When the new Splash Pad Park opened in 2003, the farmers market was small and manageable and the park grounds and landscaping, pristine. Over the ensuing years, the market has grown four or five-fold and, since income for the Agricultural Institute of Marin is a function of the number of vendors and the size of their booths, they’ve been highly motivated to squeeze in more.
As one result, the market has become, for far too many of our neighborhood residents, far too congested and claustrophobic. In addition, the park benches and large sections of the walls that were designed for seating are no longer accessible. Several years ago, Walter Hood, the internationally-known Landscape Architect who designed the park, complained that he could no longer see it on Saturdays and increasingly, there’s been less and less room for people.
The damage to the park’s infrastructure has been nearly as dramatic. Failure to require tarps under the food booths in the plaza have left the pavers stained (perhaps irreparably) with quantities of grease. A large fern bed in the shadow of the freeway was ground into dust by encroaching booths and is now only a vague memory. The lawns are under continuing assault by people on foot and by people driving very large trucks without regard to the severe consequences. One tree has been destroyed and others damaged.
Complaints from community members have been generally ignored and enforcement from the City of Oakland has been virtually non-existent.
Currently, the City is considering a five-year lease for the Agricultural Institute of Marin while the “Friends of the Grand Lake Farmers Market” continue to lobby for a Request for Proposals (RFP). Whatever the eventual outcome, it is incumbent upon the city to agree to a stringent set of common-sense operational guidelines such as the ones we’re outlining below.
Last year’s Grand Lake Neighbors Survey asked, “What don’t you like about the Grand Lake Market”? Ninety-five of the 529 people who responded complained about the extreme lack of parking and many cited this as one reason they rarely, if ever, shop the market. With the assistance of Councilmember Guillen, AIM now has access to the school parking lot across the street but it’s only being used by a small handful of market vendors. The rest still occupy virtually every street parking space plus another 25-35 under the freeway. Freeing up those spaces will increase patronage and improve customer satisfaction.
1. Those vendors currently parking to the right of the parking lot entrance, in spaces adjacent to their assigned booths may continue do so.
2. All others are to utilize the school parking lot. Any exceptions will have to be approved by a City Monitor.
3. Long-delayed variable parking rates for the parking lot under the freeway and adjacent curb spaces on Grand and Lake Park should be implemented to facilitate optimum turnover.
4. Parking enforcement on Saturdays on the surrounding streets and in the parking lot under the freeway should be resumed.
5. Currently, all the street spaces in front of the school are filled by vendors very early in the morning. Pay stations should be installed or parking on Saturdays limited to a maximum of two hours.
What else did respondents dislike about the market? 113 of the 529 individuals who responded complained about crowding and many cited that as another reason they no longer shop the market. The worst congestion is between the two rows of vendors nearest to the freeway.
1. The canopies under the freeway overhang should be no more than 10 feet deep and pushed back to the parking lot curb. The canopies on the other side of the row of columnar maples should be pushed back to the edge of the turf and should project a maximum of 10 feet into the walkway. The net result will be a pair of 8 foot wide, obstruction-free aisles – one on each side of the trees.
2. As shown in the diagram below, the booths on the Lake Park Avenue side can be made deeper as long as the grass is adequately protected.
3. On the asphalt roadway, maintain the existing 8 foot wide aisle in the three segments at the Grand Avenue end of the market and keep it free of obstructions including umbrellas and tasting stations. In the two segments on the east end of the market, increase the aisle width to 10 feet free of obstructions. Inside the plaza, maintain 8 foot wide pedestrian walkways and arrange booths so that lines don’t obstruct movement.
4.Keep all the entrances to the park open, inviting and easily accessible.
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It’s important to keep sidewalks open and unobstructed – particularly on Grand Avenue, which is the main route for pedestrians traveling to and from Lake Merritt and Adams Point. The sidewalks on Lake Park are less crucial but an obstruction such as the one pictured below screens off vendors and discourages pedestrians.
1. Food trucks (along with their long lines) should be moved from Grand to the west end of Lake Park where pedestrian traffic is limited and mostly farmers market-related.
2. Any and all obstructions should be prohibited, including partial intrusions by canopies, generators, etc.
Over the past several years, many of the chairs, benches and seating walls surrounding the Plaza have been engulfed by the expanding market footprint and the same fate has befallen several landscaped beds.
