Market, playground and parking to co-exist

| April 1, 2020 | 0 Comments

SUNDAY FARMERS MARKET director of coordination and development Melissa Farwell uses the speakerphone at the tele-phonic meeting to reiterate that the market stays on Larchmont.

An open community meeting regarding the Larchmont farmers market and a new playground in the city parking lot on Larchmont was switched from a potentially large in-person community meeting to a phone-in forum last month because of COVID-19.

Following Mayor Garcetti’s Thursday, March 12, order restricting gatherings of more than 50 people, Councilmember David Ryu’s office changed the meeting scheduled at Marlborough School for Saturday, March 14, to a smaller, telephone call-in format.

The bottom line: the representative of the Sunday farmers market, who was in attendance at the school, said that the market is not leaving Larchmont and that the small playground in the parking lot will not prevent the market also operating in the lot.

The initial speakers, in addition to Councilmember Ryu, were Melissa Farwell of Raw Inspiration, the company that owns and operates the farmers market, and Craig Raines, landscape architect for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP).

Later in the meeting, a statement from playground opponent Gary Gilbert was read, as well as a statement of opposition from Heather Duffy Boylston, representing the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District (BID).

Larry Guzin, president of the Windsor Square Association (WSA), Caroline Labiner Moser, president of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and John Winther, president of the Larchmont Boulevard Association, all spoke in favor.

Social distancing

The meeting, which originally was to be held for a potentially large crowd in the Marlborough gymnasium, was converted on the preceding Thursday evening to a call-in meeting in response to Mayor Garcetti’s COVID-19 social distancing decree. About 10 members of the public arrived for the meeting, and approximately 80 to 100 other people participated by telephone, according to the councilmember’s office.

Teleconferencing attendees were also invited to e-mail questions (in real time) to Rob Fisher, field deputy for District 4. Approximately 57 such questions were asked and answered at the meeting.

Meeting’s purpose

COUNCILMEMBER David Ryu conducted a community meeting from Marlborough School by telephone.

At the outset, Ryu explained that the purpose of the meeting was to reaffirm that the Sunday market is not leaving Larchmont and to inform the public about the playground, including design features, materials, dimensions and construction timelines, and to answer questions. Ryu made it clear that the purpose of the meeting was not to “have a vote.”

In what became a continuous refrain throughout the two-hour-long meeting, the councilmember, as well as the market’s representative, reinforced that “the farmers’ market is not leaving.” He explained that six parking spaces would be used for the playground, but that the depicted vehicle loading space would remain available for market tents on Sundays. Ryu and Farwell assured attendees that the reduced footprint would not jeopardize the farmers market.

Ryu acknowledged the 1,600+ signatures (approximately 2,200 as of our subsequent press deadline) gathered on a petition supporting the market and opposing the playground, initiated by resident Gary Gilbert.

In addition to echoing Ryu’s comments about the market not being impacted by the construction of the playground, the market operator, Melissa Farwell, also assured listeners that no vendors would be cut out of the equation on account of the new playground. She went on to explain that the farmers market has been looking to relocate to a bigger space on Larchmont, regardless of the playground project. “We are bursting at the seams,” Farwell explained. “We have been actively working with the Council office for some time to obtain a bigger space. We have no intention of leaving Larchmont, though. We would love to be able to provide a broader experience for our Larchmont patrons — including a seating area, children’s activities, entertainment, and new, unique vendors.”

Craig Raines, landscape architect for RAP, presented PowerPoint slides and fielded questions about the playground’s dimensions, safety features, hours, and cost.

Playground specs

The playground will occupy approximately 1200 square feet with a six-foot steel fence mounted on “K-Rail” walls. The playground will be closed and locked from dusk until dawn every day. When asked about exhaust from cars, Raines explained that it is not atypical to have some exposure and there is much context on this matter to inform their design of the project. The estimated price tag for the project is $270,000, funded from restricted park funds (Quimby fees paid by developers) plus community donations already received. Construction will take approximately two months and was set to begin around April 1.

Origin story

Other frequently asked questions from the listening attendees concerned the impetus for the project and the loss of parking. Ryu explained that he was approached by individuals and a half-dozen local organizations two years ago, and he subsequently filed a Motion in City Council to recommend to RAP that it create a small playground on a corner of the parking lot and that RAP be authorized to accept community contributions to help pay for the playground.

“As a councilmember, I am totally in support of green, play, and open space, so when this opportunity presented itself, I jumped on board.” The proposal for the mini playground is part of a much larger vision of the WSA to completely “green” the entire parking lot, which Ryu also supports. “If I had my wishes, the whole thing would be converted to a mini-urban park, but it’s not the time for that right now. We’re starting with this pilot project, and we’ll see how it is received.”

Ulterior motive?

When asked whether the playground was proposed to prevent a cannabis retailer from opening on the Boulevard, Ryu pointed out that some people might have viewed it as such, or at least as an ancillary benefit, but that it is unclear whether the existence of the playground will necessarily prevent a cannabis shop from opening on Larchmont.


Finally, questions of parking, unsurprisingly, were top of mind. When pressed about the loss of six parking spaces, Ryu reiterated that he is ardently in support of green — open — space and will take an opportunity to procure that over the loss of parking spaces. “I see it as a trade-off. It’s part of a larger, global need for more green space and more walkability.”

What’s Next?

Councilmember Ryu pledged to speak with each and every one who wants to discuss this matter. He said his office would devote time over the coming weeks to holding in-person and telephone meetings with concerned parties.  This apparently was delayed because of the mayor’s subsequent “safer at home” order and the city councilmembers’ efforts to alleviate the coronavirus crisis. But, at press deadline in late March, CD 4 staff said they were setting up any requested conferences on the subject.

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