The quest to change the layout of the downtown Campbell Farmers' Market first began in March and was a passionate one. Following much debate, market organizers gave into the requests of downtown merchants and after 14 years, the market changed its look.
The much-anticipated change was noticed by everyone: farmers' market customers, vendors, organizers, downtown merchants, and most recently, the Santa Clara County Fire Department.
Now, after a close examination of the changed market, and after an actual caravan of fire trucks lumbered through the market location to test clearances, County Fire Department officials may suggest going back to the original layout.
In Campbell, the process for any event that will take place on a local street requires a permit - obtained from the fire department - for safety reasons. Annual events, such as Boogie on the Bayou and last weekend's Oktoberfest secure a permit every year.
Surprisingly, when they looked, fire department officials were unable to find a permit on file for the 14-year-old Campbell Farmers' Market.
“What brought a lot of this to the forefront is not only were they changing the format but we expected a permit process,” said Santa Clara County Fire Department spokesperson Dirk Mattern.
Campbell Project Manager Francine Principe confirmed that the market did not have a permit filed with either the city or the fire department.
"There was a permit required at the time," Principe said. "If it was submitted, no one knows where it is. We are working on it now."
The downtown farmers' market first came to Campbell in 1998, at a time when the downtown was “nothing like it is currently,” she said. In the original market layout, fire trucks could safely and easily drive through the middle of Campbell Avenue, so the issue never came up.
“The concern with respect to festival setups is that originally they would set up their booths along the curb line, so driving down the center of the street was never a problem for us,” Mattern said. “But then when some of the other annual festivals started lining the booths up the middle of the street in a back-to-back format, and the farmers market did the same, it caused us to look at it again, and that’s kind of a problem.”
Just one week ago - on Monday,October 8 - the Santa Clara County Fire Department drove several of its large fire vehicles through the downtown in an exercise to demonstrate to downtown merchants, the Campbell Chamber of Commerce and officials of the city of Campbell what a real-life rescue scenario would be like. And although the fit was tight, the trucks were able to get through safely.
The exercise, however, was done while the streets were unobstructed. On a farmers' market Sunday or during a festival, things could get a little choppy.
“We can’t drive down the side of those booths because it's very narrow, not to mention the street trees that are in the way,” Mattern said. “Certainly, we know that we can provide the service now but what it boils it down to, if we have to move booths, it takes more time to deal with them. It really isn’t as efficient as we’d like to have it. We would like to have unencumbered access.”
“Both layouts provide adequate access,” responded Campbell Chamber of Commerce CEO Neil Collins. “The exercise on Monday was to get the physical trucks into Campbell, with particularly two areas of concern. If there was a fire, how they would go about putting out that fire. It was more of a conversation on workspace.
The East end of Campbell Avenue is the oldest part of the downtown and many of the buildings there do not have fire sprinklers, Mattern said.
“No decisions were made but the fire department will bring back two or three different recommendations and present them to the Campbell Police Department, the chamber, the downtown association and stakeholders to discuss the longer plan,” Collins said. “I appreciate the opportunity to go through the exercise and be presented with options rather than being told what to do.”
Campbell Police Chief Greg Finch facilitated a Monday morning meeting after the demonstration.
The city of Campbell, downtown association members, members of the Campbell Chamber of Commerce and the fire department met to discuss alternative layouts that would allow for better access during festivals and the farmers’ market.
“We want to explore the idea of going back to the original layout,” Mattern said. “We are looking for something to be a general layout for all festivals and the farmers' market.”
The permit process begins with the organizer working with Mattern, submitting a plan that would include the layout of the booths. If the event is a festival, the fire department wants to know where the cooking booths, artisan booths, stages, etc. will be located.
“For instance, for the fire safety of the booths themselves we want to make sure cooking booths are separated from the non-cooking booths so that if there’s a fire, it won’t spread," he said.
Downtown Campbell farmers' market organizers Urban Village did not return our call for a comment.
“What I would like to get with them, once we decide on the layout, is an ongoing, annual permit that would be issued.”
You can check out our coverage of the ongoing issue here.