EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) – Coordinators for the Saturday Market are hoping to work with Lane County Commissioners to become a more permanent stakeholder in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.
Beth Little, general manager for the market, told NewsSource 16 Wednesday that although no decision was officially made at the Lane County Commissioners Meeting, they did seem receptive to the idea of working together to make the area more inviting, more family-friendly and safer on Saturdays.
According to Little’s presentation, in 2009 the group established a task force to patrol the free speech area as a result of increased violence and crime. Some of the logs included sales of used items including knives, lighters and more, unlicensed foods, sales of medicinal chocolates, unleashed dogs, illegal substances, fighting and more. There were also increased sales of paraphernalia. In past county commissioners meetings, some have stated that the plaza’s activities do hinder market attendance.
Since then, the group started fencing off the area on Saturdays first with snow fencing and then with heavier and tall metal fencing. Saturday Market paid about $2,000 dollars for it and noticed a big difference. Later, the group found that those selling illegal items would show up earlier and earlier to claim their space before the fences went up.
This year, Eugene Police have stepped up patrols in the area. The group continues to clean up the Free Speech Plaza after they close. They have acknowledged, however, that since putting forth extra efforts, the area is ideal for families to gather at their free, public events. Little said they are not trying to take away free speech by any means but free speech does not include the sales of illegal, unwelcomed items.
“You can welcome free speech and not have illegal activity," said Little. “We really want to continue working with the county toward a more formal relationship to make sure the Wayne Morse Free Speech plaza is as family friendly and welcoming as it can be on Saturdays.”
With a vision in mind, it’s a matter of the county and the market meeting in the middle and communicating that vision. The market will remain open for a few more weeks and reopen for their 30th year in April.