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Farmers and filmakers fight over massive Sunday market

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LOS ANGELES » On weekdays, Ivar Avenue is a quiet strip of Hollywood with a theater, a recording studio, a Jack in the Box, a gay and lesbian elderly housing complex and a film school. Every Sunday morning, it becomes the Hollywood Farmers Market, four bustling blocks of farm and food stands offering everything from oyster mushrooms to California sea bass to a crowd of 8,000 people.

But after 19 years in existence, the Hollywood Farmers Market is endangered, at the center of a fight that has put on display three of this city’s most powerful passions: food, film and parking. The Los Angeles Film School, a relative newcomer to what was once a seedy pocket of Hollywood, has moved to prevent the market from renewing its permit because farm stands obstruct the driveway to its most convenient parking lot.

"We do support the market; we want it to continue to operate," said Antoine Ibrahim, a spokesman for the film school. "But what we did was ask them to tailor their configuration so we can have our street back."

This dispute has set off a food firestorm that is playing out in Facebook postings and Twitter feeds — and even, testifying to the demographics of some of the clientele, in paper petitions that were being passed out at the market on a recent Sunday. Between weighing heirloom tomatoes (yes, they are still in season here), farmers handed out T-shirts reading "Save the Hollywood Farmers Market" and urged customers to put them on before the television cameras arrived.

"It’s not only somewhere I go shopping, it’s a big party for me, a moment of pleasure on Sunday morning," said Corinne Simon-Duneau, 63, who lives in South Pasadena.

Simon-Duneau said that she had been making the drive to the Hollywood market just about every Sunday since it opened in 1991, and that she knew "almost all the vendors by name."

"People love it because it’s the antithesis of the supermarket," she said.

There were, at last count, 99 certified farmers markets in Los Angeles County, meaning that on nearly any day, you can find one open someplace: on a Santa Monica thoroughfare on Saturdays, the Plummer Park parking lot in West Hollywood on Mondays, the center of downtown Los Angeles on Thursdays. The markets have an avid following of customers who know which farmers to seek out and which months are right to look for persimmons and pears.

The Hollywood Farmers Market, which is among the biggest, stands out, with notably good produce and a good location for spotting celebrities buying vegetables.

The mutual distrust in the current dispute is deep, reflecting long-simmering tensions between established businesses and stand owners who command the streets from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The film school has emboldened other business owners to vent long-held frustrations with a market that they say hurts business and often leaves them cleaning up a mess when the farmers pack up.

Kerry Morrison, the executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, suggested that it might be time for the market to move to a less built-up part of Hollywood.

"The film school has been advising the folks at the farmers market that this day was going to come," Morrison said. "For the film school, which has made a $65 million investment in this facility, to not be able to fully utilize it is not fair. And I’m looking at this and saying, ‘Wow, this is exactly the kind of business that in the early days of the business district we were hoping to attract here.’"

City officials have tried to find a compromise — have the film students park elsewhere? move the market? — to resolve the dispute. Eric Garcetti, president of the Los Angeles City Council, recently spent two hours negotiating with both sides before settling, in best diplomatic fashion, on an agreement to try to come to an agreement. (In the process, he bought the market 90 more days, as both sides explore various options.)

"I asked them to dial down their legal and oratorical voices and ramp up their neighborly ones," Garcetti said.

The film school, which opened in 1999, is an accredited institution that offers associate of science degrees in film, game production, animation and recording arts. Tuition goes up to $41,000 for an 18-month program, with classes and workshops devoted to film editing, sound recording, directing and writing.

Since the school opened, it has in many ways become a symbol of the neighborhood’s transformation, along with Amoeba Music, a warehouse-sized independent record store across Sunset Boulevard. The school owns two buildings and has 1,700 students.

What it does not have is class on Sunday morning. In explaining the need for the 120-space parking lot, Ibrahim said students came in to use the school’s production facilities on weekends.

"Even though operationally we are not open seven days a week, educationally we are," he said. "Sunday is a great day to come in and use the lab."

Ibrahim declined to say how many students came on Sundays.

The market, which stretches from Hollywood Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard and along two blocks of Selma, attracts about 100 farmers. Closing the block to accommodate the film school would force the moving (or closing) of farmers stands. Organizers are reluctant to move to another part of Hollywood after being on Ivar Avenue for so long, and there are no obvious adjacent streets to take up the slack.

"We don’t want to lose any farmers," said Pompea Smith, executive director of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, which runs the markets. "We don’t want to lose any space. We want to make sure whatever space is safe for the community. "

 

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