Pike Place Board overrules Hmong farmers
Showdown with the City Council?

Lisa Charlie Ritts July 15, 1998 0

Angered by the recent turn of events at the Pike Place Market, Asian flower vendors and craftspeople have vowed to take their concerns straight to City Council.

During the last month, attention has focused on a proposal made by the staff of the Preservation and Development Authority that would give fresh produce farmers first dibs on extra tables at the Market.

On June 23, before a crowd of nearly 200, the Pike Place Board approved the PDA proposal by a vote of 7 to 4.

Public testimony before the Board came mostly from those opposing the changes, and reiterated the demands of those who participated in the Market’s first-ever strike two days earlier.

“There should have been an extended time for the Hmong community [to review the changes],” said David Della, Executive Director of the State Commission on Asian American Pacific Affairs. And the agreement should put in writing a guarantee that tables will not be granted to fresh produce farmers at the expense of another farmer.”

In principle, the PDA’s amendment to the Hildt agreement, which contains the governing rules of the market, would help preserve the market’s fresh produce atmosphere. It would seem to be a reaction to the proliferation of vendors who sell primarily crafts and non-perishable goods.

In reality, however, the new amendment could be used to undermine the status of non-fresh produce vendors—in particular a large number of Hmong flower vendors.

The exact language of the PDA amendment approved by the Board is,” Farmers shall be assigned a standard space of two farm tables. Farmers selling a diversity of edible produce may be assigned three farm tables.”

John Turnbull, Director of Property Management, insists the intent of the language is clear and has been well documented through various public hearings and market meetings.

“The difference between ‘shall’ and ‘may’ is clear,” said Turnbull. “’May’ means that only if space is available will a third table be granted to fresh edible produce farmer.”

But Andrea Okomski, Vice President of the Daystalls Tenants Association, believes the wording leaves room to abuse the system for allocating market tables.

“The difference between ‘shall’ and ‘may’ is at someone else’s discretion. Under what circumstances a farmer may be given a third table is unclear.”

Others, like Charles Williston, who believes the PDA’s decision “won’t change things for the Hmong farmers,” still voted against the proposed changes.

“The process was somewhat short. And to make these changes [when] the craftspeople are at the height of their season seems somewhat unfair,” he said.

Virtually all those who opposed the PDA Agreement challenged the limited amount of time given to review the proposed changes.

Now, the non-fresh produce vendors are hoping the City Council will intervene.

If the City Council seeks to reject the PDA’s proposed changes, the Hildt Agreement—which was negotiated between the PDA and City Council in 1983—would become null and void.

In a recent letter sent to Mayor Paul Schell and City Councilmembers, PDA Executive Director Shelly Yap stated, “…the PDA has determined that the Hildt Agreement should not be renewed without certain changes,” and, “…the PDA is committed to renewal of the Hildt Agreement if the specified changes are made.”

The City Council has until Aug. 1 to decide whether or not it will accept the new changes.

Said Licata, “Since there’s so much opposition, why go forward? I don’t think the merits gained outweigh the rupture in good relations in the constituency of the Market.”

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