The City Council's Sold on Neighborhood Farmers Market Ordinance Proposal

I hate it when things work out. From my point of view, it's not good for business. But it looks like city staff and the Dallas City Council may actually come up with a reasonable way to oversee operations of multiple neighborhood farmers markets.

Ah, well. Can't lose 'em all.

They're not going to do it my way. My way for City Hall to oversee neighborhood farmers markets would have been for City Hall to look in the other direction. Butt out, why don't you? Go fix some potholes for a change.

But you know how it is with City Hall. Santa Claus lands on their roof; they send somebody out to see if he has a Santa Claus license.

When the specter of city regulation first raised its head, city staff was talking about requiring every neighborhood farmers market in town to obtain a special use permit -- a process so onerous that it has accrued an entire cottage industry of special use permit lobbyists. For a fat fee, these well-heeled fixers will help a person achieve the miracle of actually getting a special use permit from the city. Otherwise, forget it. No lobbyist, no miracle.

Thanks to tireless work by council member Delia Jasso, the special use permit requirement has gone away. At today's briefing, staff told the council the city should just require permits similar to special event permits. As far as I know, there are no special event permit lobbyists working at City Hall -- but I shouldn't have said that out loud.

Council members present for a briefing on the proposed new farmers market ordinance seemed generally open to the provisions described to them by staff. The lone exception was member Vonciel Hill, who represents District 5 in southeast Dallas. Her objection was to the whole idea of neighborhood farmers markets -- which I didn't get at all when she first started talking and then did get after listening to her. She said people in her district see outdoor markets as just more half-assed outdoor crappy looking trash, of whch they already have more than enough.

"This is not a concept that the folk in my district support," Hill said, "primarily because this is a concept that detracts from what we are trying to do in the district. We are trying to attract grocery stores, smaller venues that have fresh meat, fresh vegetables, but we want it in an indoor venue, a real store."

I do get that. Drive around certain blighted corners of Southern Dallas and you see plenty of outlaw operations outdoors -- people on folding chairs and sofas buying barbecue off the back of a guy's pickup and beer from somebody else with a cooler. What's cute and retro in my part of town is just more hell to pay somewhere else.

I spoke with Jasso afterward, and she thinks she can convince Hill that Hill will have plenty enough clout to keep outdoor markets out of her own district if she wants to, even if a new ordinance allows them elsewhere.

There are still problem areas in the proposed new law, like double regulation of vendors who sell processed food -- kind of like they not only have to have a Santa Claus license but they better have a permit for those damn reindeer too. That's got to be smoothed out.

But Jasso is confidant we'll have a hospitable way to govern not only farmers markets by August but neighborhood gardens as well.

When it rains, it pours.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze