Farmers hoping to take root in Tahoe City | SierraSun.com

Farmers hoping to take root in Tahoe City

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunJade Lebish, Cash Lebish and Ozzie Altan buy fruit from Ignacio Bravo of Bravos Produce at the Foothill Farmers Market in Tahoe City last week.

The fate of the Tahoe City farmers market continues to raise concern among area residents since its Commons Beach location has been threatened.

Required permits and the associated costs recently put the location of the 3-year-old weekly market at risk. The costs have since been reduced, but officials with the market haven’t decided whether or not to go through the permitting process.

When the market relocated from Dollar Hill to Commons Beach in 2005, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency granted a temporary permit. Now that the permit is set to expire, the Tahoe City Public Utility District must obtain permanent permitting to allow the farmers market to continue to use its Commons Beach property.

“If they’re going to propose to do it every year … we need to know the parking and traffic is going to be mitigated and has no significant impacts,” said Tahoe Regional Planning Agency community liaison Jeff Cowen.

Cost estimates for a traffic study required for the permit hovered around $6,000 in early September. Since then, cost estimates have been reduced to $3,800 thanks to permission granted by the bistate planning agency to use a previous traffic study.

Officials say that even with the reduced cost, the permit is still a large expenditure for such a small operation.

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If the Foothills Farmers’ Market Association board of directors decides next month to go forward with the expensive study and permitting, then they will also review fundraising opportunities.

“We have some money saved, and then we’ll probably do a joint fundraiser with the resort association and business association next spring ” try and do something fun,” said Carol Arnold, the market association’s general manager.

The cost of the traffic study plus an extra $1,000 or so for permitting fees and processing might be affordable, Arnold said, but the cost of possible traffic mitigation could put the market under.

“What the Foothill Farmers’ Market is concerned about is that we’ll go through this process and their permit would be denied,” said Executive Director Kelly Atchley of the Tahoe City Downtown Association.

But Tahoe planning agency officials say they’ll help make the project work. Most notably, air-quality impacts related to traffic could be mitigated through farmer contributions to an air quality fund.

Because the farmers market essentially rents its Thursday morning use of Commons Beach from the Tahoe City utility district, the utility district has to take the lead on permitting with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

But the district is not using public dollars to fund the farmers market, said district assistant General Manager Cindy Gustafson.

In an effort to mitigate a traffic or parking influx associated with the market, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association has been paying for an earlier schedule for the free trolley, and also pays for a California Highway Patrol officer to help direct traffic on Highway 89.

Additionally, the public utility district has made annual arrangements with local property owners for parking, including near Blue Agave and the backside of the Cobblestone shopping center.

“From our perspective, [the farmers] want to use Commons Beach, so we’re studying those impacts through the traffic analysis. It’s really up to the community [if the market stays],” Gustafson said. “Our job is to represent their interest.”

As for next summer, the farmers are awaiting a decision from the market association’s board of directors. The board will meet Sept. 11 and decide the fate of the Tahoe City market.

Until then, utility district staff will collect more data about the number of people attending the farmers market. The information will be used to update the traffic study conducted two years ago to submit to the Tahoe agency for a permanent permit.

Though some residents have been especially vocal about wanting the market moved or eliminated, officials say they receive mostly positive feedback about the weekly community event.

“I hope we can stay,” said Arnold.