Future of Wylie’s Bait Shop unclear

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When the state began relocating residents and business owners at the mouth of Topanga Canyon to make way for a state park, the future of Wylie’s Bait Shop seemed optimistic. Today, the shop’s future is uncertain.

By Kim Zanti/Special to The Malibu Times

Owner Ginny Wylie was served a 90-day eviction notice for her business on Aug. 4 and is expected to vacate the premises by Oct. 31. According to State Park’s Communications Director Roy Stearns, Wylie is being evicted for “nonresponsiveness” to the terms of a lease that was offered in July.

In addition, Wylie is fighting to stay in her home, which is located behind the shop. She, along with other residents, appeared in court Wednesday for a formal grievance hearing. The residents, last of the holdouts who were served eviction notices more than a year ago, say the relocation company had failed to offer comparable housing as required by the Relocation Act.

Alex Bevil, historian for the State Parks, evaluated Wylie’s Bait Shop and said the building is deemed “potentially historical.” Full historical status could be granted, he added, “if someone chooses to seek designation and the reports are sent to the State Office of Historic Preservation.” Bevil was not sure if the fate of the building is hinged on the fate of the business. Also, State Parks clearly stated in its interim management plan that Wylie’s, established in 1946, was a “compatible business” that would benefit visitors to the proposed state park. The other businesses at the mouth of Topanga Canyon also deemed compatible to serving State Park visitors are The Reel Inn, Topanga Ranch Motel (also granted historical status), Topanga Ranch Market, Something Fishy and Thai Cholada. The Topanga Ranch Market owners opted to sell and the building was torn down.

The Malibu Times obtained a copy of the lease that Wylie received from David Richman, the national manager for relocation projects at Pacific Relocation Consultants (PRC), the firm hired by state parks to manage the relocation process. (After a recent merger, PRC’s new business name is Overland, Pacific and Cutler.) The lease does not define all the terms, such as identifying the binding parties, the amount of rent due or any information specific to the bait shop. However, there is specific language about the length of the lease-3 to 5 years-and the state’s obligation to provide relocation assistance. The lease states that Lessees “are not entitled to any Relocation Payment or Relocation Advisory Assistance due to their occupancy of the Premises.”

Richman said the lease was given to Wylie and her attorneys as a sample and was not meant to be signed.

“If this wasn’t meant to be signed, then why was I served an eviction notice?” asked Wylie, who has run the shop single-handedly after the death of her longtime business partner Bob Varnum in December 2000.

Richman said that Wylie’s options were “move now and get relocation assistance, or move 3-5 years from now and waive relocation benefits.”

Wylie was required to file a separate grievance to argue for relocation entitlements that reflect the value and use of her home. Although the concept of “fair and equitable” is written in California relocation laws, Wylie and many of the residences are arguing that the process has not been either.

“Why would someone who just moved in a few months ago as a tenant with one room receive $120,000 and I’m being offered $80,000 for my three-bedroom house that is also my office?” asks Wylie.

Wylie’s friend and neighbor of 40 years, Joy Hayward, recently moved with her husband from their secluded canyon home near the creek into a mobile home in Tahitian Terrace at the top of the canyon. Hayward is very unhappy about how she and other residents are being treated.

“You can’t imagine what it is like to be treated like a bag lady with a disease. These people are heartless,” she said.

As far as the bait shop goes, Wylie has turned the proceedings over to her attorneys. As for her residence, Wylie, along with several other residents, appeared Wednesday in Los Angeles County Court to present their individual grievances to Judge Samuel Reyes.

Locals say if Wylie’s Bait Shop closes, Malibu will lose a significant piece of history and an important hub for surf and sport fishing. Wylie’s is the only bait shop along Malibu’s 26-mile coastline and serves regular customers from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

“I’ve been coming here since I was 14 years old,” said Jason Ventress, a Malibu real estate broker who is planning a fundraiser for Wylie. “My spirit of getting involved is to save a landmark and to help [Ginny] keep her business.”

Ron Shafer, superintendent of State Park’s Angeles District, said Wylie’s is part of the cultural landscape and a viable business. “I have a hard time imagining not having a bait shop there,” he said. “Fishing is something we encourage. It seems like a natural to me.”

Serving the public has kept the Wylie family in business continuously since 1946. Ginny Wylie grew up in Los Angeles, but spent her summers at the shop with her grandparents. After attending UCLA, she found herself at the shop more and more. “It isn’t something I ever imagined myself doing,” she says, sounding surprised at her longevity in the business that she clearly loves. “I can’t wait on 10 customers like I used to at once. I’m not 20 anymore, but I’m still vibrant.”