Almanac

News - July 3, 2013

Ballot measure nixed again

by Dave Boyce

The Woodside farmers' market that's held on Sundays at Woodside Elementary School will be closed for the season when November rolls around. The market's fate — particularly its location when it reopens in the spring — is an unanswered question of real interest to town residents. That question could have been resolved at the ballot box, but that is not going to happen.

On June 25, for the second time in as many months, the Woodside Town Council voted 4-3 against asking voters to consider a November ballot measure to amend Measure J. Approved by voters in 1988, Measure J is a law that forbids commercial activities such as a farmers' market in the public parking lots between Independence Hall and the Woodside Community Museum.

The market now operates with temporary permission from the Woodside Elementary School in the kindergarten parking lot on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. The school district is an independent agency not governed by the town, but district officials have given reassurances that they would not act peremptorily. Some in the community worry that the district's welcome will wear out and render the popular market homeless, which gives momentum to the idea of amending Measure J.

As was the case in the council's May 28 vote on the ballot measure, the vote was 4-3 against putting it on the ballot. The council had agreed to reconsider the matter given the high level of community interest and Councilman Dave Burow's concern that farmers' market advocates were not heard on May 28. But when the council voted, Mr. Burow was in the minority. Voting with him were members Deborah Gordon and Ron Romines.

Mayor Anne Kasten changed sides from her May 28 position and voted with the majority to reject a ballot measure. Voting with her were council members Peter Mason, Tom Shanahan and Dave Tanner. "I am somewhat of an optimist in my heart and I truly believe that this is going to work out," Ms. Kasten said.

A third rail?

The farmers' market has plenty of community support, including among the most vocal opponents of amending Measure J. Some even support having the market in the parking lot in question. But many see Measure J as a bulwark protecting the town against urbanization. Touching it, opening it up for possible amendment, is viewed by them as a third rail in Woodside.

Greg Raleigh of Fox Hollow Road said the town already has a mechanism — an encroachment permit — to allow the market to operate in the Town Hall parking lot. The May Day parade and the Day of the Horse celebration both use encroachment permits, so why can't the farmers' market, he asked.

Neither of those events is subject to Measure J, Town Attorney Jean Saveree said. The parade takes place on a state highway, and the Day of the Horse is a public event in which the town participates.

The council should seek the help of a new grassroots organization, The Alliance to Preserve Woodside, Mr. Raleigh said. "We're pretty confident we can resolve this as a community." Mr. Raleigh could not be reached for further comment.

"I feel protected by Measure J," said Michael Carr of Canada Road. "It hinders urbanization. It's been pretty effective." Modifying it to accommodate a farmers' market, he added, seems a weak rationale.

"I think it's a highly divisive issue for this town," said resident Richard Draeger of Skywood Drive. "We believe that the farmers' market can stay at the elementary school," he said, adding that he was an official with the school foundation and has raised millions of dollars for the school district.

Council responds

"To me, it's an idea of having a sense of community," Councilman Mason said. Measure J, he said, "so restricts what we can do with our Town Center" compared with the options available to Portola Valley with its redesigned complex.

"There's a lot of value judgment in asking people to be part of the community," said Mr. Shanahan. "I think the silent majority in Woodside mostly hopes to be left in peace and to have some kind of quiet enjoyment of their property."

Mr. Burow acknowledged the unfortunate timing for this matter in that it came up while a community task force is considering the future of the commercial district. "I still like the idea of letting the people vote," he said.

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