1. Full access to all park seating and to walls intended for that purpose shall be provided from at least one side.
2. Stipulate that any landscaped bed that the market has occupied in part or in its entirety, may be reclaimed and re-landscaped at some point in the future.
3. Stipulate that the areas that have thus far been designated for specific uses or reserved exclusively for the general public shall not be changed without concurrence from community stakeholders (See diagram below).
4. Establish a small group Tree Stage at the west end of the market (see above diagram) with grass seating under the shade of a tree – as well as on the two benches that are otherwise typically inaccessible. As set up currently, musicians face the freeway and shoppers stopping to listen further clog the already congested walkway.
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INFRASTRUCTURE PROTECTION AND MAINTENANCE
The market management shall be expected to provide whatever measures are required to adequately protect and maintain the park’s infrastructure. In addition, they should be held responsible financially for any and all damages arising from their occupancy. Each of the various surfaces pose unique challenges:
1. Plywood (or other such materials) should be consistently used to protect turf from significant damage.
2. Booths should be laid out to eliminate or at least minimize pedestrian traffic across the turf.
3. Management should inspect the lawns after each market – looking to pinpoint problem areas and address those problems immediately.
4. Areas that are heavily worn shall be re-seeded or re-sodded at the market’s expense and then ‘staked off” until the turf is re-established.
1. Non-permeable tarps have to be installed wherever food is being prepared and served and also beneath grills, containers, gas cans, etc.
2. The market management should be required to twice annually steam clean the plaza, garbage receptacles and any other areas affected by the farmers market’s presence. The adequacy of the biannual cleaning should be subject to periodic review.
DECOMPOSED GRANITE RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. The newly installed decomposed granite walkway absorbs water like a sponge and, on rainy days especially, it needs to be protected.
Uneven gravel beds and exposed steel edging create a major tripping hazard. One respondent to the Grand Lake Neighbors survey noted that his wife fell last year and has not yet fully recovered.
GRAVEL BED RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. Short term, the worst sections should be topped off with gravel and periodically raked and/or replenished.
2. Long term, a more permanent solution is required. Walter Hood’s original plans for pavers (matching the ones in the plaza) were scrapped due to a shortage of funds. Other possible solutions should be explored as well.
The trash problem takes a number of different forms beginning with trash that accumulates overnight – even though the Public Works crew may have cleaned the park the day before – giving market management an excuse for not leaving the park clean at the end of the day. Vendors are supposed to haul off their own trash and often don’t. The city trash service is intended for trash disposed by shoppers exclusively.
1. The city gardener working this area should schedule Splash Pad Park as their first stop; empty the trash receptacles and also address park litter or other such issues.
2. Farmers market staff should monitor the trash and recycling containers throughout the day and bag the contents before they overflow.
3. Management should haul off trash placed in the garbage cans after the city crew has departed. Due to a severe rat infestation in the park, this is critically important.
4. Management should strictly enforce a requirement that vendors thoroughly clean in and around their booths and haul off their own trash – not use city receptacles.
Inadequate staffing is a recipe for disaster and explains why vehicles on the asphalt roadway repeatedly stray onto the grass damaging the lawn and also the sprinkler heads adjacent to the paving. When the last staff member leaves before the last vendor, trees get destroyed and trucks blatantly drive across the lawns. While staff is otherwise occupied, vendors have used that opportunity to use a city garbage truck to dispose of literally hundreds of pounds of produce that should have been composted and this has happened repeatedly.
1. Staffing shall be sufficient to provide security; to ensure that the market is running smoothly and all regulations enforced; to ensure that the park infrastructure is protected and the grounds left totally free of farmers market- generated detritus.
2. No vendor should be allowed entry to the park grounds until a staff member has arrived.
3. At least one staff member shall remain on duty until the last vendor has departed.
Not long after the new park opened, Pat Kernighan appointed Jerry Barclay as the Chair of the Splash Pad Farmers Market Advisory Committee which met periodically with the market management. It was a mostly cooperative arrangement but the group lacked the power to force compliance. Meanwhile, the City of Oakland which has the power to force compliance, has almost never chosen to do so.
1. The city should assign a staff member to provide continuing oversight of the Farmers Market to ensure that the terms of the lease and operational guidelines are being followed.
2. A community group chosen by Councilmember Guillen should continue serving in an advisory capacity and as a liaison to the city staff member cited above.
3. Violations need to have consequences as basic as restitution for damages or, in the long term, revocation of the farmers market lease for ongoing gross violations.