Commission picks Cornucopia for farmers’ market

A rowdy group of supporters showed up at last Tuesday’s planning commission meeting to urge commissioners to accept the application by Cornucopia Foundation to operate a farmers’ market in Malibu once again.

After a four-year hiatus, the Cornucopia Foundation will once again operate farmers’ market in Malibu.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

At a rowdy hearing that had Planning Commission Chair Ed Gillespie banging his gavel numerous times to quiet the crowd, the commission voted 3-1 on Tuesday of last week to grant local nonprofit Cornucopia Foundation the authority to operate a farmers’ market in Malibu. The commission also voted to reject a farmers’ market application from Calabasas-based Raw Inspiration.

The vote will be finalized at a later meeting, where city staff will present a formal resolution to grant Cornucopia a conditional use permit for the market. A Raw Inspiration official said this week it will not appeal the decision to the city council.

“I think the commission spoke, and that was the decision that was made,” said Melissa Farwell, market coordinator for Raw Inspiration, which operates several markets throughout the region.

Meanwhile, Cornucopia is celebrating its victory following a four-year battle with Raw Inspiration for the rights to run a Malibu farmers’ market. The local nonprofit previously operated a market from 2000 to 2005.

Cornucopia Board member Debra Bianco said she was “happy and excited” about the planning commission’s decision.

Cornucopia must also receive approval from the Los Angeles County, which owns the Civic Center parking lot property where the market will take place. They will submit an application to the county once they receive final permitting from the city. The proposal is for the market to take place on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. City law requires that “a minimum of 65 percent of the total linear frontage of vendor booths shall contain produce sold by [county-] certified farmers.”

Gillespie, who voted in favor of Cornucopia, along with commissioners Joan House and John Mazza, said he was influenced by the local public support. Raw Inspiration also had its advocates, although most were not based within the city.

“I believe the voice of Malibu has been heard,” Gillespie said. “I can’t say everybody in Malibu likes it. And I can’t say they don’t. But from what I’ve seen in the community and the support that I see, I think that Cornucopia will do a fine job.”

The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Jeff Jennings. He noted that Cornucopia had already had its try at running a market.

“I think that, in my judgment, there’s no doubt in my mind that Raw Inspiration would produce the farmers’ market that would produce a better experience for the residents who want to shop there,” Jennings said. “I just feel it in my bones, that is how it’s going to turn out.”

The city did not renew Cornucopia’s permit to run the market in 2005 due to the discovery of improper permitting and zoning issues. Then began years of planning commission and city council hearings to determine what the requirements should be for a farmers’ market. Also, a bitter dispute between Cornucopia and Raw Inspiration ensued, with accusations lobbied from each group about the other, often personal in nature. This followed a scandal in 2006, when several former vendors of the defunct market circulated a petition, accusing Cornucopia of mismanagement of the market. It was discovered that many names on the petition had possibly been forged.

During its hiatus from running a market, Cornucopia has continued to function as a nonprofit in the city, supporting local education through its organic garden located behind Malibu High School and through other means. Mazza stated this as a major reason for his support.

“I think we have an obligation as commissioners in Malibu to do what’s best for Malibu,” Mazza said. “And when you see what one organization has done without a farmers’ market for four years for the schools, I can’t vote to eliminate that in favor of a larger out-of-town organization.”

Public speakers at the hearing made accusations against both groups, and the full-house crowd jeered and cheered in reaction. Gillespie had to stop the meeting on several occasions to calm the scene.

Planning member compares council action to torture memos

Also at the meeting, Mazza apologized to city staff and the public for the city council having “ignored the law” the previous day in its 3-2 vote in favor of a 110-foot-long, three-foot-wide ocean bluff staircase connecting a Point Dume home to the beach. The planning commission had previously, unanimously rejected the permit application based on city staff’s advice that Malibu’s Local Coastal Program did not allow it. Mazza specified his comments were regarding the council members who voted in favor of the staircase: Mayor Andy Stern, Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky and Councilmember John Sibert.

“I want to apologize to our staff for doing that because as far as I’m concerned this is exactly the same thing that Dick Cheney was accused of in ordering lawyers to write torture memos saying torture wasn’t torture Š I want to apologize personally to the public for what I consider a violation [by the council members] of the oath of office,” Mazza said.

After the meeting, Barovsky, who said she watched the meeting on television later in the week, told The Malibu Times, “John was just doing what John does best, which is criticizing the city council. But he outdid himself with the talk about torture.”