Management of Flea Markets Presents Hurdle for Eastern Market Legislation – ANC6B Support on Hine Contingent on Legislation’s Success
by Larry Janezich
Last Monday, July 2, at the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations hearing on Councilmember Tommy Well’s Eastern Market legislation, an array of stake holding organizations lined up to oppose two key provisions of the bill. The first issue was language requiring the proposed Eastern Market Trust to give the current weekend flea market operators the first opportunity to contract “under substantially similar terms” to provide the weekend flea markets. The second was language providing for self-perpetuation of the proposed Trust to oversee Market operations.
Opponents of the “substantially similar language” provision included the Task Force set up by Wells to make recommendations for a new Market-governing structure, and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. The Eastern Market Tenants’ Council opposed the self-perpetuating provision and Eastern Market Community Advisory Council Chair Donna Scheeder pointedly stated that that provision had not been their recommendation. The Tenants’ Council’s position is that they should have six of the total number of seats on the new Trust.
Committee Chair Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), expressed concern about both provisions. A representative of Mayor Gray said that while the Mayor supported the objectives of the bill, he opposed the legislation as currently written due to “public policy concerns about the purported establishment in the legislation of a non-District entity to lease and operate a valuable government asset.”
ANC6B has no formal position on the “substantially similar” language, though Commission representative Brian Pate said he had concerns about the provision since he lacked the contracts to review and was hesitant to tie the future Trust to terms of the contracts. Commissioner Ivan Frishberg, testifying as an individual, stated he thought concerns about the “substantially similar” language were ‘over-stated” and thought a middle ground could be found on which to move forward.
ANC6B has endorsed the legislation and has made its support of the Memorandum of Agreement regarding community benefits and amenities for the Hine development contingent on approval of the legislation which offers a solution to the widely-opposed halving of the weekend flea markets occasioned by the construction of the Hine project.
The opposition to the “substantially similar” language is based on the bill’s stated objective of making the Market self-sustainable in ten years. Eastern Market operations ordinarily need to be subsidized by the city. Granting a too-favorable contract to weekend flea market managers instead of allowing the future Market Trust to benefit from the revenue which would accrue from bringing the flea markets under its jurisdiction diverts income from a city resource to the private sector. Some critics claim the two weekend flea market managers gross more annually than the market itself. Flea market managers dispute this.
Regarding the “substantially similar” language, Chair Bowser said on one hand, there might be some flexibility in city policy regarding first refusal – usually reserved for housing issues – when it comes to other public goods. On the other hand, she said outside vendor managers may not be in the interests of the Market. Regarding the self-perpetuating issue, she said the issue of accountability requires the City Council to make sure the Trust is directly accountable to the taxpayer – and “one way to do that is to have members of the Trust appointed by elected officials and approved by the Council.”
Wells is hoping for the first of two Council votes on the bill before July 15, and has said he will continue to clarify the bill with input from the community. Mayor Gray’s representative said the Mayor would like to have further conversations with Wells about the governance of the Market.
More information may become available when ANC6B meets Tuesday night. On the agenda: Discussion and possible action regarding recent events related to proposed Eastern Market legislation. The meeting is at 7:00pm in Hill Center.