reports for the Community Events and Activities Grants funding;Consider amending a CAL Recycle Tire-Derived Grant to change the scope of work for the Monte Vista median rubber bark project to the Christoffersen median;Consider awarding a bid in the amount of $260,539.70 with George Reed, Inc. of Modesto to install curb, gutter, sidewalk, catch basins and storm drain pipeline, and reconstruct a portion of the road on Bernell Avenue between South Orange Street and Lander Avenue, as part of the Southwest Quadrant CDBG Frontage Improvements;Consider adopting the 2013 Storm Water Master Plan and Sewer System Master Plans. The City Council will meet at 5 p.m. for the Special Meeting and 6 p.m. for the Regular Meeting in the Yosemite Room at City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.