Fest Quarrel Smoothied Over
by Ari Armstrong
This article originally appeared in the May 13, 2004, edition of Boulder Weekly.
Of course newspapers love controversy. In recent years, the Boulder Creek Festival has delivered. But not this year. This year, it has delivered pleasantries and reasonable compromise.
Last year, Pamela White reported on the tensions between the Farmers' Market and the Boulder Creek Festival. The two events competed for space, and Market regulars weren't keen on giving up their spots or paying extra to participate in the Festival over Memorial Day weekend.
"The situation has been resolved, believe it or not," said David Segal of Berry Best Smoothies. Segal, who runs a shop at the Student Union and sets up weekly at the Farmers' Market, praised Frank Bruno, city manager since February of last year, for leading the two sides in reaching an agreement.
Segal added, "We got most of what we wanted, and we had to acquiesce a little bit. Sometimes government can step in and do something positive. It doesn't happen very often, but it gives me hope."
Sally Haines, manager of the Farmers' Market, explained the compromise. "We lose a third of the street... and we lose all of the Plaza... In the past they have also prohibited our vendors who prepared food from setting up, because it would compete with the Creek Fest vendors." This year, "our vendors will be able to set up. It was specified that they have to stop selling a little earlier" and operate in the alley by the city building. She added, "The important change is that our food vendors will be able to participate in the market that Saturday, which they haven't been able to do in the past."
Haines also praised Bruno: "The city manager was the one who helped us reach that agreement. As far as I can tell, we're all happy, at least the Farmers' Market is happy, with that change."
And Chris Dailey, executive director of Boulder Creek Events (which contracts with the city to run the Festival) said Bruno "listens to both sides of the story and comes up with a fair plan." He said of the agreement, "We're satisfied with it." Ah, sweet accord.
It is interesting, though, to try to figure out how the disagreement arose in the first place, because that tells us something about the nature of government and the nature of commerce.
Essentially what arose is a property dispute. Nobody doubts that the physical property in question is owned by the city. But what does that mean? Is it owned by the city government? By the taxpayers? Who gets to determine usage?
As White reviewed previously, both the Festival and the Market expanded over the years, "resulting in the need to negotiate how much parking and vendor space is available" for each event. Basically, both groups began to feel they had a property right in the space during a particular time.
The city handles the two events quite differently, even though both groups are nonprofit. Haines said the Market pays around $5,000 annually to the city for use of the space. She said, "We pay a fee to rent the street, so therefore we charge a fee for farmers and food contractors to participate. That's how we have an operating budget." At the same time, "The members of our market actually own the Farmers' Market."
According to Dailey, the Boulder Creek Festival is owned by the city, which contracts with Dailey's organization to run the event. Thus, the city does not charge a fee for the event, though it collects a portion of the proceeds if any money is left. Dailey said proceeds from the Festival's main fundraiser go to the Boulder Parks and Recreation EXPAND program. As the city's web page describes, EXPAND "provides opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to participate in recreation and leisure programs in our community."
On one side, then, are small, local business people trying to earn a living who don't want to surrender space to corporate sponsors. On the other side is a city event that helps a (city-run) charity and provides major entertainment for the community. If you're the city manager, how do you weigh these interests and help decide how to appropriately use city property? It's not an easy task, and both sides agree Bruno deserves credit for helping to reach a workable compromise.
After I spoke with Segal about the Festival, we continued a rambling discussion about the nature of government and what libertarians think about it. Segal was concerned that free-marketeers don't pay enough attention to the need for government to create a fair marketplace.
I responded that the free market indeed depends upon legal protections against pollution, fraud, and aggression. And libertarians are strong opponents of corporate welfare and legislation that bars competition, for example.
Property disputes generally arise when property rights are poorly defined. Disputes over government-owned lands are common, precisely because ownership of those lands is ambiguous.