For most of its 56 years, the Los Angeles Farmers Market has not only been a neighborhood focal point, but also a good neighbor to the Angelenos who live around it. However it may change in the years ahead--and some change is inevitable--it must remain both of those things.
That is why City Council President John Ferraro was right Tuesday when he joined Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky in opposing plans to replace the existing market with a 2-million-square-foot, mixed-use development. Ferraro, whose district includes Farmers Market, called for the A.F. Gilmore Co. to drastically downsize its proposal to build a massive development that would include three department stores, a hotel, offices and housing.
The proposed project is a mismatch in terms of scale and design to its surrounding residential neighborhoods in the Fairfax area. Ferraro advocated instead a 700,000-square- foot shopping center, which is more appropriate and a less intrusive use of the 31-acre site at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. But he conceded that even a reduced development would alter the area.
No one is denying change for the Farmers Market, which draws neighborhood shoppers as well as tourists from around the world. Originally the site of 16 stalls offering fruits and vegetables, the market is now home to more than 130 food stands, souvenir shops and other enterprises. Many merchants maintain change is needed to attract more visitors and business to the market.
But a mammoth development would add only more congestion to an area already choked with heavy traffic. Neighborhood groups also have expressed a preference for a smaller development similar to proposals made by a mayoral task force. There also are environmental concerns because of methane deposits in the area. The market is located across the street from a store where 24 people were injured in a methane blast and fire in 1985. As for the need for more stores, the City Planning Department, which has recommended against any proposal for the site, points out that there are four regional shopping areas within five miles of the Farmers Market.
Ferraro's decision was anxiously awaited because of his long silence during the discussions on the project, which began in the early 1980s. As head of City Council, he has clout and his opinion resonates far beyond his district. Yaroslavsky, who represents a nearby district, has called the project proposal "absurd" and commended his colleague's decision, describing it as a "step in the right direction."
So it's back to the drawing board for the Gilmore Co. Being a good neighbor is not always easy, but the prospect of overdevelopment is downright unneighborly and no improvement for anyone.