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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, June 2, 2014, 5:55 am

Marin Farmers Market permanent home on Tuesday ballot

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    As Marin County voters prepare for the polls on June 3, one measure — to remake the setting of a beloved farmers market at the Marin County Civic Center — seems poised to pass, amid a wave of public support.

    A rendering of the proposed permanent home for the Marin Farmers Market (credit: Agricultural Institute of Marin)

    A rendering of the proposed permanent home for the Marin Farmers Market (credit: Agricultural Institute of Marin)

    Listed as “Measure B,” the measure would allow the Marin Farmers Market to establish a permanent home at the historic site. The market has set up in temporary space at the civic center parking lot for over three decades, hosting over 200 vendors and thousands of patrons on a typical Sunday, said Bridgette Moran, CEO and executive director of the Agricultural Institute of Marin, which runs the farmers market and five others around the Bay Area.

    While a permanent facility would come with a number of practical benefits, Ms. Moran emphasized that an established site would serve as a vote of confidence for Marin County’s agricultural producers looking to sell their products.

    “Our farmers need to know that the future is secure,” she said.

    The Marin County Farmers Market has historically operated on a series of one-year leases with the county of Marin, occupying various areas of parking lot tarmac at the civic center according to available space, Ms. Moran said.

    “We have no water, no electricity,” she said. “We build this little village in a couple of hours, and take it down in a couple of hours. It’s a lot of work.”

    The looming necessity to renew the lease has also created an air of uncertainty, even despite the widespread public and government support, she said.

    “We renew it every year — but there’s no guarantee,” Ms. Moran said.

    The situation helped inspire talks to establish a permanent home at the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright–designed civic center. But new construction at the campus is no small matter — Marin residents passed a ballot initiative in 1992 that mandated majority voter approval for all new civic center buildings.

    Yet owing to the market’s popularity in a county where new construction is a frequently contentious matter, Measure B has drawn no opposition in voter materials. Those endorsing the measure include the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, North Bay Congressman Jared Huffman, all five Marin County supervisors, elected officials in San Rafael and a host of agricultural producers in Marin County.

    The structure itself would be built at the vacant lot usually used to sell Christmas trees at the civic center campus, occupying no more than 30,000 square feet. A light-permeable canopy will provide weather protection for vendors and visitors, joining education and event facilities and a seven-day-a-week market hall selling locally produced goods and foods.

    Ms. Moran noted that the market has helped launch a number of companies creating jobs in Marin, and said the new facility will include a more formalized incubation program.

    “They start at the farmers market and incubate into brick-and-mortar,” she said.

    Construction will proceed at no cost to taxpayers, and hinge on private donations. Raising around $10 million will allow the project to move forward, but contributions of $20 million could help market organizers launch a broad array of education and incentive programs for farmers, producers, craftsmen and residents.

    “We have an opportunity in the North Bay to showcase what we do here with the rest of the world,” she said.

    Marin County voters will be asked to consider five other measures on the June ballot:

    • Measure A: Extend a $49 parcel tax approved in 2010 for an additional nine years, providing funding for modernization and services at the Marin County Free Library District.
    • Measure C: A $68 million bond measure to fund facility repair and upgrade for those within the Petaluma Joint Union High School District, which includes a handful of households in northern Marin County.
    • Measure D: A $19 million bond to construct new classrooms and embark on safety and facility upgrades for elementary and middle schools in the Larkspur-Corte Madera School District.
    • Measure E: A nine-year $54 parcel tax in San Anselmo to fund services at the San Anselmo Library
    • Measure F: Setting the appropriations limit of the Stinson Beach County Water District at $1.43 million for fiscal year 2014–2015, and possibly for fiscal years ending in 2016–2018.

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