JOSHUA TREE — The farmers market has a numbers problem. Every Saturday, around 35 vendors sell food and goods on a lot parallel to the highway. But the permit from San Bernardino County only allows 12 vendors. Since county code enforcement found out about that gap a few weeks ago, a lot of anger and confusion have seeped in.
“They haven’t been ordered to shut down. We don’t do that unless people are in immediate threat of harm,” county spokesman David Wert said Tuesday.
“What we have said is they have to immediately comply with the permit,” Wert added.
“The permit could not be any more clear as to what their limits are.”
The code enforcement division sent farmers market founder Lori Herbel a letter dated Oct. 1 warning her the market has failed to comply with the conditions of her minor use permit, issued in 2009.
The letter told her she had to contact the planning department to get a new permit and in the meantime, return to running a market strictly within her permit requirements.
Herbel and the market’s business manager, Harry Bowkley, announced Saturday that the market would shrink to allow farm vendors only on Oct. 12. Bolstered by an outpouring of support, however, Herbel and Bowkley changed their mind, saying Tuesday they’d contacted all of their vendors to tell them to return Oct. 12.
“We were going to take it down to the 12 farmers and after public outcry … we decided we’d open the market back up on Saturday to its full 35 vendors and operate,” Herbel said Tuesday afternoon.
Joshua Tree Coffee Company owner Royce Robertson started an online petition on change.org in support of the farmers market. The petition exceeded 4,000 signatures in four days. Herbel and Bowkley say they’re responding to locals’ voices.
“We are again going to ask the county for some time to revise our permit to allow us to operate under our present conditions,” Herbel said.
She and Bowkley are also exploring whether to move to another location.
Herbel said the market’s permit allowed 12 vendors based on the 6,000 square feet she reported the market would cover, but the market grew into more space over time, and with the permission of the property owners.
“The market space has doubled since the original minor use permit,” Bowkley said.
According to Wert, the farmers market needs to get a “revision to approved action,” which would revise their existing permit. “County planning staff would gladly work with them on this,” Wert said.
However, the farmers market may have to meet more cumbersome standards to get that revision. Herbel said planning department staff told her she would need to provide a traffic officer . She and Bowkley argue it isn’t the farmers market that’s causing traffic in downtown Joshua Tree.
“The traffic in the downtown area is not due to the farmers market, it’s due to the increase in visitors to the park,” she said.
Wert said public outcry like the petition can only go so far with county planning.
“I think it provides additional impetus to the county to work with these folks because obviously it seems like this is something that is popular,” he said.
But they still have to comply with their permit, he added: “These codes are based on public safety and reducing public nuisances and whether or not people love something doesn’t mitigate any public safety factors that arise.”
Herbel hopes the community’s support will help the market continue to thrive. “One of the beautiful things about a farmers market is it’s a wonderful cooperation between the farmers-slash-vendors and the community and it’s the community that supports them,” she said.