After considering the fate of the downtown farmers market for close to 120 days, the Turlock City Council on Tuesday awarded the contract to a new operator: Peter Cipponeri and the Golden State Farmers Market Association. The controversial series of actions by the City — from conflicting street closure requests to the adoption of a Request for Proposals process that resulted in a change in farmers market management —has caused a rift in the Turlock community and may have significant ramifications for months or years to come.
The Council voted 3-2 in favor of GSFMA operating the downtown market, following the decision of the Turlock Certified Farmers Market to withdraw their proposal on Monday. Council member Bill DeHart, who voted against awarding GSFMA the farmers market contract, expressed concern for future volunteer groups before the vote.
“My mind wanders further on the implications of this process on any group of volunteers should they attempt to do something great for our city, and perhaps more significantly, if there will be any such future groups," said DeHart.
Councilman Steven Nascimento, the other dissenting vote, said he worries how a potential lack of support for the new farmers market will affect the community – specifically, the businesses that surround the market area.
“I think the community support will diminish significantly,” said Nascimento. “It not only hurts the community since it has been such a divisive issue, but it hurts the vendors of the market as well and it may negatively impact downtown businesses who depend on the foot traffic from the market for customers.”
Nascimento believes that the decision-making process needs to change. It is his hope that the community’s cries for reform are heard and that action is taken.
Community members have been vocal on social media sites over the course of the City Council’s four-month deliberation, expressing disappointment, excitement and confusion over the potential and now decision to allow GSFMA to operate a downtown market for the next three years — something the TCFM did successfully for the previous six years.
“I truly hope this new fascist market is boycotted by citizens of Turlock and surrounding cities as well as by the farmers and small entrepreneurs who were not given a voice in this obviously corrupted process,” said Joshua Morriston on the Journal’s Facebook page.
While there are many who agree with Morriston and want to boycott GSFMA, there are also many Turlock community members who are eager to see what a new market can bring to the downtown area.
Cristie Martin left encouraging words on GSFMA’s Facebook page.
“Hats off to you Golden State Farmers Market!” said Martin. “You guys are trying to provide a venue for Turlock and other areas to have great produce, support farmers and maybe even a little family fun.”
Community members have reacted both positively and negatively to the decision, but how the Council came to that decision still baffles some.
“You are absolutely right that the process doesn’t make sense,” said Michelle Park on TCFM’s Facebook page after their withdrawal.
Speaking to Stanislaus State students during a Q&A session on Wednesday, Mayor Gary Soiseth made known his frustration with the process.
“I wish that farmers markets and events weren’t determined off of who goes up to a counter and pulls a permit first,” said Soiseth.
Although the Mayor did admit the decision-making process needs to be better, he stood by his decision to vote in favor of GSFMA operating the downtown market. Soiseth expressed excitement for what Cipponeri and his new ideas can bring to the market.
Soiseth also addressed the issue of his campaign contributions in relation to how he voted.
“As a candidate, I’ve taken money from a lot of individuals…I need to make sure that I can run a campaign and get my message out, so I have taken money from his (Cipponeri’s) in-law,” said Soiseth. “But, I’ve also taken money from people on the farmers market board. So, if I would have voted for them, would that have been considered corruption as well? It just became a very muddied affair.”
At the Q&A, Soiseth answered questions from students regarding the controversy surrounding the farmers market decision and explained why he did not feel it was necessary to recuse himself from the vote. He told the students that it was his responsibility as Mayor to vote on issues and since he wasn’t profiting from the farmers market directly, then he had an obligation to look at the facts objectively and make a decision.
“I’ve been called a liar, a cheat, a jerk,” said Soiseth. “What I’ve experienced the past couple months is exactly why people don’t go into politics. It’s hard because I can look at myself in the mirror and I know if I was taking a bribe or not. I know who I am, I know the conversations that I’ve had and I know that wasn’t the case. I’m just trying to do what’s best for the city.”
DeHart looked at the situation differently on Tuesday.
“I see the innards of our city being eviscerated over this issue, being laid bare in the public square, and I grieve.”