On Sunday morning, just before dawn, David Larson can be found in front of the DMV on Normal Street in Hillcrest picking up trash scattered around the grey-and-blue stucco building or sweeping the gutters along Normal Street or Lincoln Avenue. Whatever it is he’s doing, his mission is clear: prepare the area for the 115 vendors and thousands of residents that attend Hillcrest’s weekly farmers' market — the largest one in the county.
By nine o’clock Sunday morning, while Larson is behind the scenes tending to any unforeseen issues — which he says are many — throngs of residents shuffle along Normal Street, stopping off at tents selling vine-ripened tomatoes and Haas avocados or offering samples of kalamata olives on the tips of toothpicks.
Since 1997, when Larson and then-president of the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association, restaurateur David Cohn, partnered to set up the open-air bazaar, Larson has had the freedom to grow the market how he sees fit.
As part of the original agreement, Larson does all the work and then splits the proceeds from the farmers' market 50/50 with the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association. According to Larson, on average, he gives the business improvement agency more than $100,000 per year.
So, when officials at the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association first informed Larson they wanted to exercise a 30-day clause to renegotiate a new contract, he thought it was a good idea.
“I always wanted a new contract because I thought that since I was doing all the work — doing everything to run and build this thing — that I should probably get a better deal.”
The contract they presented to him, says Larson, is rotten.
“What they delivered to me was just an insult,” says Larson. “They want me to turn over all my vendor contracts, all of my proprietary information. I feel threatened by that, like they were just getting all of my information and then they would get rid of me.”
Larson has until June 21 to agree to the new contract. If he doesn't, his contract will end and the agency will search for an interim manager to fill the position.
The termination of the contract has upset some vendors. On Sunday, May 31, they passed out information to explain the issue and urged residents to get involved and oppose the demands set forth in the new contract.
Ben Nicholls, executive director for the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association, says his organization isn’t trying to take money away from Larson. Nicholls says they are only trying to draw up a contract that more closely abides by city guidelines.
“It’s sort of weird. We’ve been trying to negotiate with [Larson] since January. He hasn’t been willing to meet with us or sit down with us and now that we’ve sent him a 30-day notice, he suddenly wants to sit down with us. The reason we sent him a 30-day notice is because discussions with him have gone nowhere. It’s been sort of a tussle, for no reason.”
Nicholls, who took over the business improvement agency last January, says the new contract won’t reduce Larson’s compensation; however, it will change responsibilities so that Larson covers all costs for staff. The Hillcrest Business Improvement Association, says Nicholls, will be responsible for everything else.
“[Larson] runs a great market. I’m trying to make sure our contract doesn’t have any loopholes that might get us in trouble. I’m definitely not trying to get him fired.”
For more on the issue, attend the June 9 board of director’s meeting for the Hillcrest Business Improvement Association at the Joyce Beers Community Center at 5pm, where Larson and his supporters plan to speak out against ending his contract.